China – guiding the world on human rights from 2014

Tibetan activist yells from the back of a police ­vehicle after her arrest in China in 2012. (AFP)

Tibetan activist yells from the back of a police ­vehicle after her arrest in China in 2012. (AFP)

China has been granted a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council despite its long record of refusing inspections by international human rights monitors.

On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly filled 14 vacant seats on the 47-member council for a three-year period from January 1. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba were elected as well, despite their controversial human rights records.

China's election is "troubling on two counts", said Julie de Rivero, a Human Rights Watch director in Geneva, where the council meets.

"One is because of its domestic human rights record – members of the council are supposed to hold the highest standards for protecting human rights. Two is that it is quite a negative player within the council, in that it rejects all initiatives that hold human rights violators accountable for what they do."

The council's membership is "based on equitable geographical distribution", according to the UN news centre – Asian states are allocated 13 seats.

China, which has sat on the council in the past, ran uncontested.

Since the Chinese government proffered its bid for council membership this year, it has detained scores of human rights campaigners, tightened internet censorship and orchestrated security crackdowns in Tibet.
China has repeatedly denied UN human rights inspectors access to the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

Chinese authorities have not acknowledged the apparent contradiction. China "is committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people, and has worked unremittingly towards this goal", the Chinese government said in a statement when it announced its bid for a seat in August.

According to a Human Rights Watch report from 2011, China's "main concern at the council appears to be to protect state sovereignty from what it considers undue interference in domestic affairs through overly critical resolutions".

In 2010 and 2011, it voted against resolutions to address human rights violations in Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and Syria.

Because none of its individual members have veto power, analysts say, the council can continue to operate despite these objections.

"When the Human Rights Council was created, the government had to decide what the basic rules would be – and nongovernmental organisations advocated very strongly that there should be a higher threshold of at least co-operation with the UN," De Rivero said.

"But this is what the UN decided, that it has to be a body that represents people from all regions and political structures." – © Guardian News & Media 2013

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