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On the Eve of the Tenth Anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, States Must Account for Human Rights Impact

June 10, 2011

On June 15, 2011, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will celebrate its ten-year anniversary at the SCO “Jubilee Summit” in Astana, Kazakhstan.  During this summit, the SCO and its member states – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – will reportedly reflect on SCO progress over the past ten years and discuss possibilities for future expansion as they consider applications for member, observer, or dialogue partner status from a number of governments. China will assume the SCO rotating presidency at this time, with the stated goal for the year of “boost[ing] the security and law-enforcement cooperation” of the SCO in order to “fight the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism, and extremism.”1

“As the SCO member states celebrate and reflect on the achievements of the past ten years, they cannot turn a blind eye to the SCO’s negative impact on their international human rights obligations, particularly when regional cooperation is at odds with these obligations,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC). “The SCO must implement necessary reforms in order to bring the organization into line with the international human rights and counter-terrorism frameworks.”

At this critical juncture, HRIC urges the international community to closely monitor the human rights implications of SCO counter-terrorism policies and practices, which have been documented and analyzed in a recently-released HRIC whitepaper, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO’s celebration of its growth and accomplishments cannot erase its ten-year record of negative impact on international human rights, particularly the rights of SCO member state citizens.

HRIC urges the international community to pay particular attention to the Chinese government’s increasing emphasis on an alleged “East Turkestan” terrorist threat emanating from Central Asia, and the broadening efforts by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to target Uyghurs.  It also urges the UN, which has developed various modes of cooperation with the SCO over the past ten years, to press for comprehensive and detailed information from the SCO about the compliance of the regional framework with international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law, as well as the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The specific SCO counter-terrorism policies and practices that must be addressed include:

  • An imprecise, politicized, and overbroad framework for “counter-terrorism.” The SCO incorporates China’s “three evils”-based approach to security cooperation, which links “terrorism” to “separatism” and “extremism” – terms often applied to groups legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression, religion, or association.
  • Unconditional extradition of and denial of asylum to wanted persons, in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Blacklisting and sharing of intelligence through the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, which lacks due process and privacy protections.
  • Military and law enforcement exercises that appear designed to consolidate government control in regions where domestic unrest has occurred – such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – and send chilling messages to ethnic groups.

The recent activity of Kazakhstan, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the SCO and will host the Jubilee Summit, underscores the human rights concerns raised by SCO policies and practices. Hot on the heels of China’s call for increased efforts within the SCO to prevent “‘East Turkistan’ terrorists” from penetrating China from Central Asia,2 Kazakhstan has ramped up its cooperation with fellow SCO member states to target individuals identified as threats by their home governments. Kazakh officials obstructed the travel of ethnic Uyghur activists to attend a Uyghur rights conference in Washington, D.C., in early May3; extradited Uyghur asylum-seeker Ershidin Israil to China on May 304; and returned 29 ethnic Uzbeks seeking asylum from religious persecution to Uzbekistan on June 9.5 Such actions contravene Kazakhstan’s international human rights obligations, including the principle of non-refoulement, as well as provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

HRIC also urges any state considering participation in the SCO – including India, Iran, and Pakistan, which are applying for full SCO membership, and Afghanistan, which seeks observer status – to fully assess the impact of such participation on fulfillment of its own human rights obligations.


For more information on the human rights impact of the SCO, see:

Footnotes

1. “China to Promote SCO’s Healthy Development as Rotating Chair,” Xinhua News Agency, June 7, 2011, http://www.gov.cn/misc/2011-06/07/content_1879123.htm. ^

2. Wang Huazhong, “SCO Members Brace for Terrorist Threat,” China Daily, May 9, 2011, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-05/09/content_12466919.htm. ^

3. Human Rights in China, “SCO Member States Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Prevent Uyghur Activists from Attending Conference in United States,” May 4, 2011, http://www.hrichina.org/content/5323. Similar action was taken by authorities in Kyrgyzstan with respect to the same conference. Ibid. ^

4. Dmitry Solovyov, “Kazakh Deports Uighur to China, Rights Groups Cry Foul,” Reuters, June 7, 2011, http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/kazakh-deports-uighur-to-china-rights-groups-cry-foul; Human Rights in China, “SCO Member State Kazakhstan’s Return of Uyghur Refugee to China Demonstrates Disregard of International Human Rights Obligations,” June 1, 2011, http://www.hrichina.org/content/5358. ^

5. “Kazakhstan Extradites 29 Uzbek Asylum-Seekers despite Protests,” Radio Free Europe, June 9, 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan_extradites_29_uzbek_asylum_seekers_despite_protests/24230209.html. ^

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