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Compromise of Human Rights Under Cover of Counter-Terrorism – Human Rights in China Releases a Whitepaper on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

March 30, 2011

In recent years, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), comprising six states with deeply troubling human rights records – China, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – is increasingly embraced by the international community as a partner in countering terrorism and forging peace and security.

In a whitepaper titled Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, released on March 30, 2011, Human Rights in China (HRIC) argues that the SCO’s counter-terrorism policies and practices undermine the effectiveness and integrity of the international counter-terrorism framework, and enable SCO member states to target their own populations through repressive measures that compromise internationally-recognized human rights.

Founded in June 2001 to enhance security and economic cooperation among its member states, the SCO has set counter-terrorism as one of its top priorities. The growing appeal of the SCO is apparent in the following statements by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs:

The United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization share the same principles and goals in peace, security, development and human rights and all the important principles of the United Nations. This partnership will give an added impetus and capacity to the United Nations when we are working together with all Member States and regional organizations in addressing regional and global challenges -- in particular, when we are working to fight against international terrorism, extremism, and also drug trafficking, organized trans-boundary crimes. And we will also work together in major projects of development pillars.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, April 5, 2010

In Central Asia the Shanghai Cooperation Organization seeks to bolster security, economic and cultural cooperation between China, Russia and Central Asia. We see the potential for greater U.S.-China dialogue on areas of mutual interest such as counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in support of the SCO's efforts. … [W]e think the SCO is a good platform for discussions on how to improve stability and prosperity in the region.

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs
Beijing, China, March 18, 2011

With two member states occupying permanent seats in the UN Security Council and expanding cooperation with the UN and individual governments in the fight against terrorism, the SCO plays a critical role in shaping international counter-terrorism policies, practices, and norms.

At the same time, the SCO’s own policies and practices have gone largely unquestioned by the international community, despite the SCO’s potential to undermine international efforts to ensure human rights protection in counter-terrorism strategies, such as the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The challenges the SCO counter-terrorism policies and practices pose to human rights protection identified by HRIC in this whitepaper include:

  • Non-compliance with UN standards. In adapting China’s “Three Evils” doctrine, the SCO counter-terrorism framework gives equal weight to alleged separatist, extremist, and terrorist acts. The overbroad scope of targeted behavior and problematic definition of terrorism enable SCO states to criminalize legitimate expressions of political and religious beliefs.
  • Violation of individual human rights protected under international law. Such practices as cooperative surveillance, a shared database and blacklists, guaranteed extraditions and denials of asylum, and ethnic and religious profiling, violate the right to privacy, principles of non-discrimination, non-refoulement, and protection of asylum seekers, and due process protections.
  • Negative impact on the international counter-terrorism framework. The SCO has actively attempted to integrate its own Three Evils-based counter-terrorism framework into that of the UN, as well as in other international fora. The UN and others have responded favorably and without critical review of SCO policies and practice, notwithstanding the articulated principle within the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of ensuring “respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.”

The whitepaper argues that the international community’s ongoing failure to demand accountability from regional frameworks such as the SCO undermines the international human rights system and the advancement of the rule of law, peace, and security.

The whitepaper also advances a number of concrete policy and practice recommendations directed to the SCO and its member states, as well as to UN bodies.

In its appendices, the whitepaper provides an extensive compilation of resources that include SCO normative documents; Chinese Ministry of Public Security documents; information on extraditions, forcible returns, and military cooperation among SCO member states; and human rights records of SCO member states. The compilation also includes English translation of key documents previously available only in Chinese or Russian.

The whitepaper can be found on HRIC’s website. To obtain a hardcopy of the whitepaper, please contact

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