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As China Seeks Reelection to UN Human Rights Council, States and Civil Society Condemn Its Human Rights Abuses

October 8, 2020

During the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session that concluded yesterday in Geneva, Council member states and civil society organizations voiced urgent concerns about China’s serious and ongoing human rights abuses, centering on two sets of actions that have prompted international outcry:

  • intensifying systemic religious and cultural repression against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic minorities, and the use of forced labor in Xinjiang; and
  • the imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong that breaches an international treaty, curtails civil liberties, and erodes rights and freedoms

(See bottom for a compilation of the statements.)

Their statements in Geneva were followed by a joint statement by 39 UN member states reiterating grave concerns about reports of China’s “gross human rights violations” in Xinjiang and about the nonconformity of the National Security Law for Hong Kong to China’s international legal obligations. The statement was delivered by Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, at the General Assembly in New York on October 6.

In aggregate, the criticisms call into serious question China’s intention and ability to deliver on its pledge for reelection to the Human Rights Council, whose members are responsible for promoting and protecting all human rights around the globe. In its bid package submitted to the UN General Assembly in June, China claimed a broad range of achievements in rights protection, and pledged commitments that include the following:

Protection of citizens’ civil and political rights in accordance with the law.
China will advance law-based governance, strengthen the legal protection of human rights, and ensure the enjoyment of extensive rights and freedoms by people.

Full protection of the rights of special groups.
China will prioritize the development of ethnic minorities and ethnic minority areas, respecting and protecting the rights of ethnic minorities.

The Human Rights Council membership election for the 2021-2023 term will take place next Tuesday, October 13 at the UN General Assembly by a vote by the 193 UN member states. (The Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, consists of 47 members each elected to serve a three-years term. Members may serve two consecutive elected terms and can seek reelection after rotating off for at least one year. China’s previous term ended in December 2019. If elected, it will serve the 2021-2013 term.)

As in line with its usual practice, China countered these criticisms as efforts to “stigmatize” China and “interfere” in its internal affairs, and as accusations that “ignore fact and confuse right and wrong.” A Chinese representative said bluntly that human rights did not factor into China’s policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The representative stated: “The essence of Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues is to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and unity, and to protect the rights of all ethnic groups to live and work in peace. It is not about human rights at all.”

Below is a record of the statements–oral interventions—made by states and civil society organizations during the General Debate under Agenda Item 4 (“human rights situations that require the Council's attention”) on September 25 and 28, followed by China’s statements on those two days. It is not a comprehensive compilation of all the statements on China made by states and civil society organizations during the entire HRC 45th session that took place on September 14 – October 7, 2020.

Record of statements on China by Human Rights Council member states and civil society organizations and China’s statements
General Debate, Item 4, Human Rights Council 45 Session
September 25 and 28, 2020

(compiled by HRIC)

A. Transcription of statements by HRC member states (in order of speaking)

  1. EU[1] (via Germany), Representative: Mr. Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:10:12 to 0010:26

“On China, the EU is gravely concerned about systemic restrictions on the freedom of religious belief against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang as well as about the national security legislation for Hong Kong.”

  1. Germany, Representative: Mr. Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:24:50 to 00:25:17

“Madam President, Germany aligns itself with the EU statement… We are concerned about the situation in China. Ethnic minorities as the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region experiencing systemic violations of their rights to freedom of religion or belief. The national security legislation in the SAR Hong Kong has resulted in a significant curtailment of civil liberties.”

  1. Australia, Representative: Ms. Sally Mansfield
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:41:31 to 00:41:58

“We remain deeply concerned by reports of repressive measures enforced against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. We hold grave concern about the widespread use of mass detentions, excessive restrictions on religion or belief, forced labour, and pervasive surveillance. We urge the Chinese government to protect human rights and freedoms in China including in Xinjiang and to allow the High Commissioner meaningful access to Xinjiang at the earliest opportunity.”

  1. Denmark, Representative: Mr. Morten Jespersen
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:56:19 to 00:56:33

“Madam President, Denmark aligns itself with the EU statement… We share the grave concern expressed in the EU Statement on Hong Kong, especially with regard to the extensive erosion of rights, freedoms following the newly adopted and entry into force of the National Security Law.”

  1. United Kingdom, Representative: Mr. Tariq Ahmad (or Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon)
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:00:07 - 01:01:40

“Today, we focus on the serious situation in China. In Hong Kong, Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law is a serious breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration. It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and directly threatens rights and freedoms. The National Security Law is being implemented with apparent intention to eliminate dissent. It allows prosecution of certain cases in mainland China a jurisdiction where defendants are often held for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel and where we have concerns about judicial independence, due process and reports of torture. Also of grave concern, in Xinjiang, there is compelling evidence, including from the Chinese authorities’ own documents of systematic human rights violations. Culture and religion are severely restricted and we have seen credible reports of forced labour and forced birth control. Staggeringly, up to 1.8 million people have been detained without trial. Across the country we also remain seriously concerned about the pressure on media freedom. Madam President, we call on China to uphold the rights and freedoms in the Joint Declaration to respect the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary, allow unfettered access to Xinjiang, and to release all those who are arbitrarily detained. Thank you.”

  1. Finland, Representative: Ms. Kirsti Kauppi
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:03:46 to 01:03:57

“Thank you, Madam President. Finland aligns itself with the statement of the EU statement… In China, the situation of the Xinjiang Uyghurs and the human rights defenders really worry us. So does the situation in Hong Kong.”

  1. France, Representative: Mr. François Gave
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:04:48 to 01:05:06, and @01:05:17 to 01:05:35

“Thank you, President. Thank you very much, Madam High Commissioner. There are too many serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that persist today. This bears witness to the contempt in which some States hold the international commitments which they voluntarily signed up… Reports from Xinjiang and on the crackdown against the Uyghurs are worrying. We call for the internment camps to be closed and for there to be an independent observation mission spearheaded by the High Commissioner of Human Rights to provide an objective account of the facts there.”

  1. Canada, Representative: Ms. Leslie Norton
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:07:35 to 01:08:21

“Thank you, Madam President. Canada is deeply troubled by the discrimination and violations of fundamental freedoms that continue to occur in all too many countries. Human rights defenders and civil society organisations are particularly vulnerable in this context. Some governments have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to justify legislation limiting human rights and fundamental freedoms and silence human rights defenders. In Mainland China and Hong Kong, the intimidation, arbitrary detention and prosecution of human rights defenders continues. We are particularly alarmed at human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region including mass arbitrary detention and separation of children from their parents, repressive surveillance, as well as reports of forced labour and forced sterilisation affecting Uyghurs and other minorities...”

  1. Belgium, Representative: Mr. Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:09:01 to 01:09:36

“Madam President, Belgium associates itself fully with the statement of the EU. Belgium remains concerned regarding the credible proof of violations of human rights of minorities in China, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang. This includes systematic surveillance, restrictions on freedom of freedom of religion and faith, forced labour, and detention without distinction and on a large scale of the Uyghurs. We reiterate our call for meaningful access to independent observers that will allow for response to these concerns…”

  1. Sweden, Representative: Ms. Anna Jardfelt
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:13:55 to 01:14:14

“Sweden aligns itself with the European Union… The human rights situation in China remains concerning especially arbitrary detentions, widespread surveillance, and restrictions particularly targeting Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. The EU has reiterated deep concern on the imposition of legislation related to national security in Hong Kong and its consequences...”

  1. Switzerland, Representative: Ms. Jasna Lazarevic
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:19:34 to 01:19:38

“Switzerland is concerned over the report of arrests and arbitrary arrests in Hong Kong.”

  1. Ireland, Representative: Mr. Michael Gaffey
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:24:17 to 01:24:27

“Thank you, Madam President. Ireland aligns with the statement of the EU… We are deeply concerned about credible reports of the treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Ireland urges China to allow unrestricted access to the region for the High Commissioner of Human Rights.”

  1. Norway, Representative: Ms. Tine Mørch Smith
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @1:45:25 to 1:46:00

“The many reports on shrinking space for civil society, free debate, and public demonstration of dissent are concerning. When civic space is tightened, minorities are often disproportionately affected. We call on China to uphold the democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and to allow UN-mandated observers unrestricted access to Xinjiang. Attacks anywhere on journalist, media workers or human rights defenders are unacceptable and all such acts should be prosecuted. I thank you.”

B. Transcriptions of statements by civil society organizations (in order of speaking)

  1. Human Rights Watch, Representative: Mr. John Fisher
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:51:01 to 01:53:44

“Thank you, Madam President. This statement is supported by more than 300 NGOs from over 60 countries from Azerbaijan to Zambia. Our organisations joined together to call for an international mechanism to address the sweeping violations by the government of China. 50 UN experts recently highlighted China’s mass rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, suppression of information, and attacks on rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and government critics. We are also concerned about the global impact of China’s rights violations. China has targeted defenders abroad, suppressed academic freedom, and engaged in internet censorship, digital surveillance and promoted […]  free development. We deplore China’s efforts to distort the mandate of this Council by promoting cooperation over accountability and opposing initiatives to bring scrutiny to serious rights violations and even international crimes through country resolutions. China has used its seat on the NGO Committee to deny accreditations to NGOs while accrediting GONGOs. It has baselessly renounced speakers on NGO side events as terrorists and threatened delegates to deter them from attending UN side events. When the High Commissioner urged China to comply with international human rights standards, China contended these were “improper remarks that grossly interfered with their sovereignty.” A State that tries to hold itself above any kind of scrutiny presents a fundamental threat to human rights. We therefore endorse the call by UN experts for a special session or urgent debate on China’s rights abuses and to establish UN monitoring mechanism and we urge the High Commissioner to publicly report on China’s sweeping rights violations. No State should be above the law, China’s turn has come.”

  1. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Representative: Ms. Manon Karatas
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @02:01:20 to 02:03:08

“FIDH and its member organisations are also concerned about the political dynamic relating to situations in China, the Philippines, Egypt and Gaza. Member States of the HRC must show leadership and take action to protect human rights as well as international human rights norms and standards. Regarding China, we are appalled by the scale of ongoing systematic rights restrictions and abuses in Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang. As a candidate to the HRC, China must ratify the ICCPR and implement recommendations made in the UPR process, by treaty bodies and by Special Procedures including the Independent Expert on rights of older persons. Moreover, we reiterate our call for an international independent mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations and urge you to take this decisive action to achieve this goal. I thank you.”

  1. Society for Threatened Peoples, Representative: Ms. Thinlay Chukki
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @02:09:17 - 02:10:48

“Madam President, we draw the Council’s attention to the egregious human rights violations of Tibetans by China. Recent reports confirmed over half a million Tibetans are being subjected to coercive labour trainings, enforced indoctrination, intrusive surveillance, military-style enforcements, and harsh punishments. First, the Chinese government deprived the Tibetans of their livelihood by illegal agricultural land grabs and forced resettlement of the Tibetan nomads and then in pretext of poverty alleviation and development China is rounding up Tibetans in labour camps and factories for absolute subjugation. Moreover, China is using COVID-19 as an excuse to further suppress the Tibetans by sending armed military soldiers instead of medical teams like the case of [?] in [?] who was kidnapped by the Chinese government 25 years ago and rights advocates like [?]. China is using surveillance, labour camps, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances as weapons of mass subjugation with impunity. Through this, China is creating the new normal, ruining the international human rights system, and we cannot afford to be silent. Madam President, through this, we urge the UN to appoint a Special Rapporteur once again to inquire into human rights violations being carried out by China against Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and Mongolians. The UN and the Member States cannot look at the human rights violations by China in silence and there needs to be a holistic view of these violations. Thank you.”

  1. Amnesty International, Representative: Mr. Kevin Whelan
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @02:12:03 to 02:12:13

“We support the statement delivered by Human Rights Watch on China, and are also alarmed by the detention of 12 Hong Kongers being held in […?] without access to their family, or family-appointed lawyers.”

  1. Jubilee Campaign, Representative: Ms. Hulda Fahmi
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Cont’d) (Item 4), @00:15:24 to 0016:53

“Thank you, Madam President. Jubilee Campaign would like to draw the Council’s attention to the People’s Republic of China’s continuous violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Already, in 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged China to not discriminate regarding the right to religious freedom for children, specifically, Uyghur, Tibetan and children of Falungong practitioners. However, since then China has effectively extended this restriction on the right to religion or belief for children of all faith. Several provincial governments have released notices, banning minors from attending any religious based activities, government officials have stopped summer camps and recorded the names and schools of the children. In April 2018, local authorities drove out minors during a Catholic mass in [Jiangzhou?] and every Sunday following that, police cars stood outside the Church, making sure no children came inside. Jubilee Campaign urges th Human Rights Council to condemn China’s failure to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We also call on Human Rights Council to investigate into the breaches of freedom of religion and belief of children in China and the effects these police raids to places of worship, discrimination in schools, and what effects it has on the health and well-being of children. Thank you.”

  1. Ingenieurs de Monde, Representative: Mr. Hilel Neuer
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Cont’d) (Item 4), @01:17:46 to 01:19:20

“Thank you. This Council’s founding Charter, Resolution 60/251 requires that Members shall “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Let us consider the campaign pledges by three governments now running for election: Russia, China and Cuba… Now China pledged that it would “earnestly fulfill its international human rights obligations. If so, why did China [put?] 1 million Uyghurs into camps, muzzle the doctor in Wuhan, and arrest, crush and disappear everyone who try to sound the alarm about the coronavirus? Why did it suffocate freedom in Hong Kong?”

  1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Representative: Ms. Christina Meindersma
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Cont’d) (Item 4), @01:28:08 to 01:29:34

“Madam President, we are deeply concerned about the strategic objectives of the 7th Work Formal of Tibet held at the end of August where the Chinese leadership again reiterated its intention to sanitise Tibetan Buddhism. This will inevitably lead to its annihilation and extinction. With regard to overall State policies in Tibet, […] leads to forced assimilation of Tibetan Buddhism to the ideological and political goals of the Communist Party, the degradation of Tibetan language, and the forced relocation and settlement of almost 2 million Tibetan nomads. We have noticed with utmost concern a recent report about the coercive and large scale labour program that pushed more than half a million rural Tibetans off their land and military style training centres in just the first seven months of 2020. We therefore express our concern with regard to the candidacy of the PRC to the Human Rights Council, given the devastating human rights record of the Chinese government. This must not find the support of the international community. We urge the Council to call on China to respect international human rights standards, to stop its attempts to assimilate Tibetan culture, and respect Tibetans’ rights and aspirations. Thank you, Madam President.”

C. Transcriptions of statements by China

  1. China, Representative: Mr. Jiang Duan
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @01:15:10 to 01:16:55

“Madam President, today, based on prejudice and fake information, few countries made baseless accusations against China’s human rights again. The Human Rights Council has once again become the forum for some countries to stigmatize developing countries and interfere in their internal affairs. We deeply deplore and firmly oppose this. Happy life for people is the most important human right. 1.4 billion Chinese people share the benefits of development and lead happy and peaceful life. Our battle against the pandemic has achieved major achievements. This year, China will comprehensively build a relatively well-off society and eliminate absolute poverty for first time. Human rights will be protected at a higher level. On the contrary, the countries that attacked China today have highest human rights problems themselves with increasing racism, xenophobia, violations of rights of refugees, migrants and their offshore detention centres have not been closed and they have deep-rooted poverty and social injustice. COVID-19 has aggravated longstanding inequality and other problems, the rights to life and health for people especially the vulnerable are not effectively protected. Instead of feeling ashamed about their own problems and not mentioning the problems of their allies in human rights but they attack other countries arrogantly, revealing hypocritical nature of their policies. China will not accept human rights masters but we will conduct dialogue on human rights on equal basis. Thank you.”

  1. China (Right of Reply), Representative: Mr. Geng Gai
    September 28, 2020, General Debate (Cont’d) (Item 4), @00:34:19- 00:37:25

“Some countries and NGOs [?] made unwarranted charges against China on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet which China firmly opposes. Their accusations ignore facts and confuse right and wrong. China is shocked at the ignorance, prejudice and hostility of these countries and NGOs. Some countries in the name of human rights carried out intervention attempting to create division turmoil and chaos in China. Such attempts would never succeed. The essence of Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues is to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and unity, and to protect the rights of all ethnic groups to live and work in peace. It is not about human rights at all. Since last year, Hong Kong independent and violent extremists colluded with foreign forces to commit violent crimes in Hong Kong, killing and hurting innocent people, seriously disrupting social order and stability, undermining One Country Two Systems and threatening China’s national security. No responsible country would tolerate such atrocities. China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong filled a longstanding gap in Hong Kong’s national security legislation. It targets at small number of criminals who seriously endanger national security and protects the law-abiding Hong Kong people. Since implementation Hong Kong society has gradually returned to stability and the human rights of Hong Kong people effectively protected. National security legislation is a common practice in own countries including those countries that accuse China. Isn’t it China’s right to legislate our national security in its own land. Some external forces are so agitated simply because they cannot [?] Hong Kong to carry out activities endangering China’s national security as before. It shows that it is right and necessary for China to enact China’s national security law. China is united multi-ethnic country upholding ethnic equality and fully guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic groups including freedom of religious beliefs and use of their own language. Xinjiang suffered greatly from ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism, and religious extremism since 1990s, thousands of terrorist attacks occurred, causing heavy casualties and grossly trampling on the basic human rights of all ethnic groups. The anti-terrorism and the de-radicalising measures to carry out according to law effectively protected the human rights of all people. There hasn’t been any terrorist incident for four years. People of all ethnic groups enjoy human rights in a safe environment. Since the end of 2018, about 1000 people from over 90 countries visited Xinjiang and saw the excellent situation, stability, prosperity and development and the fact that all ethnic groups live happily. The so-called detention camps and forced labour in Xinjiang is a complete lie. Western countries and NGOs fabricated too many lies about Xinjiang, maliciously slandering China, promoting separatism and extremists, attempting to keep Xinjiang in unstable and unsafe situation and ordinary people under the threat of terrorism and extremism, thus violating their right to peaceful life. The Chinese people will never agree to this. Such things will never succeed.”

D. Statements by Chinese Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations (“GONGOs”)

Two Chinese GONGOs also delivered statements: both expressly denied any ongoing human rights violations in China, particularly Xinjiang and Tibet. The Chinese Association for International Understanding emphasized that the “social and economic development of ethnic minorities and ethnic minority areas” has been an important aspect of China’s national development in the last three decades thereby leading to substantial poverty alleviation of ethnic minority groups, especially in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, the China NGO Network for International Exchanges sought to set out the “true history and current situation of Tibet human rights in China,” claiming that information about Tibet is misleading and that all 6.3 million Tibetans in China enjoy human rights to the fullest extent.

  1. Chinese Association for International Understanding, Representative: Ms. Jianan Zhang
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:42:09 to 00:43:33
  2. China NGO Network for International Exchanges, Representative: Ms. Yangjingkun Zheng
    September 25, 2020, General Debate (Item 4), @00:46:36 to 00:48:15

HRIC did not transcribe their statements.


[1] As well as the Candidate Countries of Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Liechtenstein.

  • UN Human Rights Council
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