China’s human rights record under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came under formal international scrutiny yesterday for the first time since he took power, with the main UN rights forum set to hear accusations that the government is expanding a crackdown on dissent.
The UN Human Rights Council, which reviews all UN members every four years, will give concerned countries a chance to challenge the administration of Xi, who some experts had thought would be less hardline than his predecessors.
Instead, critics say Xi has presided over a clampdown that has moved beyond the targeting of dissidents calling for political change. For example, authorities have detained at least 16 activists who have demanded officials publicly disclose their wealth, as well as scores of people accused of online “rumor mongering.”
“Xi Jinping has definitely taken the country backwards on human rights,” prominent rights lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平) said. “Look at the number of people who are being locked up and the measures that are being taken to lock them up.”
China will make a presentation at the start of the debate in Geneva, during which diplomats will speak. Non-governmental organizations are not allowed to address the council, but can submit reports, often echoed in country statements.
The council has no binding powers. Its rotating membership of 47 states does not include China, although Beijing is expected to run for a spot next month. The hearing will be the second time China has been assessed under a process that began in 2008.
Diplomats are likely to raise questions over China’s crackdown on dissent, the death penalty and the use of torture among other topics, New York-based Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Maya Wang said.
Of special concern is the arrest in August of prominent activist Xu Zhiyong (許志永), who had called for officials to reveal their wealth, Wang said. Wang also cited last month’s disappearance of Cao Shunli, who had helped stage a sit-in this year outside the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to press for the public to be allowed to contribute to a national human rights report.
China had sent a large delegation to Geneva to engage in dialogue with an “open and frank attitude,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told a news conference on Monday.
“If there are some criticisms, some constructive criticisms, the Chinese government will listen with an open mind and accept them and will give them serious consideration,” she said. “As for malicious, deliberate criticisms, of course we will uphold our own path and our own correct judgements.”
In 2009, China rejected calls from Western and some Latin American nations to end the death penalty, but agreed to suggestions from Cuba that it take firm action against “self-styled human rights defenders working against the Chinese state and people.”
The ascendancy of Xi as Chinese Communist Party chief in a once-in-a-decade generational leadership transition in November last year gave many Chinese hope for political reform, spurring citizens to push officials to disclose their wealth in several movements throughout the country.
However, the detention of activists making those calls is a strong indication the party will not tolerate any open challenge to its rule, even as it claims more transparency. The activists face trial on the charge of illegal assembly.