Sep 16, 2009

UN Human Rights Chief: China Fails To Protect Minority Rights

Ms. Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights while delivering an “update report” to the 12th session of the UN Human Rights (HRC) this morning expressed concern at the recent events in Eastern Turkestan and Tibet declaring that the underlying causes include “discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights.”
By Ngawang Choephel Drakmargyapon
Phayul Special Correspondent

United Nations, Geneva, 15 September – Ms. Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights while delivering an “update report” to the 12th session of the UN Human Rights (HRC) this morning expressed concern at the recent events in Eastern Turkestan and Tibet declaring that the underlying causes include “discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights.”

The High Commissioner’s report focusing on specific overarching issues that “form the roots of chronic human rights conditions as well as emergencies,” at an early stage said: “I followed with concern the recent disturbances in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and those previously in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and surrounding areas. While condemning such violence and urging the Chinese authorities to respect human rights in upholding the law, I also encourage them to reflect on the underlying causes of such incidents, which include discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights.”

“We welcome that the High Commissioner has recognized the gravity of the situation in Tibet which means that UN human rights experts have to take even a greater responsibility to end the systematic violations of human rights faced by the Tibetan people,” said Ms. Tsering Jampa, Executive Director of International Campaign for Tibet-Europe based in Amsterdam, an organization that lobbies actively at the United Nations.

“The fact that the plight of Uyghurs and Tibetans is dealt under the background of the “scourge of discrimination” in the High Commissioner’s statement was extremely satisfying,” responded Mr. Gianfranco Fattorini, the UN Representative of a French NGO, Movement Against Racisms and for Friendship Among All Peoples (MRAP).

This strong condemnation over China’s minority policy by the UN’s highest human rights official underlines the fact of how United Nations human rights mechanisms today actually assess the ground realities confronted by the Manchus, Mongolians, Uyghurs, Tibetans and others in present-day China.

On 27 July, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a written response to journalist and writer Jean-Claude Buhrer-Solal stated: “While recognizing that Tibet is an integral part of China, China needs to live up to its commitments to protect the rights of minorities, including those of Tibetans. These are reflected in China’s Constitution and the international treaties it has ratified.  China's own law provides formal guarantees and minority protections for ethnic groups, as well as elements of self-governance.  However, serious systemic violations of human rights are reported to be taking place at the same time as increasing exclusion of ethnic minorities from a top-down policy of economic development of the western portion of the country.”

When approached for his opinion on the High Commissioner’s Tibet remarks, Mr. Buhrer-Solal told this report: “Under China's pressure, Tibet seems to be a taboo at the UN, and almost everybody is afraid even to mention it, as if human rights stop at the borders of certain countries, like in the case of China occupying Tibet.  So it's good at least Ms. Pillay is speaking even cautiously. After years of UN inaction in Tibet, maybe time has come to ask for a serious fact-finding mission by the High Commissioner herself and some UN special rapporteurs to contribute to a better respect of human rights there, as well as in China. It is the mandate of the UN to facilitate a peaceful settlement between both peoples.”

China who has already seen an advance copy of the High Commissioner‘s statement as other governments and NGOs charged that the High Commissioner was “ignoring facts”.   Mr. Li Baodong, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva asked the High Commissioner to respect the principles of neutrality, objectivity and impartiality and strictly adhere to the mandate given by the General Assembly. He also repeated China’s earlier statements that the events in Eastern Turkestan and Tibet were “serious violent and criminal acts instigated and organized by hostile and separatist forces” and was not caused by his government’s ethnic policy.   

Ambassador Li Baodong declared that events in Eastern Turkestan and Tibet had nothing to do with human rights and said that his government “deplores” the move by the High Commissioner for “choosing to ignore facts and pointing fingers at many sovereign States.”

However, Mr. Boudewijn J. Van Eenennaam of the Netherlands applauded Ms. Pillay for her “courageous speech” saying: “We the members of the Human Rights Council should follow your example and call a spade a spade. We may not like the examples that you have chosen for your speech and some may maintain that you could have equally well chosen other examples. If that so there should have been a discussion on these examples and not about the independence of your office.”  

Ms. Pillay’s statement comes three weeks after the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged the Chinese authorities to find out the “root causes” of the protests which erupted on the Tibetan Plateau in 2008 and in Eastern Turkestan in July this year and recommended that China “carefully consider the root causes of such events, including inter-ethnic violence, and the reasons why the situation escalated.”

Sources say that the current High Commissioner had to deal with China right at the beginning of her term last September when the Chinese UN Mission in Geneva attempted, without success, to stifle reports by NGOs without UN consultative status from being accepted and published by the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) before the Committee reviewed China’s periodic report in November 2008.

This Committee which refused to comply with China’s threats “expressed concern especially at large number of persons detained or arrested in aftermath of demonstrations in Tibet and recommended that China conduct a full and independent inquiry to excessive use of force, effective investigation allegation of torture, ensure detainees prompt access to independent lawyer and medical care, prohibit and prevent enforce disappearances, investigation to deaths including deaths in custody.”  

Some observers thought Ms. Pillay’s strong remarks on Eastern Turkestan and Tibet could indicate a possible lack of progress in talks on an official fact-finding visit to Tibet by the High Commissioner as a follow-up to request made by the previous High Commissioner Ms. Louise Arbour following the March 2008 Uprising on the Tibetan Plateau.  In early April 2008, China rejected the request citing that the timing was not appropriate but in February this year when China’s human rights record was examined under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of HRC, the Chinese delegation pledged that it will receive the High Commissioner at a mutually agreeable time.

During the past more than 15 years existence of the UN human rights chief, it was only the second High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson who was given access to visit Tibet in September 1998 when she called for meeting between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese President to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict before the millennium.  

The High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded her lengthy report by urging the Human Rights Council not to disappoint victims around the world.  “Early in the millennium there remain serious violations of human rights, which States have within their power-and responsibility-to prevent, protect against, and redress. States and all other stakeholders, including those who are suffering from the deprivation of human rights, look to this Council for guidance and support. They must not be disappointment, “ Ms. Pillay emphasised.