China dismisses concerns following Human Rights Day

Protesters in London for Human Rights Day
Protesters in London for Human Rights Day

14th December 2016

Foreign Ministry Spokesman slams outside interference, brushes aside concerns about political prisoners

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has criticised foreign governments and organisations that have questioned China's human rights record, accusing them of interference in China’s domestic affairs. The criticism followed Human Rights Day on 10 December, which was marked by protests from Tibetan activists and statements on China's record from both the USA and European Union.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang responded to a question on criticism of China’s human rights record, saying that “To promote and protect human rights is the ideal and aspiration shared by all mankind”. However, he added that human rights have been:

“used as an excuse for some individual countries to hurl accusations at other countries, interfere in their domestic affairs, and politicize human rights issues. We are strongly dissatisfied with and opposed to such behavior."

Geng Shuang

The Chinese Communist Party has regularly stated that there are no established human rights standards that all countries should follow, often emphasising economic development and increases in standards of living over civil and political rights. Human rights organisations and United Nations bodies have recorded frequent violations of civil and political rights in China and Tibet, such as the suppression of demonstrations, arbitrary detentions, torture and tight regulations on freedom of expression and assembly.

International concern

Both the USA and the European Union marked Human Rights Day by highlighting China’s poor human rights record. Despite noting the “considerable progress in a number of areas of human development”, the EU expressed concerns about China's criminal justice system, and raised a number of individual cases of political detainees, including Tashi Wangchuk, the Tibetan language advocate who has been in prison since January. Tashi Wangchuk's arrest followed an appearance in a New York Times documentary last year about his work to promote the teaching of the Tibetan language.

Outgoing US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, also raised the case of Tashi Wangchuk:

“China’s constitution states that “all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”  So I ask why Tashi Wangchuk, a Chinese citizen who is deeply interested in education, remains in jail for his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language education.  We pursue no political motives when we call for his immediate release. “

Non-governmental organisations have also raised concerns. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch accused China of overseeing "the most aggressive campaign against human rights since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre”, while an annual report by the watchdog Freedom House in January found Tibet to be the second “least free” country in the world after Syria.

One voice against repression

On Human Rights Day, Free Tibet gathered in London with other groups representing Tibetans, Uyghurs and dissidents from China to call for an end to torture in China. The group first went to Downing Street to submit a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, and then gathered in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square for the protest.

Protesters in London for Human Rights Day

The demonstrators raised the cases of three political prisoners, the Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, Chinese writer Zhang Haitao and Tashi Wangchuk.

Geng Shuang used part of his response to criticise these individual cases, along with other cases of political prisoners that western governments had raised with China:

“As for the individual cases made in some countries' statements, almost all of which involve persons that either violated or are suspected of violating Chinese laws. China is a country governed by law, and our judicial organs handle cases in accordance with the law. We are firmly against other countries disrupting China's judicial sovereignty.”

Protesters in London for Human Rights Day

Silence on torture

Another significant deadline passed the day before Human Rights Day. 9 December was the date set by the United Nations Committee Against Torture last year for China to respond to its findings on China's record on torture.

After reviewing China's record on torture last year, the Committee issued its concluding observations, which found that torture was “still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system”, and that there were “numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans."

The Committee issued several follow-up questions to China, along with a series of recommendations that China should implement to improve its record on torture. The Committee requested that Beijing responded to them by 9 December 2016 with the answers to its questions and with an update on the steps it had taken to implement the recommendations.  This deadline has now passed, with no response from Beijing.

Several of the Committee's recommendations had been repeated from China's last review in 2009, a fact noted, and regretted, by the Committee last December.

Despite this lack of engagement with international human rights bodies, China still managed to be re-elected to the Human Rights Council in October this year. China will remain on the Council until 2019.

Take action

Tibetans face a range of human rights abuses under the occupation, but many face them head on through protests and other acts of defiance. Tibetan activists face jail for this defiance, and need our support. Take action for Tibet’s political prisoners by writing to the Chinese authorities.