In an effort to express ongoing global disapproval of China's human rights record, campaigners are working to reduce Chinese support in the upcoming UN human rights council elections this week.
The elections for the world's premier human rights body are set to take place by secret ballot on Tuesday. While China is guaranteed a seat in one of the uncontested positions from its region, human rights advocates aim to demonstrate that pressure on the country is not waning.
Russia is also seeking to regain a seat on the 15-member council after the UN suspended its membership following the invasion of Ukraine, a membership that Russia later withdrew from.
In 2016, China received 180 votes, but this number dropped to 139 in 2020 amidst growing concerns over its treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. The crackdown by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the region has been characterized as an attempted genocide by several governments, human rights organizations, and legal bodies.
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) has gained support from lawmakers in 15 countries, including previously uninvolved nations like Italy and Bolivia. These MPs have written to their respective foreign ministries, urging them not to support China's candidacy.
China has historically counted on strong support from Latin American countries. However, Bolivian Senator Centa Rek López argued that support for China's candidacy in Latin America "reflects both their own repressive policies, history of human rights abuses, and their ties to the People's Republic of China, which has facilitated corruption, surveillance, and economic dependency."
The UN general assembly resolution that established the human rights council in 2006 urges countries to consider the candidates' contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights. Council members are required to uphold the highest standards in human rights promotion and protection both at home and abroad and to fully cooperate with the council.
Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the treatment of Uyghurs "may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity, meriting further independent analysis." The unofficial Uyghur tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice KC, found Beijing guilty of genocide based on its actions to prevent Uyghur births.
Since 2018, the UN has issued 83 formal communications to China, expressing concerns about human rights issues. UN special procedures, the UN's investigative arm, have lamented the lack of political will from China to address these concerns. China has also rejected all universal periodic review recommendations to grant UN investigators access and has refused to respond to 19 visit requests.
The UK co-chair of IPAC, Helena Kennedy KC, asserted, "It's manifestly clear that PRC does not meet the criteria for election to the human rights council. Not only does Beijing stand credibly accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, they have obstinately refused to cooperate with official investigators, and even attacked rapporteurs and special procedures delegates for raising concerns. In recent years, we have seen the People's Republic of China able to command bloc votes at the council to prevent further debate surrounding Xinjiang. This is a clear and intolerable distortion of an essential human rights institution. While it may not be possible to prevent the PRC's election this time, a lower vote share would send a strong signal that the rest of the world has had enough."
IPAC's director, Luke de Pulford, declined to specify a target number of votes but emphasized that achieving a vote count lower than 139 for China would be a significant accomplishment.
Edited and collated by Team TRC