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UN gives China more power on Human Rights panel – here’s the power they got

Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations, Geneva (Switzerland). It is the meeting room of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (Ludovic Courtès, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
April 06, 2020

China became the newest member of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Consultative Group panel and will help decide which investigators the UN will select to probe human rights issues like freedom of speech, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.

Jiang Duan, the minister at the Chinese Mission in Geneva, was appointed to represent the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on the UN Human Rights Council’s Consultative Group, joining just five other member representatives. The appointment followed an endorsement letter from the Omani government, who currently serves as APG coordinator.

The Human Rights Council confirmed the appointment on its website Wednesday.

With the appointment, Jiang will now have a key vote as the Consultative Group is scheduled to appoint at least 17 UN human rights mandate holders, UN Watch reported. Mandate Holders are appointed to investigate selected human rights issues.

The 17 pending vacancies for the human rights investigators include positions to oversee issues on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and the practice of “Enforced or Involuntary disappearances,” – the state-sanctioned act of abducting a person and concealing their whereabouts.

UN Watch criticized the appointment, which runs from April 1, 2020, until March 31, 2021.

“While officially China’s delegate Mr. Jiang Duan, who holds the rank of Minister at their mission in Geneva, will serve on the 5-nation group in his “personal capacity,” in practice country representatives, especially those from authoritarian regimes, follow instructions from and pursue the interests of their respective governments,” the organization wrote.

UN Watch raised its concerns as China has been widely accused of the same abuses for which Jiang now influences who can investigate.

“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch said.

By a November 2019 estimate, China has placed 1.8 million of China’s Muslim minority Uyghurs in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province.

China has also been accused of various efforts to censor free speech, particularly in recent months with the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which first appeared in China.

One Chinese human rights group, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, assessed China has taken actions that include “deleting critical information online, censoring the media, punishing whistleblowing doctors, detaining and disappearing independent journalists and government critics, and kicking out foreign reporter.”

China has also been widely accused of practicing enforced disappearance, and some critics of China’s handling of the virus have reportedly disappeared.

Another extension of the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), has also come under scrutiny for taking minimal action to investigate the severity of the coronavirus when it first appeared in China. A member of the WHO also appeared to cut off a reporter who asked questions about extending WHO membership to Taiwan, a rival of the Chinese government.

The U.S. left the Human Rights Council in 2018. At the time, then-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the group “a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”