The United States and 11 other countries have issued a joint statement condemning China’s human rights record and expressing concern over the case of the missing booksellers at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

The statement was read by American ambassador Keith M. Harper and was signed by the US, Britain, Australia, Japan, and eight other European countries. “These extraterritorial actions are unacceptable, out of step with the expectations of the international community, and a challenge to the rule-based international order,” it read.

The five booksellers at Causeway Bay Books.

Five booksellers who worked at Mighty Current Publishing and Causeway Bay Bookstore were reported to be missing last year. The store was well-known among mainland tourists as a source of political titles banned in China.

The booksellers reappeared over the past month to give interviews with various media outlets, “confessing” to breaking Chinese law by engaging in an “illegal book distribution business”. Recently, two of the booksellers came to Hong Kong to drop their missing persons’ case with the police, then returned to the mainland.

Chinese ambassador slams US and Japanese hypocrisy

However, China’s ambassador to the Human Rights Council Fu Cong hit back by pointing out that the US itself did not have a squeaky clean human rights record, listing instances such as its abuses at Guantanamo Bay and the conduct of mass surveillance on its citizens, The New York Times reported. Fu also accused US troops of “committing rape and murder of local people” when on foreign soil.

The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, used by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the Palace of Nations (Geneva). Photo: Wikicommons.

Japan was also similarly criticised by Fu over its refusal to take responsibility for forcing “comfort women” into sexual slavery during World War Two, Reuters reported.

Beijing began a crackdown on human rights lawyers in July last year with the arrests of human rights lawyer Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun. According to a UN statement in February, about 250 “human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists” have been detained, although some have since been released. Organisations such as Amnesty International have voiced their concern and repeatedly called for the release of those still in custody.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.