International civil groups have expressed concern after the United Nations removed their submissions from papers relating to China’s human rights review. In response, the UN said that it must respect the “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity” of China.

The United Nations Human Rights Council conducted its Universal Periodic Review on China on Tuesday. It welcomed constructive contributions from civil society on human rights issues to be submitted by March.

However, international civil groups, including Hong Kong’s Demosisto, have said that they were dismayed after at least seven submissions were completely removed from the final document. The document is presented to UN member states so they may draft recommendations as part of China’s review.

United Nations Human Rights Council
United Nations Human Rights Council. Photo: UN.

According to the groups, the organisations concerned reached out individually to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last month.

They then received a response from the office, which said: “As a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly, the HRC and the UPR Working Group (UPR WG), must adhere to the official United Nations position and terminology as reflected in relevant General Assembly resolutions and within the context of the UN Charter, and therefore, must respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the State concerned.”

The groups said further requests for answers went unanswered.

‘Clearly political pressure’

Joshua Wong, secretary-general of Demosisto, said he understood that Beijing has been pressuring delegates from other countries not to meet with Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who visited Geneva.

“There is clearly political pressure from Beijing,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “This is political censorship.”

Demosisto’s submission mentioned political incidents in Hong Kong including the disqualification of lawmakers, the jailing of activists and the disappearance of booksellers, among other issues. Wong said the submission did not mention any issues relating to China’s sovereignty.

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

The groups issued a joint statement expressing their deep concern. The statement was signed by Demosisto, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

They said a Stakeholder Summary was released on September 3 which included submissions from them. But shortly after the first Stakeholder Summary was posted, it was removed from the OHCHR’s website for several weeks.

An updated version appeared on October 16 citing “technical reasons,” which omitted citations of reports from Demosisto and TCHRD. Also absent were all references to reports from the UHRP and WUC, as well as three separate joint submissions.

The OHCHR, in a Corrigendum document on November 2, included citations of reports by TCHRD, UHRP, WUC and a joint submission by UNPO and SMHRIC, but individual submissions from Demosisto as well as a joint submission focusing on Tibet were still omitted.

China is facing questions from other countries about its human rights record at the United Nations in Geneva.

🔴HKFP_Live: China faces questions from other countries about its human rights record at the United Nations in Geneva. [English audio from 3:00]

Posted by Hong Kong Free Press HKFP on Tuesday, 6 November 2018

“While we recognise the indispensable work performed by the OHCHR around the world working on critical issues and facilitating participation and inputs from various groups, we remain very concerned that the removal of these reports gives further credence to well-documented NGO concerns of China’s growing influence within the UN human rights system, and the deliberate silencing of critical voices,” the civil groups said.

“As NGOs, we look to the OHCHR to facilitate civil society participation in the UPR process. Any differential treatment or interpretation of processes, criteria or NGO engagement by the OHCHR in the context of reviews of China should be justified promptly and openly.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.