Beijing said that comments made by Mike Pompeo were “very absurd” after the US Secretary of State criticised China’s re-election to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) earlier this week.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Pompeo accused the UNHRC of “embracing” authoritarian regimes: “Today the UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records, including China, Russia, and Cuba,” a statement read.

United Nations Human Rights Council. Photo: UN.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zhao Lijian said that China was elected by UN member states: “The United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council and is now standing on the opposite side of the international community. It is in no position to dictate the Human Rights Council election.”

“We advise the United States to stop spreading political virus and make some earnest efforts to promote and protect human rights in its own country… It should stop politicising human rights issues and stop using human rights as a pretext to interfere in others’ internal affairs.” Zhao added.

Zhao Lijian. Photo: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Office, via Twitter.

Later the same day, the US Secretary again criticised Beijing’s human rights record and alleged disregard for international law, tweeting: “The Chinese Communist Party has routinely dismantled the autonomy that Beijing promised to the Hong Kong people & the world in a UN-registered treaty.”

The secretary also referred to a sanctions report issued by the State Department on Thursday which named 10 individuals whose “actions have undermined freedoms of assembly, speech, press, or rule of law.”

The US withdrew from the council in June 2018. Back then, Secretary Pompeo and then-US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the decision was made in light of the “hypocritical and self-serving” nature of the council that “made a mockery of human rights.”

The UNHCR, headquartered in Geneva, was founded in 2006 as an inter-governmental body tasked with “the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.” The 15 newly-elected members will serve a three-year term from January 2021.

‘Perverse logic’

China was elected to the UNHRC despite serious human rights allegations against Beijing from rights groups. In a joint statement issued last Wednesday, over 70 rights organisations from 18 countries urged UN member states to vote against China’s election to the council, citing “its ongoing and systematic human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs.”

“Appointing China to the Human Rights Council undermines the core values that the United Nations stand for,” World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa said, “China not only undermines the concept of human rights, but also uses its influence in the UN to silence any debate on its horrific human rights record.’’

Photo: Stand News.

The sentiment was echoed by Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) Omer Kanat: “It’s difficult to comprehend the perverse logic behind the possibility of electing China – the government currently committing genocide against Uyghurs—to the UN body responsible for overseeing human rights protections around the world.”

The group expressed “dismay” following China’s election to the UNHCR: “Governments committing genocide shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Human Rights Council.”

File Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

“It’s clear from the vote, however, that China has been losing the confidence of the international community over time,” Kanat said, referring to the lowest level of support for China from UN member states since 2006. China received 41 fewer votes than during its last election to the council.

Human rights concern groups have long-criticised China for its human rights record, with reports of mass detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, and political suppression in Tibet and Hong Kong. The US issued targeted sanctions against exports from certain Chinese products in September, citing reports of forced labour in the Xinjiang region.

Earlier this month, 39 human rights groups issued a joint declaration blasting China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.