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China says UN criticism of human rights record is ‘politically driven’ | World news


China has defended its human rights record after the first UN assessment since 2013 criticised the mass detention of lawyers and the continuing use of internment camps.

Beijing rejected claims made during the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review that human rights in China had deteriorated, saying that some UN member countries were deliberately disregarding “the remarkable achievements made by China”.

During the review, UN member states singled out China’s policies in Xinjiang and Tibet and its treatment of human rights defenders. It called on Beijing to release detained Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, protect religious freedoms in Tibet, and stop harassing and detaining human rights lawyers.

Activists say as many as a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination.

“We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, with total disregard for facts,” said vice foreign minister Le Yucheng. “No country shall dictate the definition of democracy and human rights,” he said.

Tuesday’s half-day UN panel, which included brief comments from more than 100 UN member states and responses from China, highlighted the range of human rights issues raised by advocates. While some states praised Beijing’s progress on human rights, others issued harsher statements.

“Overall, we are concerned about the broader deterioration of human rights in China since the last universal periodic review,” said Tamara Mawhinney, Canada’s deputy permanent representative at the UN.

Germany called on China to “end all unlawful detentions in Xinjiang,” while Iceland and Japan expressed concern about the rights of minorities in Xinjiang. Several states urged China allow UN observers into Xinjiang. The US called on China to abolish all internment camps in the far western territory and release the “possibly millions” detained there.

Chinese delegates said internment centres were not re-education camps but vocational centres that offered free training in the law, language, and workplace skills.

Trainees sign agreements and receive diplomas after their course, according to Yasheng Sidkie, the vice mayor of Urumqi. “Xinjiang is a nice place. I’d like to say, welcome to Xinjiang,” he said.

Spending on security-related construction doubled in 2017 in Xinjiang, an academic analysis of government expenditure found on Monday.





Li Wenzu, wife of the imprisoned Chinese lawyer Wang Quanzhang, protests outside a government building in Beijing.



Li Wenzu, wife of the imprisoned Chinese lawyer Wang Quanzhang, protests outside a government building in Beijing. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Chinese officials reiterated earlier claims that the policies in Xinjiang were within the law.

“China is citing its own domestic laws to legitimise the camp system,” said Peter Irwin, program manager for the World Uyghur Congress. “Citing domestic legislation is meaningless if the legislation itself contradicts these clearly accepted human rights norms,.”

UN members, including the US, urged China to free lawyers such as Wang Quanzhang, who disappeared after a police raid in 2015; Tashi Wangchuk, who was sentenced to five years in prison for promoting the Tibetan language; and the Uighur activist Ilham Tohti.

In response to criticism about the treatment of human rights lawyers, the Chinese delegation said the law protected lawyers, but those who break the law must be held accountable. The arrests did not constitute the “repression of so-called human rights lawyers”, one delegate said.

Outside the UN headquarters in Geneva, protesters organised by the World Uyghur Congress and other NGOs demonstrated against China’s policies in Xinjiang.

Countries that commended China’s progress on human rights included its alliesNorth Korea, Syria, Cambodia, Cuba, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa.

Frances Eve, a researcher for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said: “China has always used its economic muscle to ensure friendly treatment by fellow states, but it was surprising to hear a few countries actual speak in support of China’s efforts to change the international system to suit its anti-human rights agenda.”

During the review process, China also defended its encroachment on freedoms in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that is given a high level of autonomy under the “one country two systems” arrangement.

An art exhibit featuring a dissident political cartoonist was cancelled this week. In October, a Financial Times journalist was expelled after the correspondents’ association he headed hosted an event by a banned pro-independence party leader.

“Like any other jurisdiction, such freedom is not absolute,” the Chinese delegation said.



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