The convening of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva on Sept. 19 presented a vivid example of how diplomats and officials with the Chinese Communist Party at times bend the international system to their own—
“Point of order!”
By repeatedly interrupting a speaker, affiliated with an NGO at the UN, the Chinese delegation sought to run down the clock, to prevent the airing of views that the Chinese authorities find uncomfort—
“Point of order!”
Chen Shizhong, a researcher of human rights abuses in China, had just began his presentation at the 21st Meeting of the 24th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Switzerland. His speech began as follo—
“Point of order!”
Chen said: “[My group] urges the Human Rights Council to pay attention to China’s fourteen-year persecution of Falun Gong that has cost a high number of lives. Not only has it been one of the world’s largest human rights crises, but the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged extraction of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs also constitutes a major…”
And you know what the Chinese delegation blurted out.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that is persecuted by the Chinese authorities. The heckling continued for roughly another ten minutes, until the Chinese delegation was effectively told to stand down by the Secretariat, who is responsible for keeping order in the Council’s chambers.
After being able to speak freely for about three minutes, Chen Shizhong was interrupted yet again, on the same point of order: that the speaker, Chen, was not actually affiliated with the group on whose behalf he spoke. (In this case it was the Nonviolent Radical Party, a leftist-pacifist European NGO with UN status.) The Chinese were assured that he had been duly accredited, multiple times, yet the points of order kept flowing.
“The Secretariat does not even know the speaker’s name,” the Chinese representative said at one point. “We hope the Secretariat will identify and clarify this person.”
The Falun Gong speaker was backed up by the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, France, and the United States. “The speaker has the right to speak, and what he’s saying is relevant,” the U.S. representative said at one point, while gesturing as if to emphasise the reasonableness of the request.
“We are looking forward to hearing the end of the statement from the NGO…” said the representative from the Czech Republic. He added that the Chinese had just “made this statement the most popular statement of the day.” Applause erupted, and the Vice President struggled to conceal her giggles. The attempt to derail the Falun Gong speech appeared to have backfired.
It was water off an oily duck’s back to the Chinese, however. The man at the helm of the interruption attempt was an old hand.
Ethan Gutmann, a researcher of human rights abuses in China, in particular of organ harvesting from practitioners of Falun Gong, could have picked him from a line-up.
Gutmann had encountered the Chinese delegate while speaking at a forum organized by other human rights activists in March of this year.“They claimed it was an illegal gathering and so on. They tried to run the clock out by not asking a question but would not give their names. They took photographs of everyone who attended in an attempt to intimidate. They were very aggressive and ostentatious about it,” he wrote in an email.
An unidentified woman, who appeared to be Chinese, had also attempted to photograph Chen Shizhong while he made his speech on Thursday. She was admonished by one of the UN ushers and stashed the camera away.
In March, the antics of the Chinese delegation also drew the attention of observers. The World Bulletin, a Turkey-based media company, said in a write-up afterwards: “During the debates the Chinese diplomats caused a scandal by furiously throwing down the microphones placed on their table by media representatives for video and audio.”
The piece added: “The response of the Chinese diplomats was regarded as discourteous.”