Beijing Working to Subvert UN Human Rights System, Rights Activist Warns

June 13, 2021 Updated: June 14, 2021

The Chinese communist regime is trying to subvert the global human rights system to avoid accountability for its sweeping repression of rights within its own borders, according to rights activist Laura Harth.

Harth, the campaign director at Madrid-based nonprofit Safeguard Defenders, said the regime has been active at the Human Rights Council (HRC), the United Nations’ highest body for human rights, to remold the norms surrounding U.N. scrutiny of countries’ rights records.

“They’re proposing this definition: this idea of human rights with Chinese characteristics, with socialist characteristics,” Harth told EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” program.

In June last year, for instance, the HRC adopted a resolution proposed by China on “mutually beneficial cooperation,” which analysts said was an effort to replace “name and shame” resolutions with “constructive dialogue” involving the offending state. The resolution, adopted by a vote of 23-16, “seeks to reposition international human rights law as a matter of state-to-state relations … and foresees no meaningful role for civil society,” according to a 2020 Brookings Institute report (pdf).

The problem with what Beijing is doing is that it’s “completely rewriting the very premise of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wanted to do,” Harth said. “They are rewriting the international corpus.”

In July 2020, the regime rallied 53 countries, including 13 nations then sitting on the HRC, to back its draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong. Only 27 states criticized the law, which imposes harsh penalties on political crimes and has been used to silence and arrest pro-democracy voices in the city.

If the regime is successful in reshaping the international rights framework to prioritize Beijing’s preferred principles, such as non-interference in state affairs, then rights activists around the world will lose the HRC as a forum to advance and protect human rights in any country, Harth warned.

The Biden administration rejoined the 47-member council earlier this year after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States, citing the council’s bias against Israel and that its membership included the world’s worst human rights abusers.

The HRC currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, and Venezuela—all of which are perpetrators of rights violations.

For Harth, the Chinese regime is particularly dangerous because it’s not only engaging in worsening repression of ethnic minorities, religious believers, and dissidents domestically: It’s also exporting its authoritarian vision globally.

“China is picking up the pace to set the tone of the debate, set the topic of the debate, chang[ing] … the understanding of human rights, the definition of human rights,” she said.

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