Germany’s UN Envoy Calls for Release of Kovrig and Spavor; China Fires Back

December 23, 2020 Updated: December 25, 2020

Germany’s envoy to the United Nations (U.N.), during his last scheduled U.N. Security Council meeting, called on Beijing to release Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for Christmas, prompting a harsh rebuke from China’s deputy U.N. envoy in response.

“Let me end my tenure in the Security Council by appealing to my Chinese colleagues to ask Beijing for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Christoph Heusgen, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the U.N., said during a Security Council meeting on Dec. 22.

“Christmas is the right moment for such a gesture.”

As one of the 10 non-permanent members, Germany’s two-year term on the council comes to an end this month. Heusgen, who was appointed to the position in 2017, plans to retire after serving as a diplomat for more than 40 years.

Kovrig and Spavor were detained by Beijing in 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial executive of Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies, on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Meng is charged with fraud for allegedly lying to major banks about her company’s business dealings with Iran, which exposed the financial institutions to a violation of U.S. sanctions on the country.

Meng was arrested on extradition charges at the Vancouver International Airport in 2018, but was soon released on house arrest. She has since faced trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court, with the case set to wrap up in April 2021.

“While the Chinese executive [Meng Wanzhou] spends her time in a seven-bedroom mansion in Vancouver, Michael Kovrig has been confined to an isolated small cell in Beijing,” Heusgen said.

However, Chinese Ambassador Geng Shuang accused Heusgen of abusing the council and said his actions could not help Kovrig in any way. Geng, who had previously bid Heusgen farewell, said the gesture was only out of courtesy and diplomatic manner.

“Now, I wish to say out of the bottom of my heart: Good riddance, Ambassador Heusgen,” Geng said.

Heusgen said that the so-called “two Michaels” should not be dismissed as singular cases. Instead, they represent the experiences of many others.

“This council will lose its legitimacy if it ceases to be concerned about the fate of individuals, about their protection and security, their human rights and their freedoms, their well-being and their aspirations,” he said.

Heusgen said Germany will continue to fight for human rights and uphold international law, while pointing to Beijing’s abuses of Uyghur Muslims. He also called for the rights of citizens in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, to be upheld.

“We will not be deterred by the disdain against those telling the truth,” Heusgen said.