Urgent Interventions

Respect for rule of law should be the rule, not the exception

The absence of rule of law is atthe root of a range of human rights violations in the People's Republic of China,from the western regions to Hong Kong. Rather than tackling these concerns inisolation, the international community should rethink both the narratives theyuse and the assistance they offer.

At the opening of the 42nd session of theUN Human Rights Council, OMCT joinscivil society organisations seeking to promote human rights inChina to call on the international community to recognise the systemic failuresof rule of law in China. The lack of due process, an independent judiciary,public participation and civic space make these violations, and more, possible.Furthermore, they perpetuate impunity.

The full text of the open letter is below,a PDFversion is available here.

Open letter on the rule of law in China

9 September 2019

Across the People’s Republic ofChina, human rights violations are a systemic reality. Over the past year, theUN has once again documented legal and policyframeworks that fail to protect against discrimination; stigmatise Islam andstifle freedom of religious belief; undermine a wide range of socioeconomicrights and those who defend them; and permit gross violations of due process,including secret trials and arbitrary and incommunicado detention.

Over the past year, UN HighCommissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and other international humanrights experts, as well as governments have pressed for accessto China, in particular to Uyghur, Tibetan and other ethnic areas. The HighCommissioner has urged dialogue and a de-escalation of violence in Hong Kong,following allegations of excessive use of force by police to disperse massivepublic protests and the criminalisation of demonstrators.

Independent experts of the UNHuman Rights Council have requested information and prompt action from thegovernment regarding a broad range of allegedviolations and especially the criminalisation of human rights defenders andcivil society, such as citizen journalists, lawyers, democracy movementleaders, religious leaders, workers’ rights activists, social workers, publichealth advocates and students.

In June of this year, more thantwo dozen governments informed the High Commissioner and the Human RightsCouncil president of their concerns about the use of re-education camps totarget Uyghur and other Muslim minority groups in western China. Theyreiterated the need for prompt, independent and unfettered access.

Despite these efforts atengagement, the Chinese government has refused to allow independent visits ofrelevant human rights experts, including the Special Procedures of the UN HumanRights Council; refused constructive dialogue, sowed disinformation and stokedviolence in Hong Kong; used a push for sinicisation to eliminate cultural andreligious diversity; and continued a fierce campaign against critics withinChina and many abroad, including other States. Chinese officials have stated,clearly and forcefully in public and in private, that ‘China is a country ofrule of law’ and ‘will not accept interference in its internal affairs’.

This is patently misleading.

The Communist Party of Chinauses China’s laws to maintain state power, not toensure justice. Overly broad charges that do notcomply with the principle of legality are used to wrongfully detain, prosecute, andconvict individuals for the peaceful exercise of internationally protectedrights and participation in public affairs. In effect, any person who expressesviews that differ from the Party narrative, or who seeks to highlight negativeimpacts of Party and government policies, can be caught in the crosshairs ofcriminalisation.

The Chinese government hasrefined and replicated a practiceof characterizing all difference or dissent as terrorism, subversion, or athreat to national security.The tactics deployed in Hong Kong are regularly used against Uyghur and Tibetanpeoples to justify a hard-line crackdown on the legitimate exercise of humanrights. This isa dangerous departure from international human rights standards.

Furthermore, the Chinesegovernment’s human rights record is no longer an issue limited by its borders.The government has actively used laws and practices to disappear and detainforeign nationals, restrict access to information overseas, conductsurveillance of Chinese nationals and other exile communities, embolden its lawenforcement outside Chinese borders, and impede public participation,sustainable development and transparency in third countries where China haspolitical and economic interests.

Human rights defenders of allkinds have been specifically targeted. The silence of the internationalcommunity has not only allowed this to decimate civil society within China, butalso to endanger civil society, defenders and other individuals critical of theChinese government wherever they may be, including in the halls of theUN.

The same laws that allow thearbitrary deprivation of liberty of lawyers, public interest advocates, housingrights activists, and Christians in China’s wealthy eastern areas are furtherrefined and weaponised against ethnic and religious minorities in the west ofthe country, including Tibet, where international access is a significantconcern. Thelarge-scale detention program in Xinjiang, which has detained Uyghurs and other minorities,may amount to crimes against humanity.

The worrying departures from the rule of law that led manycompanies and business associations to express concerns about the draftExtradition Bills in Hong Kong earlier this year have also allowedincommunicado detention and the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. These violations,coupled with no access to effective remedies, have contributed to a growing number ofdeaths in custody, such as the 13 July 2017 death of Nobel Peace Prizewinner Liu Xiaobo.

Well-intentioned requests forinformation and calls for reform from United Nations officials and governmentleaders are important because they demonstrate to human rights defenders andtheir families that their struggles are visible. However, such calls for justice have fallen on deafears.

A system with no checks orbalances, which lacks an independent judiciary, and which interprets andapplies laws as merely tools to ensure regime control and stability cannotuphold any human rights standards, much less the ‘highest standards’ to whichthe Chinese government has committed as a Council member.

We call on the internationalcommunity, and specifically the UN Human Rights Council, to stand in solidaritywith the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese government, whereverthey may be. This includes using all available avenues to press the Chinesegovernment to comply with its obligations to ensure human rights and provideaccess to effective remedies for violations, as outlined in the UN Charter andhuman rights treaties.

We urge any government or intergovernmental organisation engaged intechnical assistance and cooperation with the People’s Republic of China tosuspend rule of law cooperation until China takes concrete and measurable stepsto implement recommendations received from the UN human rights mechanisms, asassessed by those bodies and independent experts.

The defence of human rights isnot a criminal act.

The peaceful expression ofdissent is not extremism.

Universal rights are notsubject to arbitrary limits under the guise of countering terrorism.

In particular, we urge the UNHigh Commissioner for Human Rights to actively raise, publicly and privately,all pressing human rights issues in the People’s Republic of China. To remain silent on those most marginalisedor vulnerable, including ethnic groups such as Uyghurs,Tibetans and Mongols, risks their further stigmatisation.

We also encourage the HighCommissioner to commit publicly to taking concrete steps to ensure that theOffice’s mandate – ‘to promote and protect all human rights for all people’ –can be realized in regard to the People’s Republic of China and those whoserights it violates. This work has never been more important, nor moreimperilled.

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