HONG KONG— Days after China dismissed a United Nations report that accused North Korea of crimes against humanity, Beijing is criticizing a U.N. investigative report on its own human rights record. The report, scheduled to be adopted by the world body in Geneva Wednesday, is the outcome of months of dialogue between U.N. member states and the Chinese government.
The Universal Periodic Review is a U.N. mechanism that examines the human rights record of member countries with the help of other member states and independent groups.
The inquiry covers a wide range of issues. In its response to the report on its own human rights record, Beijing accepted 204 of their recommendations, on issues ranging from poverty alleviation to a stronger welfare system.
But on other issues, such as China’s policies in Tibet, judicial reform and treatment of political opposition, authorities rejected the recommendations.
“At the U.N. Human Rights Council, some countries ignored the great progress made by China on human rights, and willfully criticized,” said Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. “This is the politicization of human rights and a double standard.”
China rejected the report’s advice on 48 points, either dismissing the relevancy of the issues raised, or claiming that it is already implementing laws to better protect its citizens' rights.
Ye Shiwei of the advocacy group Human Rights in China said the recent crackdown on human rights defenders in China belies the government's reassurances to the United Nations.
“We really need to ask China, if they are already doing that, then why are there so many people in the New Citizens Movement and in other human rights communities in China, and of course Cao Shunli herself, why did she die?” said Ye.
Cao Shunli was an activist who had been staging peaceful sit-ins to press Chinese authorities to allow independent groups to participate in the U.N.’s review. In September, she was arrested by police at the airport before she could participate in meetings in Geneva. Authorities later said she died while in custody.
A group of human rights experts at the U.N., as well as some countries involved in the review, urged the Chinese government to investigate Cao's death. They say it is unacceptable that activists pay the ultimate price for interacting with the United Nations on human rights.
In recent months, China has put on trial members of the New Citizens movement, a loosely organized group that advocates for anti-discrimination policies and political accountability.
Human Rights in China's Ye said that Cao's treatment, and the intense crack down on political dissent, has heavily weighed on the review.
“In 2009, at the review, only two countries have raised the issue of protecting civil society [in China], whereas in 2013, at least 13 countries have raised it,” said Ye.
Through the Universal Periodic Review, several countries urged China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes protecting freedom of speech and association and guaranteeing a fair trial.
China said it is adjusting its legal system in ways that will address some of these issues, but it has not set a timetable for formally implementing the international treaty.
Michael Davis, a professor of law at Hong Kong University, is skeptical that China is truly interested in judicial reforms.
“To live up to international standards under the ICCPR would require a free society, a free press, freedom of the internet. Are they going to do that? One has to be doubtful: there has been no sign because that would be very serious political reform,” said Davis.
Instead of promoting political reform, Davis said, China might decide to ratify the covenant and then face international criticism for falling short of its requirements.
“The Chinese approach to all of this is that nobody else has a right to tell it what it do, but that it has an obligation under human rights commitment to try to reform itself and then it takes the view that what it already does for the most part is consistent with human rights. Even though nobody agrees with that,” said Davis.
In response to criticism of its policies on ethnic and religious minorities, China said the government guarantees the protection of all the basic rights of minorities.
In Tibet, more than 130 people have self-immolated since 2009 in protest of China's heavy policing of the region and oppression of religious rights.
All but one of the U.N. Review’s recommendations on Tibet were rejected by China, which only agreed to facilitate visits to Tibet by senior U.N. officials.