Independent experts from the United Nations have voiced concerns over China’s repressive policies towards the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang and the impending national security law violating Hong Kong’s freedom, and called for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in the country.
“The independent experts repeatedly communicated with the Government of the People’s Republic of China their alarm regarding the repression of fundamental freedoms in China,” according to a press statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
“They have denounced the repression of protest and democracy advocacy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), impunity for excessive use of force by police, the alleged use of chemical agents against protesters, the alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations and the alleged harassment of health care workers,” the statement said.
The experts have also raised their concerns regarding a range of issues of grave concern, from the collective repression of the population, especially religious and ethnic minorities, in Xinjiang and Tibet, to the detention of lawyers and prosecution and disappearances of human rights defenders across the country, allegations of forced labour in various sectors of the economy, as well as arbitrary interferences with the right to privacy, to cyber security laws that authorize censorship and the broadly worrying anti-terrorism and sedition laws applicable in Hong Kong.
They also expressed concerns that journalists, medical workers and those exercising their right to free speech online in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic have allegedly faced retaliation from the authorities, including many being charged with ‘spreading misinformation’ or ‘disrupting public order’.
The experts asked the international community to act collectively and decisively to ensure China respects human rights and abides by its international obligations.
The independent experts urged Chinese government to invite mandate-holders, including those with a mandate to monitor civil and political rights, to conduct independent missions and to permit those visits to take place in an environment of confidentiality, respect for human rights defenders, and full avoidance of reprisals against those with whom mandate-holders may meet, the release said.
They further urged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to act with a sense of urgency to take all appropriate measures to monitor Chinese human rights practices.
The release said that measures available to the council and member states “include but need not be limited to” the possibility of a special session to evaluate the range of violations and the establishment of an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism – such as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, a panel of experts appointed by the HRC, or a Secretary General Special Envoy – to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China, particularly, in view of the urgency of the situations in the Hong Kong SAR, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The release said that National People’s Congress of China took a decision to draft a national security law for the Hong Kong SAR – “without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which would, if adopted, violate China’s international legal obligations and impose severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region”.
“The national security law would introduce poorly defined crimes that would easily be subject to abuse and repression, including at the hands of China’s national security organs, which for the first time would be enabled to establish ‘agencies’ in Hong Kong ‘when needed'”, the release said.
It said the draft law would deprive the people of Hong Kong, who constitute a minority with their own distinctive history, cultural and linguistic and even legal traditions, the autonomy and fundamental rights guaranteed them under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ governance framework.
The national security law would also undermine the ability of businesses operating in Hong Kong to discharge their responsibility to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The independent experts urged Chinese government to abide by its international legal obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and withdraw the draft national security law for Hong Kong.
“The UN independent experts believe it is time for renewed attention on the human rights situation in the country, particularly in light of the moves against the people of the Hong Kong SAR, minorities of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the Tibet Autonomous Region, and human rights defenders across the country,” the release said.