China prevents moment of silence in memory of human rights defender

China prevented during the adoption of its UPR report an NGO to "observe a moment of silence" in memory of Cao Shunli, a Chinese human rights defender who died following the lack of medical treatment while in detention.

On 20 March, the Human Rights Council (the Council) discussed China’s UPR report before its adoption. The NGO International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) challenged the response provided by China to a recommendation by Switzerland calling on them to "Ensure that human rights defenders can exercise their legitimate activities, including participation in international mechanisms, without being subjected to reprisals" which was considered as already implemented by the Chinese delegation. ISHR reminded the Council of the case of Cao Shunli, a human rights defender who was arrested before boarding a plane to Geneva to engage in advocacy activities prior to the UPR of China and who died due to the lack of proper medical care during her months in detention. At the end of its statement, ISHR decided to use the remaining of its time to "observe a moment of silent to remember Cao Shunli and human rights defenders everywhere who have lost their lives in their struggle". The other NGOs sitting in the back of the room stood up to observe that moment of silent.

In reaction, China made a point of order stating that NGOs could only make "general comments" according to resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1 and could not do "anything else" as it was contravening to the proceedings. Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Viet Nam, Morocco, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, the Russian Federation, and the Maldives then took the floor to support the point of order of China while Canada, the United States, Greece on behalf of European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, Estonia, France, Austria, and Ireland supported the right of NGOs to be silent during their statement.

Due to the high number of States willing to speak and the sensitivity of the issue, the President of the Council wanted to further hold discussions with States and therefore postpone his decision while continuing with the next speaker. However, China objected this and called for a vote on whether or not the President could postpone his decision. A majority of States joined China against the President’s decision to postpone his decision (13 in favour of postponing, 20 against, 12 abstention and 2 absent. See below for details). The President therefore had to take a decision then on whether or not ISHR could continue its statement. He decided to give the floor to the next NGO speaker on the list.

UPR Info wants to recall one of the core principles of the UPR : it should "ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations [...]" (resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1). Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General emphasised in his 2012 annual report to the Council "Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights" the "invaluable work" that human rights defenders are carrying out and noted that "tailored responses to reprisals, including public statements [...] could be further developed in order to create a coherent and unified response to combat reprisals". We regret that the current Council’s President did not raise that issue, as it used to be raised notably by previous Council’s Presidents, and notable Laura Dupuy Lasserre (2011-2012).

See the full webcast of the adoption.

Details of the vote:

Yes: United Kingdom, United States, Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, and Romania.

No: South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Algeria, Benin, China, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia.

Abstention: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Montenegro, Peru, Philippines, and Sierra Leone.

Absent: Macedonia FYR and Kenya.



(Photo: Ruth Turner)