MONROVIA – Liberia’s decision to sign a joint statement condemning China’s human rights record in the United Nations Human Rights Council has been justified by the recent damning human rights report released by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHRCH).
Liberia on June 14 joined 46 other countries in the UN Human Rights Council to sign the joint statement urging China to among other things “ensure full respect for the rule of law, to comply with obligations under national and international law with regard to the protection of human rights and to ratify the ICCPR. In addition, we urge the Chinese government to provide meaningful and unfettered access for independent observers to Xinjiang, including Special Procedures. In view of the severity of the situation in Xinjiang, we call on all countries to respect the principle of non-refoulement”.
The Kingdom of Eswatini was second African country to sign the statement.
China is regarded as a major development partner of Liberia and has played an important role in Liberia’s socio-economic development. From peacekeeping missions to anti-Ebola assistance, China has often stood side-by-side with Liberia at critical moments.
There are concerns that Liberia’s recent decision on China may cause a withdrawal of support from the world’s second-largest economy.
However, some Liberian diplomats have termed the decision as being in the best interest of human rights and human dignity, especially for a country that is healing from gross human rights violations.
The OHRCH Report which was released on August 31, issued an assessment of human rights concerns in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The assessment was initiated following serious allegations of human rights violations against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities brought to the attention of the UN Human Rights Office and UN human rights mechanisms since late 2017, particularly in the context of the Chinese Government’s policies and measures to combat terrorism and “extremism”.
The assessment is based on a rigorous review of documentary material currently available to the Office, with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology. Particular attention was given to the Government’s own laws, policies, data and statements. The Office also requested information and engaged in dialogue and technical exchanges with China throughout the process.
The information was assessed against applicable international human rights law, and builds on the work of a number of UN human rights mechanisms.
The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to support China in addressing the issues and recommendations articulated in the assessment.
Despite China being one of Liberia’s biggest developmental partners, the country broke an age-old tradition of non-interference in other states’ internal matters by signing the statement against China for its highly criticized human rights records.
The Liberian government, however, has not given any reason for joining the West in this condemnation.
US ambassador to the UN in New York Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States and its allies would continue to push for an end to the Chinese government’s “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. “It is critical that the full Human Rights Council membership have an opportunity to formally discuss the findings of this report as soon as possible and that the perpetrators of these atrocities are held accountable.”
NGOs kept up the pressure for the release the report. In September 2021 the OHCRH’s office that it was finalizing its assessment of the rights situation in Xinjiang ahead of publication, but still it didn’t come through. Rights groups highly criticized the delay.
But they have welcomed the report, particularly its finding that widespread arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity. This confirms other reports already published by credible sources including UN rapporteurs since 2017.
“The inexcusable delay in releasing this report casts a stain on the OHCHR’s record, but this should not deflect from its significance,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès CallamardExternal link, while Human Rights WatchExternal link called the report “groundbreaking”. “Victims and their families whom the Chinese government has long vilified have at long last seen their persecution recognized and can now look to the UN and its member states for action to hold those responsible accountable,” said its Deputy Global Advocacy Director John FisherExternal link in Geneva.
Uyghur Human Rights ProjectExternal link Executive Director Omer Kanat called the UN report a “game-changer” for the international response to the Uyghur crisis. “Despite the Chinese government’s strenuous denials, the UN has now officially recognized that horrific crimes are occurring,” he said.
The UN report describes a “pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang, in which individuals suspected of terrorism are held in high-security facilities without due process and for indefinite lengths of time. China says the camps are re-education and training facilities and denies any abuse, saying it is fighting terrorism and religious extremism. The report also found “credible” allegations of torture and sexual assault, including rape, at detention centres in Xinjiang. It points to indications of forced labour, sterilisations and abortions, and suppression of religious freedom. But it does not mention possible genocide, which is what some NGOs and Western parliaments have labeled China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.