Over the last month there has been a greater focus on Britain’s relationship with China. This is mainly due to China’s substantial investment in this country and the closer bonds that now exist between the two countries. However the greater prominence China has received in the media has also led to questions about human rights abuses and how much we know about the country that we are dealing with.
China is still a one party state and the government censors and controls the information that is given to citizens. The government continues to crack down hard on any political opponents and there is no sign of a transition to a truly democratic state anytime soon. Their policies towards Tibet are also highly controversial and are very repressive.
It is easy to see why China is considered an attractive ally though for this government and for Britain as a whole. They are the second largest economy in the world, soon to be the first and can bring with them significant investment. This is important to any country and must not be downplayed. Despite these numerous benefits, China still must not be given a free hand on human rights and Britain must not allow China’s considerable economic force to stop valid concerns being raised.
Human rights are universal. We have made great progress across the world in this regard but we still have a long way to go. Regardless of where you are born and what you believe you should be treated equally and with dignity. This is still not the case everywhere in the world. There are many who still face persecution because of what they believe and what they stand for or even where they were born. If we truly care about our fellow human then it can never be acceptable to ignore these abuses regardless of who commits them.
The government has insisted that human rights discussions are very much on the table and that a closer relationship with China gives them more scope to discuss these issues. It is imperative that this is not simply a soundbite but becomes reality. Too many people in China still suffer from great human right tragedies and it will always be our duty to make sure their voices are heard. Quite simply this is something we cannot run from.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the new chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel, despite the fact that the Kingdom holds terrifying human rights records. For many individuals that choice was absolutely unexpected. The Kingdom will be chairing the group of 5 ambassador members, which is also called- the Consultative group. The group is responsible for the appointment of more than 77 experts worldwide. These experts monitor and assess the human rights records in various countries around the world. These positions are considered to be from crucial importance for the UN Human Rights Council.
By appointing fundamentalist theocracy that is constantly violating the human rights of its own citizens, as well as these of the neighbouring countries places their legitimacy under question. Saudi Arabia has beheaded more than a hundred people only this year. That amount is even higher than that of the Islamic State. Moreover free speech is still a dream in Saudi Arabia. The number of people like the blogger Saif Badawi, jailed for pledging about democracy and criticising the government is unknown. Another activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, just 17 years is sentenced to death by crusification. The reason is that he took participation of the anti- government protests. The rights of the women are another issue, which deserves significant attention. In addition to the varieties of restrictions imposed on women, they are not allowed even to drive.
For some the fact that the Saudis are presiding that panel might seem insignificant. Unfortunately the facts are different. The last couple of weeks have demonstrated the opposite. The Netherlands has made a proposal the war crimes in the Yemeni war to be investigated by an independent commission. The proposal included investigation on Saudis and the opposition Houthi rebels. Also the Dutch proposed the Yemeni ports, which are occupied from the Saudi army to be opened in order to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid for Yemeni citizens. Riyadh, the Yemeni government in exile and their allies in the UNHRC (the UAE, Qatar and Morocco) strongly resisted the Dutch proposal. The reason for that is that the Saudi government is aiming to conceal its own war crimes. On 7-th of September the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report which concluded that both parties in the Yemeni conflict committed violations. According to the report- the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for 62% of civilian casualties. Furthermore on 28-th of September 130 civilians were killed by a single Saudi air strike.
However the proposal was rejected and instead was passed an alternative resolution. The resolution supports the decree of the Saudi backed Yemeni government in exile. It proposes appointing of a national commission of inquiry and requires only technical assistance from the UN. The absence of an independent Yemeni inquiry will result to predictable outcome of the investigation. It also gives us an example of how the UN commissions might be used to protect the national interests. In the case with Saudi Arabia that might be just the beginning. As the UN watch executive director- Hillel Neuer states: “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members.”