TOKYO -- Nongovernmental organizations from around the world are urging the United Nations and the international community to take concrete action in response to what they see as increasingly severe human rights abuses in China.
In an open letter published Wednesday, 37 NGOs, including PEN America, Free Tibet, the World Uyghur Congress and the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, pressed members of the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution condemning Chinese human rights violations. The 47-member council opens its 40th session on Feb. 25 in Geneva.
The letter calls for member nations to "express collective concern about worsening rights abuse in China, and the government's failure to follow through on its obligations and commitments." The global community has heard reports of mass detention centers where ethnic Uighurs and other minorities are held in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, and serious abuses against Tibetans, human rights lawyers and civil rights activists, the organizations say.
Although the U.N. issued at least two reviews and a number of expert comments last year, declaring Xinjiang a "no-rights zone" for Muslim minorities and urging Beijing to respect minority rights, the letter points out that China has continued to "suppress dissent and undermine efforts to hold it accountable to its obligations under international agreements."
The NGOs are seeking a resolution that urges member states to demand "prompt, unfettered and independent access" to China by independent human rights experts, particularly in Xinjiang, Tibet and other minority regions. The letter also calls for an end to abuses against human rights defenders under the pretext of national security and the immediate release of all people held in unlawful detention.
A resolution is regarded as a consensus statement by the international community and is virtually the strongest measure the Human Rights Council could take. It would be a first step by the international community toward further U.N. action, such as putting the country under the monitoring and reporting system of the office of the high commissioner for human rights. The council has recently adopted resolutions against Yemen, Myanmar and Venezuela.
The last time the council took concerted action against China was in 2016, when 16 member nations issued a joint statement voicing concern over deteriorating human rights in the country, namely the arrest and detention of activists and the disappearance of Chinese and foreign citizens outside mainland China, following the abduction of booksellers in Hong Kong and Thailand.
The U.S., which pushed for the adoption of that statement, has withdrawn from the council at the direction of President Donald Trump, who accused it of anti-Israel bias, while China is among the 13 members representing the Asia-Pacific region.
China has strongly rejected to the joint statement and to recent reviews and comments on its human rights record by the U.N. and experts, saying it has a different understanding of human rights.