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Global human rights under threat – report

17 January 20200 comments

A global report on human rights has focused on China accusing Beijing of “crushing” oppression at home and moving to spread its censorship to the rest of the world.

The 2020 report by not-for-profit advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says China’s actions are threatening decades of progress made on global human rights.

After HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth was barred entry to Hong Kong where the report was due to be launched, the 652-page work was instead released at a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

This year’s report opens with Mr Roth’s damning essay on China’s “global threat” to human rights, which he says, if it remains unchallenged, could “portend a dystopian future in which no-one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression”.

The report also surveys human rights practices in nearly a hundred countries, including in war-torn Syria and Yemen, where warring parties are accused of “blatantly disregarding the international rules designed to spare civilians the hazards of war”, such as a ban on chemical weapons and bombing hospitals.

It said while other governments had also committed serious human rights violations – including Australia with its treatment of asylum seekers – no government other than China “flexes its political muscles with such vigour and determination to undermine the international human rights standards and institutions that could hold it to account”.

The HRW report cited a raft of violations in China including the mass detention of up to a million Uyghur Muslims in the western autonomous region of Xinjiang, increased censorship, and the use of technology for mass surveillance and social control.

“China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat. Its reaction could pose an existential threat to the rights of people worldwide,” Mr Roth said in his essay.

“At home, the Chinese Communist Party, worried that permitting political freedom would jeopardize its grasp on power, has constructed an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism. Abroad, it uses its growing economic clout to silence critics and to carry out the most intense attack on the global system for enforcing human rights since that system began to emerge in the mid-20th century,” he said.

He said no other government is simultaneously detaining a million members of an ethnic minority for forced indoctrination and attacking anyone who dares to challenge its repression.

“Elsewhere, autocratic populists gain office by demonising minorities, and then retain power by attacking the checks and balances on their rule, such as independent journalists, judges, and activists,” Mr Roth said.

“Some leaders, such as US President Donald Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, bridle at the same body of international human rights law that China undermines, galvanizing their publics by shadow boxing with the “globalists” who dare suggest that governments everywhere should be bound by the same standards,” he said.

Mr Roth said several countries that once could have been counted on to defend human rights have been missing in action.

“US President Trump has been more interested in embracing friendly autocrats than defending the human rights standards that they flout. The European Union, diverted by Brexit, obstructed by nationalist member states, and divided over migration, has found it difficult to adopt a strong common voice on human rights,” he said.

“Even as people have taken to the streets for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Bolivia, Russia, and Hong Kong in an impressive wave of global protests, democratic governments have often responded with lukewarm and selective support. This inconsistency makes it easier for China to claim that concerns expressed about its human rights record are a matter of politics rather than principle.

“Unless we want to return to an era in which people are pawns to be manipulated or discarded according to the whims of their overlords, the Chinese government’s attack on the international human rights system must be resisted. Now is the time to take a stand. Decades of progress on human rights are at stake,” Mr Roth said.

In Australia, asylum seekers, media freedom, indigenous rights and aged care were some of the issues raised in the report.

The report was critical of Australia’s asylum seeker policies, saying medical facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru were not dealing properly with the complex health needs of those in offshore detention.