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Chinese government is global threat to human rights

(New York) - The Chinese government is cracking down on the global system of human rights defense, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, today at the release of the World Report 2020. Decades of progress that has enabled people around the world to express their opinions freely, live without fear of arbitrary arrest and torture, and benefit from many other human rights, are at risk.

In China itself, the government - with the aim of total social control - has created a far-reaching surveillance state. Now it is increasingly using its economic and diplomatic clout to defend itself against global efforts abroad to hold it accountable for its repression. In order to maintain the international human rights system as an effective control against repression, governments should unite to stand up to Beijing's attacks.

"Beijing has been suppressing critics of the regime in its own country for a long time," said Roth. “Now the Chinese government is trying to extend this censorship to the rest of the world. To protect everyone's future, governments must act together to defend themselves against Beijing's attack on the international human rights system. "

In the 652-page World Report 2020, which appears for the 30th time this year, Human Rights Watch examines the human rights situation in nearly 100 countries. Roth also points to many other human rights threats around the world, such as in Syria and Yemen. There, Syrian and Russian troops and the coalition led by Saudi Arabia disregard international rules intended to protect the civilian population: civilians are attacked and hospitals bombed.

This inhospitable climate for human rights suits the Chinese government very well. At the head of governments that could previously be relied on at least temporarily for the defense of human rights, there are now more and more heads of state like US President Donald Trump, who are no longer willing to do so. And autocratic populists, who come to power by demonizing minorities and who maintain that power by getting rid of independent journalists, judges and activists, are opposing the same international human rights standards that the Chinese government is undermining.

Many people in China, like everywhere else in the world, want to live freely and in dignity, said Roth. However, President Xi Jinping's administration is responsible for the most brutal and profound repression China has seen in decades.

The authorities have broken up civil society groups, silenced independent journalists and severely restricted online communication. They are increasingly encroaching on the already limited freedoms of Hong Kong according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. And in Xinjiang, the authorities have set up a gruesome surveillance system to control millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims, with 1 million people being arbitrarily detained for political indoctrination.

Beijing has placed new technologies at the center of oppression in the country and thereby massively encroaches on people's privacy. DNA samples are forcibly collected and large-scale data analysis and artificial intelligence are used to refine the monitoring capabilities. The aim is to create a society free from dissent.

In order to avoid a global setback for the overwhelming repression at home, the Chinese government is increasingly taking action against the international institutions for the protection of human rights. China intimidates other governments - for example, by repeatedly threatening other states at the United Nations. In doing so, she wants to protect her own image and distract from the discussion about human rights violations in her own country.

The Chinese leadership woos and is wooing other governments. This also applies to companies and academic institutions that allegedly stand up for human rights, but for whom access to China's prosperity is more important. They know that public resistance to the repression of Beijing would jeopardize access to the Chinese market, which makes up 16 percent of the world economy. The US basketball association also felt this after a tweet from a team manager.

The Chinese authorities have faced few consequences from states that see themselves as defenders of human rights. The European Union, distracted by Brexit, hindered by nationalist member states and divided on the issue of migration, found it difficult to find a strong common voice, even though individual European governments have sometimes made very clear statements. Trump hugged Xi despite the U.S. government sanctionsing the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau and eight Chinese technology companies for human rights violations.

If the world is to be defended against Beijing's head-on assault, an unprecedented response must come from those who care about people and human rights. By acting together, governments can crush Beijing's strategy of divide and rule, Roth said.

For example, if the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) spoke out against the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, as it did for the Rohingya Muslims persecuted in Myanmar, Beijing would come under noticeable pressure.

Governments and international financial institutions should offer compelling and legally compliant alternatives to China's “no-strings” loans and development aid. Businesses and universities should develop and promote codes of conduct for dealing with China - strict common standards would make it difficult for Beijing to retaliate against those who defend human rights. Heads of government who advocate human rights should call for a discussion on Xinjiang in the UN Security Council so that Chinese officials understand that if they are persecuting people at the same time, they cannot get the recognition they desire.

"If we do not want to return to an era in which people are just pawns on a chessboard who are manipulated or taken off the field at the whims of their rulers, then we have to take action against Beijing's attacks," said Roth. "Decades of human rights advancement and our future are at stake."