Beijing’s “crushing” oppression at home and its moves to spread its censorship to the rest of the world are threatening decades of progress made on global human rights, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth was due to launch the World Report 2020 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong today, but was denied entry at Hong Kong International Airport on Monday for “immigration reasons”.
Mr Roth, who has entered the semi-autonomous city freely in the past, said on Twitter the episode was “just the latest evidence that the Chinese Government is doing everything it can to undermine the enforcement of international human rights standards”.
The 652-page annual report was instead released during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York today.
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 100 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 and refugees — no other government “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 reportcited a slew of violations ranging from the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in the far-western autonomous region of Xinjiang, to increased censorship, to the use of technologies for mass surveillance and social control.
It said while a number of governments and international institutions publicly condemned Beijing, few took concrete actions such as imposing sanctions.
“To protect everyone’s future, governments need to act together to resist Beijing’s assault on the international human rights system.”
Mr Roth’s refused entry to Hong Kong came after Beijing last year slapped sanctions on several US non-government organisations, including Human Rights Watch, for allegedly encouraging anti-government protesters in the city to commit violent acts.
Asked about Mr Roth’s case on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters it was China’s “sovereign right” to decide who should be granted entry and who should be denied.
“I also want to point out that abundant facts and evidence have shown that relevant NGOs have been supporting anti-China plotters who messed up Hong Kong through various means, inciting violence and inflaming separatist activities for ‘Hong Kong independence’,” Mr Geng said
An editorial published in Chinese tabloid newspaper Global Times accused Mr Roth of deliberately seeking media attention, adding “he should have known that he and his organisation are unwelcome in China”.
“China-related reports and statements released by the group are full of prejudice, distorted facts and hostility toward China.”
However, human rights violations in China, including its oppression of Uyghurs, are well documented around the world, including by UN monitors.
The UN estimates at least 1 million Uyghurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority — have been detained in mass internment camps, a claim Beijing has repeatedly rejected as fake news.
Beijing describes the camps as “vocational training” centres aimed at educating and transforming people influenced by extremism, and that many have now “graduated”.
HRW also pointed to the country’s controversial social credit system, designed to monitor and engineer better individual and business behaviour by rewarding the trustworthy and punishing the disobedient.
“At home, the Chinese Communist Party, worried that permitting political freedom would jeopardise its grasp on power, has constructed an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism,” Mr Roth wrote in his essay.
“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.”
International organisations and companies that publicly oppose Beijing’s oppression also face being denied access to China’s lucrative market.
After the Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey irked the Chinese Government by tweeting his support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters last October, all 11 of the National Basketball Association’s official Chinese business partners suspended ties with the league.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver defended Mr Morey’s “freedom of speech”, but Chinese state television CCTV said “any remarks that challenged national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech”.
Mr Roth said several countries that once could have been counted on to defend human rights were also missing in action, including the US and the European Union whose attention had been diverted by Brexit and division over migration.
While US House of Representatives last month passed a bill that would require the Trump administration to toughen its response to China’s crackdown on its Muslim minority, the report said the strong rhetoric from US officials condemning the human rights violations was undercut by President Donald Trump’s praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United States itself “also continued to move backwards on rights”, the report said, citing the forced separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexican border as just one of many examples.
Mr Roth said while individual governments faced a choice between China’s economic opportunities and speaking out against Beijing’s oppression, the “balance of power” could shift if the governments banded together to protest against the treatment of Uyghurs.
“For example, if the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation were to protest against the Chinese Government’s repression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, Beijing would need to retaliate against 57 countries,” he said.
The report also urged governments and international financial institutions to offer “compelling, rights-respecting alternatives to China’s ‘no strings’ loans and development aid”, which has been slammed by critics as a form of “debt-trap” diplomacy.
“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, we must resist Beijing’s assault on our rights,” Mr Roth said.
“Decades of progress on rights, and our future, are at stake.”
The ABC has approached China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
Here it is: Human Rights Watch is racist.