China calls out Australia but ignores its own list of human right abuses


China’s spat at Australia, over a tweet slammed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as “repugnant”, is just a sideshow to a far bigger and bolder plan by Beijing that could lead to its multitude human rights abuses being ignored not just at home, but globally as well.

Human rights experts have said China is slowly infiltrating multinational organisations which could lead to a “dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors”.

Bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra, already at rock bottom, have soured even further since China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a now infamous and fake image in a social media post of a soldier preparing to kill a child in Afghanistan.

Mr Morrison said it was “deeply offensive and utterly outrageous” and demanded an apology.

Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie put all diplomatic niceties aside when she told radio station 2GB that China had hit a “whole new low”.

“Let’s call China for what they are.

“These guys are out of control – they are a pack of bullies,” she said yesterday

“How much more is Australia going to take from China?”

The damning report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which stated as many as 39 civilians were murdered by Australian troops, has given China a handy stick to beat Canberra with.

It has enabled it to take the focus of its shopping list of human rights transgressions – from Hong Kong to Xinjiang – and attempt to take the moral high ground.

The Australian government has said it will investigate the incidents in Afghanistan and is preparing to take legal action against those named. China seems unconcerned to do the same about its own alleged atrocities.

RELATED: Words that have come back to haunt China over Hong Kong

WHERE CHINA RATES IN GLOBAL RIGHTS INDEX

Australia is by no means perfect, but various human rights organisations and non-governmental bodies have shown the country has a long way to fall before it gets anywhere near China’s lowly position.

Libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, based in the US, publishes a “Human Freedom Index” every year based on measures including the rule of law, security and safety and free expression.

In the latest report, Australia is ranked sixth, behind countries including New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada.

And where does China dwell? At 126 out of 162 nations.

In terms of freedom, Beijing keeps company with a string of absolute monarchies, brutal dictatorships and plain old fashioned tyrants.

It is only slightly ahead of nations such as Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Chinese Communist Party’s gift to itself on his 70th birthday this year was to “deepen repression”.

“The motivation for Beijing’s attack on rights stems from the fragility of rule by repression rather than popular consent,” HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

“Despite decades of impressive economic growth the Chinese Communist Party is running scared of its own people,”

“The consequence under President Xi Jinping is China’s most pervasive and brutal oppression in decades.”

RELATED: China’s radical new plan to transform its economy could impact globe.

BEIJING BRUSHES OFF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

China’s ills are many and various.

Amnesty International puts the suppression on the ethnic Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province right at the top of Beijing’s list of shame.

It’s thought China has locked up 1.5 million of its own citizens in what it insists are “vocational educational and training centres” that teach skills, improve literacy and reduce the threat of terrorism.

Critics say they are little more than concentration camps where people are brainwashed into submission to the Communist Party’s ways and parents wrenched from their kids in the process.

In October, 39 nations, including Australia, issued a joint statement condemning China’s continued use of the camps.

elsewhere, there are allegations that earlier this year, Chinese soldiers used clubs studded with nails to injure and kill Indian soldiers in a disputed border regions.

Then there’s the trampling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, in direct contravention of the joint declaration signed by China for the return of the British territory.

CRITICS VANISH

Since the passing of the national security law earlier this year, multiple arrests have taken place in Hong Kong, pro democracy politicians have resigned, public institutions have sacked staff who criticised the CCP and police have raided media outlets that haven’t kowtowed to Beijing’s wishes.

“Communist China threatens to strip from Hong Kong its long-held status as one of the freest places in the world and to relegate it to the cellar, where the rest of China unfortunately dwells,” the Cato Institute stated.

The country has been called out for “disappearing” critics and holding them on spurious charges with little access to lawyers including in Hong Kong even before the harsh new laws came into play.

It has taken almost two years from when Australian writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun was detained to be charged with espionage; charges that Mr Morrison has said are “completely untrue”.

We still don’t know why Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei was arrested in August.

RELATED: Shocking image China doesn’t recognise

Two Canadians are locked up in China, also on espionage charges. The real reason is thought to be revenge for Canada’s detention of an executive of tech firm Huawei on fraud charges.

Add to this China’s muscling in on the South China Sea – far from its shores – and constant threats of invasion towards democratic Taiwan.

All of this doesn’t touch on Communist China’s historical human rights horrors including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where pro-democracy activists were killed and the taking of the once independent nation of Tibet.

CHINA’S “DYSTOPIAN” PLAN

Yet, astonishingly, China has slowly ingratiated itself into worldwide bodies, often parking itself in human rights related roles.

One of the most flagrant examples was this year when Beijing official Jiang Duan took up a position on a United Nations (UN) panel that makes decisions on which human right violations should be investigated.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of organisation UN Watch, which reports on the UN’s performance, was scathing of the appointment.

“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac the town fire chief.”

Human Rights Watch’s Mr Roth said China’s “dystopian” plan involved using its economic and governmental clout to silence critics and neuter organisations around the world that would otherwise call out human rights abuses.

Notably, a number of Muslim majority countries that have benefited from China’s largesse have said little about the Xinjiang camps.

“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,” Mr Roth said.

“And while other governments commit serious human rights violations, 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 aim, Mr Roth said, “is to portray China as open, welcoming, and powerful, even as it descends into ever more ruthless autocratic rule”.

Politicians of all stripes in Australia have expressed regret and shock at the Afghan war crimes report, and that those accused should be fairly tried.

But many of those same politicians have bristled at being called out by China, a serial and adept violator of human rights.

Senator Lambie said China’s record on freedom was “absolute rubbish” and claimed it had been given a free pass for too long due to lucrative trade between the two nations.

“If we’re really going to stand up to them … whatever is left to trade with them will go down the gurgler.

“So, it’s whether or not Australians are going to be prepared to take that.”



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WWF Admits “Sorrow” Over Human Rights Abuses


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One of the world’s largest charities knew for years that it was funding alleged human rights abusers but repeatedly failed to address the issue, a lengthy, long-delayed report revealed on Tuesday.

A BuzzFeed News investigation first exposed in March 2019 how WWF, the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo, financed and equipped park rangers accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people. In response, WWF immediately commissioned an “independent review” led by Navi Pillay, a former United Nations commissioner for human rights.

The 160-page review, which has now been published online, corroborates problems exposed by BuzzFeed News in Nepal, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report claimed the panel was prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic from traveling to locations where the abuses reportedly took place.

The review found that WWF had failed again and again to follow “its own commitments to respect human rights” — commitments that are not just required by law but essential to “the conservation of nature.”


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In a statement issued in response to the review, WWF expressed “deep and unreserved sorrow for those who have suffered,” and said that abuses by park rangers “horrify us and go against all the values for which we stand.” The charity acknowledged its shortcomings and welcomed the recommendations, saying “we can and will do more.”

Pillay’s review declined to address whether high-level executives, who BuzzFeed News found were aware of “accelerating” violence at at least one wildlife park as early as January 2018, were responsible for the charity’s missteps.

In the Congo Basin, where WWF did an “especially weak” job fulfilling its human rights commitments, the wildlife charity did not fully investigate accounts of murder, rape, and torture out of fear that government partners would “react negatively to an effort to investigate past human rights abuses,” the panel found. There and elsewhere, WWF provided technical and financial support to park rangers, known locally as “eco-guards,” even after learning about similar, horrifying allegations — and, in some cases, after damning reviews commissioned by the non-profit itself confirmed “serious and widespread” reports of abuse.

The report found “no formal mechanism in place for WWF to be informed of alleged abuses during anti-poaching missions” in Nepal, despite torture, rape, and murder allegations ranging from the early 2000s to this past July, when park officials were alleged to have beaten an Indigenous youth and destroyed homes of a local community. “WWF needs to know what is happening on the ground where it works” in order to fulfill its own human rights policies, the report said.


Frank Bienewald / Getty Images

A river in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.

Overall, WWF paid too little attention to credible abuse allegations, failed to construct a system for victims to make complaints, and painted an overly rosy picture of its anti-poaching war in public communications, the report found. “Unfortunately, WWF’s commitments to implement its social policies have not been adequately and consistently followed through,” the report’s authors wrote.

WWF has supported efforts to fight wildlife crime for decades. Although local governments officially employ and pay park rangers who patrol national parks and protected wildlife reserves, in a number of countries across Africa and Asia WWF has provided crucial funding to make their jobs possible. The charity has framed its crusade against poaching in the hardened terms of war.

In a multipart series, BuzzFeed News found that WWF’s war on poaching came with civilian casualties: impoverished villagers living near the parks. At the time, WWF responded that many of BuzzFeed’s assertions did “not match our understanding of events” — yet the charity swiftly overhauled many of its human rights policies after publication.

In the US, the series spurred a bipartisan investigation and proposed legislation that would prohibit the government from awarding money to international conservation groups that fund or support human rights violations. It also prompted a freeze of funds by the Interior Department, a review by the Government Accountability Office, and separate government probes in the UK and Germany.

The new review offers more recommendations for the charity to improve its oversight, including hiring more human rights specialists, conducting stronger due diligence before committing to conservation projects, signing human rights commitments with WWF’s government and law enforcement partners in the field, and establishing effective complaint systems so that Indigenous people can more easily report abuse.

The review found that there was no “consistent and unified effort” across WWF’s network of offices around the world to “address complaints about human rights abuses” until 2018.

Many of the panel’s findings pointed directly to the top: “Commitments to meet the responsibility to respect human rights should be approved at the most senior level of the institution,” the panel wrote. Although all of WWF’s offices in the Congo Basin fall under the direct authority of WWF International, staff at its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland did little to oversee the organization’s work there.

WWF International also didn’t provide clear guidance to local offices about how to implement its human rights commitments. For example, there were no network-wide norms about how to work with law enforcement and park rangers. As a result, each program office “was left on its own to develop – or not – codes of conduct, training materials, conditions for supporting rangers, and procedures for responding to allegations of abuse.”

“Ultimately, the responsibility was on WWF International and the WWF Network as a whole to ensure that the allegations of human rights abuses by eco-guards to which WWF was providing financial and technical support were properly addressed,” the panel wrote.


Ezequiel Becerra / Getty Images

WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini

Last October BuzzFeed News revealed that both Director General Marco Lambertini and Chief Operating Officer Dominic O’Neill personally reviewed a WWF-commissioned report documenting “accelerating” accounts of violence by WWF-backed guards in Cameroon. That report was sent to higher-ups in January 2018 — more than a year before BuzzFeed News began exposing similar abuses. Yet Pillay’s review said little about whether WWF executives were responsible for the charity’s failings.

Instead the review focused on WWF’s complex system, under which individual program offices partner with countries “with apparently very limited consultation or oversight from WWF International,” even when WWF International is legally responsible. This obscured “clear lines of responsibility and accountability,” resulting in “difficulties and confusion” and “ineffective” attempts to address human rights, the panel wrote.

The panel couldn’t find a single contract between WWF International and its partner countries that contained provisions concerning human rights responsibilities or the rights of Indigenous people.

The panel also criticized WWF’s press briefings at length, saying it needed to be “more forthcoming about the challenges it faces” and “more transparent about how it responds when faced with allegations of human rights abuses associated with activities that it supports.” In some cases, “it is clear that to avoid fuelling criticism WWF decided not to publish commissioned reports, to downplay information received, or to overstate the effectiveness of its proposed responses.”

An internal focus on promoting “good news” seems “to have led to a culture” in which program offices “have been unwilling to share or escalate the full extent of their knowledge about allegations of human rights abuses because of concern about scaring off donors or offending state partners,” the report said. “WWF at all levels should be more transparent both internally and externally about the challenges it faces in promoting conservation and respecting human rights. Equally important, it must be more forthright about the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of its efforts to overcome those challenges.”

The report attracted immediate criticism from prominent voices who said it did not fully acknowledge the charity’s responsibility for abuses against Indigenous people. Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, the tribal rights advocacy group, said “the report echoes previous WWF responses in passing the blame onto ‘government rangers.’” A spokesperson for Rainforest Foundation UK said the report “fails to take responsibility” for WWF’s shortcomings “or issue a sincere apology to the many individuals who have suffered human rights abuses carried out in their name.”

The Forest Peoples Program, an Indigenous rights group that has reported abuses to WWF, said the report showed the need for all wildlife charities to take a hard look at themselves.

“The human rights abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples and local communities listed in the report highlight fundamental issues that arise across the conservation sector as a whole, not isolated to WWF,” said Helen Tugendhat, program coordinator at the Forest Peoples Program. “We urge other conservation organizations as well as conservation funders to read this report closely and evaluate and amend their own practices.”



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Britain may boycott Beijing Winter Olympics over Xinjiang abuses says Raab


“I would say, let’s gather the evidence, let’s work with international partners, let’s consider it further in the round with further action we need to take.”

Raab was responding to a question asked by Tory MP Alicia Kearns.

“Given the appalling genocide being perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party against the Uighur people, I very much welcome that the Foreign Secretary did not rule out a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in 2022,” Kearns told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Satellite image of a detention camp in Xinjiang, China, September 2020.Credit:ASPI

“Any boycott would send a strong message that we will not give a platform to a country committing appalling human rights atrocities so at odds with the Olympic values of respect and friendship.”

Samuel Armstrong from The Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank that successfully campaigned for the British to block China’s Huawei from supplying its 5G network, anticipated Britain’s allies would increasingly signal that they too were willing to boycott the Beijing games.

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“A decade ago we were repeatedly told that Beijing’s human rights record would improve after it hosted the Olympic Games in 2008,” Armstrong said.

“Instead, China used the Games to woo and distract the world from its ever-increasing surveillance state.

“As Australia’s experience has shown, standing up to Beijing, rather than kowtowing, is the only behaviour China understands.”

Raab’s comments came as 39 nations, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States rebuked China at the United Nations over the “political re-education camps” in Xinjiang and its crackdown in Hong Kong.

Germany’s Ambassador to the UN Christoph Heusgen delivered the statement on behalf of the countries and said the 39 nations were “gravely concerned” by China’s human rights abuses, which includes reports of forced mass sterilisations of Uighur women.

“On Xinjiang, we are gravely concerned about the existence of a large network of ‘political re-education’ camps where credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained,” Heugsen told the UN.

On Hong Kong, Heusgen said the 39 countries shared concerns that Beijing’s new national security law for the region does “not conform to China’s international legal obligations.”

The 39 countries called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered” access to Xinjiang for independent observers and stop detaining Uighurs and other minorities.

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China’s Embassy in the UK issued a short statement on Twitter – a social media platform which is banned by Beijing’s censors in China.

“Issues related to Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong are China’s internal affairs and have nothing to do with human rights,” the statement said.

“Some Western countries should discard their ideological prejudice and stop abusing the UN platform and provoking confrontation.”

Separately, Pew Research Centre polling revealed unfavourable views of China have reached historic highs across 14 advanced economies with the highest dissatisfaction rating — of 81 per cent — recorded in Australia.

The centre said that in Spain, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Sweden and Australia, negative views had reached their highest level in the 12 or more years that Pew Research Centre has been polling in these countries.

This was up 24 per cent from 2019. “This is also the largest year-on-year change in Australia since the question was first asked in 2008,” the organisation found.

The data showed that 86 per cent of Australians aged 50 or older held unfavourable views of China, compared to 68 per cent of Australians aged under 30.

“This also marks the first year in which a majority of younger Australians have an unfavorable view of China,” the centre said.

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China dismisses concerns over human rights abuses tarnishing Winter Olympics


China’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed claims by British, Australian and European MPs that it should be stripped of the 2022 Winter Olympics because of its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Wang Wenbin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said concerns raised by members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China went against the spirit of the Olympic charter and impeded the progress of global human rights. He added that his country’s actions had been approved by many countries at a recent UN Human Rights Council session.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. Credit:AP

In July at the UN, 53 countries including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Antigua, Pakistan and Sudan backed Beijing’s new national security laws for Hong Kong. However, at least 40 of them were signatories to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Australia, Canada, the US and most of Europe issued a statement criticising the law.

Earlier this week British MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and former leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, said that the IOC should rethink Beijing hosting the 2022 Games.



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Myanmar’s army investigating soldiers over video of abuses



A member of Myanmar’s security forces interrogates a blindfolded man on a boat located in what is said to be Ponnagyun, Rakhine State, Myanmar, in this screen grab from a video said to be taken on April 27, 2020, and obtained from social media. Social Media Website/via REUTERS

May 14, 2020

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s army said on Wednesday it was investigating soldiers filmed beating and threatening to kill suspected insurgents in the western state of Rakhine, where dozens of people have been killed during an upsurge of fighting in recent weeks.

“It is found out that some of the security force members conducted unlawful interrogations,” the army said in a statement posted on its website.

In footage shared widely on social media since Saturday, five men can be seen slumped on the floor of a boat, blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, as men in military fatigues stamp on their chests and slap and kick their faces. The men whimper and plead that they are civilians.

“I am a civilian, sir,” one says, according to subtitles in the video. “What civilian? Why are you fighting against us?” a soldier shouts, grabbing him by the hair and smacking his cheek. “Let them die, let them break,” says another. One man is hit repeatedly in the face with a shoe.

Reuters could not determine who filmed the video or independently verify its authenticity. The army said the video was shot on April 27 in Rakhine state’s Ponnagyun township.

The military statement said the men who were beaten had been arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Arakan Army, an insurgent group fighting for greater autonomy for the western region. It said they were being transported to the state capital of Sittwe when the beatings happened.

Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, told Reuters by phone a tribunal had been formed and soldiers had been detained.

Zaw Min Tun said the men who were beaten were connected to the Arakan Army and were being held in Sittwe. He did not specify exactly where, which unit of the security forces was detaining them, whether they had been charged or whether they had legal representation.

Reuters was not able to contact the men or to establish whether they had lawyers. Police in Sittwe did not respond to a request for comment.

The Arakan Army, which Myanmar has designated a terrorist organization, did not immediately comment.

A relative of one of the men in the video said he was not an insurgent. The relative, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said the family had met the man at Ponnagyun police station on Tuesday. Police in Ponnagyun did not respond to a request for comment.

The army said the men were from Kyauk Seik, a village where eight people were killed in mid-April. Two local officials and a resident said they were killed in a shelling, but the army said reports that civilians there had been shelled were fabricated.

Government troops have been battling fighters from the Arakan Army, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority, for more than a year in Rakhine and neighbouring Chin states.

Dozens of people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in a recent intensification of fighting, according to the United Nations.

Rakhine state is the region from where 730,000 ethnic Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority, fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during a military crackdown in 2017.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague over the violence, which the army says was a legitimate security operation against Muslim militants.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)





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