30 Years After China Crushed Tiananmen Square Protests, UN Silent

By Patrick Goodenough | June 4, 2019 | 4:22 AM EDT

Chinese paramilitary police officers salute each other below a portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

(Update: In Tuesday’s briefing at the U.N., Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric was asked four times for the secretary-general’s comment on Tiananmen Square and offered just a generalized comment on governments not using “excessive force when facing civilian demonstrators.” Otherwise he referred reporters to comments made in the past.)

(CNSNews.com) – As millions of people around the world remember communist China’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, the United Nations is silent.

Neither U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nor high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet has issued a statement marking the anniversary of the massacre, when unknown hundreds or possibly thousands were killed when the People’s Liberation Army to end weeks of protests by students and workers demanding democratic reforms.

As of early Tuesday morning, Twitter accounts for Guterres, Bachelet, their respective offices in New York and Geneva, and the Human Rights Council (HCR) secretariat made no mention of Tiananmen Square.

Likewise the U.N. News Center’s website and Twitter account were silent on Tiananmen Square, although both did carry a story on the use of bicycles in China, to mark the U.N.’s World Bicycle Day on Monday.

At Monday’s noon press briefing in New York, Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric was asked whether the secretary-general had a comment on the 30th anniversary.

“No, I have no particular comment on that,” he replied.

Queries have been sent to Dujarric and to spokesmen for Bachelet and the HRC.

Guterres and Bachelet did both issue statements on Monday deploring the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the capital of another member-state, Sudan, where 35 people were reported to have been killed when troops cleared a sit-in protest near military headquarters in Khartoum.

Unlike Sudan, China wields significant clout at the U.N.

It is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. (Sudan has served a single, two-year temporary term on the council, almost five decades ago.)

Outside the Security Council, China is also influential in the General Assembly, through the so-called G77 plus China group, whose 134 members account for a two-thirds majority in the assembly.

China is also a member of the Human Rights Council, and has been every year but one since the U.N.’s top rights body was established in 2006. China was elected to three-year terms in 2006, 2009, 2014 and 2017. (Under U.N. rules it was obliged to stand down for a year in 2013 after serving two consecutive terms.)

A search on the U.N. news center and office of the high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) websites finds the most recent article referencing Tiananmen Square was posted five years ago, when a previous commissioner, Navi Pillay, expressed concerns about the detention of civil society activists and others ahead of the 25th anniversary.

Paramilitary police stand guard in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Over recent weeks, the government has once again rounded up, placed under house arrest or restricted movements of activists, including members of the Tiananmen Mothers, an advocacy group for victims’ relatives. This time the U.N. human rights apparatus has not spoken out.

Beijing’s official stance is that the “incident” of June 3-4, 1989 were a legitimate response to “counterrevolutionary turmoil.”

“As a vaccination for the Chinese society, the Tiananmen incident will greatly increase China’s immunity against any major political turmoil in the future,” the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said in an editorial Tuesday.

‘China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent’

With much still unknown, the U.S. has long pressed China to fully account for what happened.

On Monday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did so again, in a hard hitting statement calling on Beijing to “make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing to give comfort to the many victims of this dark chapter of history.”

What took place 30 years ago still stirs “the conscience of freedom-loving people around the world,” he said.

“Over the decades that followed, the United States hoped that China’s integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society,” Pompeo said.

“Those hopes have been dashed. China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests.”

The Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary comes at a time of sustained international concern about China’s incarceration of millions of Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in prison camps.

Referring to that, Pompeo accused the Communist Party leadership of “methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith” in the country’s far western Xinjian region.

“Even as the party builds a powerful surveillance state, ordinary Chinese citizens continue to seek to exercise their human rights, organize independent unions, pursue justice through the legal system, and simply express their views, for which many are punished, jailed, and even tortured.”

Reacting to Pompeo’s statement, a Chinese Embassy spokesman said it was issued “out of prejudice and arrogance.”

“Under the pretext of human rights, the statement grossly intervenes in China’ internal affairs, attacks its system, and smears its domestic and foreign policies.”

China is notoriously sensitive to outside criticism of its human rights record.

When the State Department each year issues a report on human rights in around 200 countries and territories around the world, repressive government at times issue statements of denial. But China’s State Council for the past two decades has each year responded – usually within hours of the U.S. report’s release – by issuing its own report, prepared beforehand, critiquing human rights in the United States.

During the most recent session of the HRC in Geneva, Chinese diplomats banged on the desks and repeatedly demanded that the presiding officer intervene when a non-governmental organization representative, Hillel Neuer of U.N. Watch, drew attention to the mass Uighur incarcerations.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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