Chinese Dissident Gives a 'Voice to the Voiceless' by Confronting Chinese Gov't at U.N. Human Rights Council

By Patrick Goodenough | March 21, 2018 | 4:22 AM EDT

Exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli addresses a Congressional-Executive Commission on China event on Capitol Hill in December 2015. (Photo: Initiatives for China)

( – One of China’s most prominent dissidents on Tuesday challenged the communist government’s right to speak on behalf of China in the U.N.’s top human rights forum, angering Beijing’s representative and drawing a reprimand from the presiding officer.

“You are not entitled to question the qualifications of a national representative,” Human Rights Council vice president Evan Garcia of the Philippines told Yang Jianli, who had asked whether China deserved a seat on the Geneva-based council.

During Yang’s brief statement, Chinese delegate Chen Cheng interrupted three times, in an unsuccessful bid to silence him.

Chen charged that Yang was not accredited to address the HRC – during a part of the meeting dedicated to non-governmental organizations – and asked for Garcia to bar him from completing his statement.

Garcia disagreed, saying Yang had indeed been accredited to speak by an NGO, U.N. Watch, and allowed him to finish his remarks. But he also scolded him for questioning the legitimacy of the communist regime representing China at the council.

“I would invite him to note that his question regarding the representation from China is not relevant to this session,” said Garcia, one of four HRC vice presidents serving this year.

Speaking through an interpreter, Yang charged the government in Beijing with violatons including censorship, the “wanton demolition of churches,” discriminatory policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, and crackdowns on dissidents, lawyers, petitioners, Falun Gong adherents, and the signatories of “Charter 08,” a 2008 manifesto advocating peaceful political reform in China.

He ended by repeating the question he began with: should a regime that contravenes U.N. human rights covenants be eligible to represent China at the HRC?

After informing Yang again that he was not entitled to question China’s qualifications, Garcia gave the floor to Chen, this time for a “right of reply.”

The Chinese diplomat, also speaking through a U.N. translator, complained that some “anti-China people” operating under the name of NGOs launch “vicious attacks” on his country.

“China’s political system and path of development is chosen by the people and by history. It is wholeheartedly supported by the people,” he said.

“Under the leadership of China’s Communist Party, China has achieved remarkable progress, which is witnessed by people all around the world. This cannot be denied by anyone.”

The Chinese government, Chen added, “fully respects and guarantees the legitimate right of all Chinese citizens.”

“We urge relevant organizations not the use the Human Rights Council to carry out political attacks with ulterior motives.”

Yang Jianli, an exiled veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square who was imprisoned in China from 2002-2007, is founder of a U.S.-based movement called Initiatives for China, which advocates a peaceful transition to democracy in China.

In a statement after Tuesday’s HRC session, released through U.N. Watch, Yang said the Chinese delegation had been trying to intimidate him, but “they should know me better: I endured lengthy solitary confinement, and even a death threat.”

“I really appreciate that U.N. Watch granted me this rare opportunity to directly confront the Chinese government, and to make the true voice of the Chinese people heard at the U.N. and before the world, to give a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

China is one of 14 members of the 47-seat HRC that are graded “not free” by Freedom House, the Washington-based watchdog which scores countries annually on political rights and civil liberties.

It’s the largest number of “not free” members (29.7 percent) in the council’s 12-year history

Twenty-one members are graded “free” and the remaining 12 “partly free.”

The “partly free” contingent includes the Philippines. Garcia, the HRC vice president, represents a government whose president this month suggested that U.N. human rights investigators should be fed to crocodiles when they visit to investigate killings in his controversial war on drugs.)

Vice President Mike Pence told the U.N. Security Council last fall that the HCR “doesn’t deserve its name.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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