Debate between CCHRC and Amnesty International on China’s influence on global human rights discourse

Rectify Human Rights Violations in China: Revisiting the Naming and Shaming Approach

A public debate on effective approaches to rectifying human rights violations in China took place on 6 June 2019 at Vrije University Amsterdam. The event was organised by the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre.

Two leading figures in the field, Mr. Eduard Nazarsky, Director of the Amnesty International Dutch Office, and Mr. Tom Zwart, Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre, offered their differing views on a number of important topics including how to identify the nature of China’s counter-terrorism measures and how to prevent and rectify human rights violations therein. 

In the context of the highly disputed situation in Xinjiang, home to the majority of the Chinese ethnic group Uyghur that embraces Islam as their predominant religion, Mr. Nazarsky maintained that the mistreatment of the Uyghur people is a brutal human rights violation. Provided that the fate of estimated up to one million people is unknown and most of the detainees’ families have been living in fear, “they need the help from outside the country,” says Mr. Nazarsky.

Mr. Zwart argued that the situation in Xinjiang should be made sense of as a common challenge faced by many governments: balancing the State’s measures for fighting terrorism and respecting human rights. He added that “government surveillance over the Muslim communities [for monitoring terrorist suspects] exists in our society as well. To cope with that challenge, we should see religion as a solution, not a problem.”  

In answering the audience question about his overlooking local remedies such as China’s appeal and reconsideration procedure, administrative litigation and petition, Mr. Nazarsky posited that Amnesty International does not see these mechanisms as meaningful and effective, as they are unable to address the violation of Uyghur’s rights including that to their own language, to privacy and to due process. 

Mr. Zwart questioned whether the approach adopted by Mr. Nazarsky’s organisation is working in China. He gave an example that his Centre, after meeting public security officials in China in 2018, is seeking to propose to the Chinese government a community-led mechanism for combating terrorism—“we are trying to identify effective community-led measures for resolving the terrorism problem while not undermining rights protection in Muslim communities, such as the applicability of the practice where Muslim mothers are engaged to guide their radicalised children [away from radical actions].”

In addition to debating counter-terrorism measures in Muslim communities, the debaters actively engaged with the audience, shared their personal experiences and long-term observation as regards how to conduct human rights dialogues with China’s government authorities and officials, and responded to some general questions on how to ensure China’s sustained engagements with the international human rights bodies, and how can academics and international organisations make a meaningful contribution thereto.