On May 5, at a regular press briefing in the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), a reporter asked MFA spokeswoman Jiang Yu to verify whether it was true, as reported, that China pressured Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan into preventing individuals from going to the United States to attend a conference. Instead of commenting on that specific incident – she said she had not seen the reports – she responded by raising the issue of terrorism, stating that terrorism is a threat to China and to Central Asian states, and then discussing at length the imperative of anti-terrorism cooperation among China and Central Asian states under the rubric of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The incident referred to in the question was the obstruction by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan of the travel of Uyghur activists from those states to Washington, D.C., to attend a conference on Uyghur rights that included civil society representatives and distinguished guest speakers, including U.S. Congressmen.
In answering a separate question about China’s anti-terrorism policy, Jiang singled out ethnic Uyghurs in China, by referring to the forces that aimed at “splitting up China” and emphasizing the need for the international community to strike against “‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces.” (HRIC’s English translation of the questions to and responses of MFA Spokesperson Jiang Yu is provided below.)
The MFA representative took a question about Uyghur individuals being prevented from attending a conference titled “The Future of Uyghur People in East Turkestan,” and gave an answer about terrorism in the region. This response raises serious concerns about whom the Chinese authorities consider to be terrorists, and about the counter-terrorism policies of China and the other five SCO member states.
Human Rights in China (HRIC) is particularly concerned about the following aspects of the MFA statement:
- Invocation of terrorism in the context of a peaceful conference concerning Uyghurs suggests an approach to counter-terrorism that undermines the principle of non-discrimination, and compromises fundamental rights and freedoms of ethnic groups.
- Jiang’s discussion of counter-terrorism cooperation within the SCO suggests that the Chinese government views the SCO as highly relevant to and involved in the actions of the Central Asian states. She highlighted the SCO’s goal of “combating the ‘Three Forces’” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, which HRIC has identified in its whitepaper Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an overbroad and problematic approach to counter-terrorism. She also stressed two SCO conventions that, as discussed in HRIC’s whitepaper, have significant potential to compromise human rights due to their expansive concepts of targeted behavior and other questionable provisions.
- Jiang emphasized security cooperation within the SCO, in the context of “mega-events,” such as the Beijing Olympics, as well as anti-terrorism exercises. As HRIC detailed in 2008, however, security for the Beijing Olympic Games included crackdowns on human rights defenders, massive surveillance operations, and restrictions on peaceful dissent.1 This approach – deemed a success by the Chinese government – is now being exported regionally to other SCO member states.
- In Jiang’s discussion of the SCO’s international counter-terrorism cooperation and reference to regional frameworks, HRIC notes the conspicuous absence of any reference to the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006. This international framework emphasizes “respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.”
Additionally, as tracked in HRIC’s whitepaper, the SCO’s anti-terrorism exercises appear primarily designed to enforce social stability within regions where discontent over government policies is widespread, and to send a chilling message to ethnic groups. For example, SCO military and law enforcement exercises are regularly held within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, such as the “Tianshan 2” exercise that took place on May 6 in the city of Kashgar.
In the lead-up to the tenth anniversary meeting of the Council of SCO Heads of State on June 15, 2011, HRIC urges the SCO and its member states to undertake a thorough assessment of their compliance with international human rights obligations, particularly those that apply to counter-terrorism measures. This assessment should include consideration of the analysis and concrete recommendations of HRIC’s whitepaper, specifically, the recommendations regarding best practices in countering terrorism and best practices for intelligence cooperation advanced by the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism. HRIC further urges the SCO and its member states, as a matter of priority, to evaluate conformity of their counter-terrorism measures with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and address all inconsistencies.
1. See, e.g., HRIC, “2008 Beijing Olympics: The Price of National Glorification,” August 24, 2008; HRIC, “Human Rights Situation in China Worsens as Bush Calls for a More Open Society,” August 7, 2008. ^
2. Translator’s note: SCO summit meeting, June 15, 2011. ^
3. Translator’s note: August 2011. ^
For more information on the human rights impact of the SCO, see:
- “SCO Member States Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Prevent Uyghur Activists from Attending Conference in United States,” May 4, 2011
- “Compromise of Human Rights Under Cover of Counter-Terrorism – Human Rights in China Releases a Whitepaper on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” March 30, 2011
- Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (2011)
- HRIC Commentary: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO): Gao Wenqian, Sarah McKune and Sharon Hom Discuss HRIC Whitepaper, April 12, 2011
For more information on the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, see: