HRC43 | Hold China accountable for brazen misuse of counter-terrorism measures to suppress fundamental freedoms


ISHR welcomes UN expert report on counter-terrorism that draws attention to ‘large-scale violations of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities', and urges strong collaboration with the UN High Commissioner before any visit to Uyghur regions of China.


What's so wrong with China's approach to counter-terrorism and counter extremism in Xinjiang?

According to the criteria and concerns of the UN expert on counter-terrorism, a lot; ISHR agrees.  

Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aolain, in her presentation on 4 March and accompanying press statement, highlighted that ‘religious groups, minorities and civil society actors in particular are victims of rights violations and are targeted under the guise of countering "extremism".’ Although she did not specifically mention any countries, previous work by the expert and her team has included legal analysis focused on the wide gaps between human rights standards and China's counter-terrorism and de-extremification laws.

The Special Rapporteur noted deep concerns with definitions and evidence for programmes to prevent and counter violent extremism, both at the national level and within the UN system. She reminded the Council that international cooperation to address the challenges of terrorism and violent extremism is important, but that ‘cooperation is not a rights-free zone’. It must be within the bounds of international law.

Says ISHR Asia Advocate Sarah M Brooks, who delivered a joint statement with fellow non-governmental organisation CSW: ‘The report was a repudiation of state practices that subsume human rights concerns to those of national security.'

‘These are global issues – but the scope, scale and lack of oversight and accountability in China make its policies especially damaging to the communities affected, and its efforts to export them deeply worrying for citizens well outside China’s borders.’

Take, for example, the case of Samira Imin. Samira recently received information that her father, Uyghur academic Iminjan Seydin, had been sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment for 'inciting extremism'. She has not had any contact with him, nor known his location, since he disappeared - presumably into state custody, along with an estimated one million other Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims, in 2017.

Samira, currently working at Harvard Medical School, is fighting back. ‘My dad tried to maintain Uyghur culture, spread knowledge and benefit a Uyghur-speaking audience with books on wide range of topics while toeing the Party, my ultimate goal is to get him out of prison safely.’

Her story echoes those of many Uyghurs with loved ones impacted by China's policies of mass surveillance, detention and re-education.

In the debate with the Special Rapporteur at the Human Rights Council, States such as Denmark, on behalf of Scandinavian and Baltic countries, also echoed key points and concerns raised by her report that policies and practices to counter extremism are being used to repress religious or ethnic minorities. Mexico, speaking for a group of nine Latin American States, recalled that any counter-extremist policy may only entail limitations to fundamental rights that are ‘proportionate, based on the law, and pursuing a legitimate goal’ – standards reiterated by the European Union. Possibly with subtle reference to the plight of Muslims in Xinjiang, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation underscored that 'ethnic origin or religion should not be the root of anti-terrorist efforts'.

In light of a potential visit by the High Commissioner to China this year, ISHR and CSW hope that the insightful analysis and thematic concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur and other relevant mandates about the human rights situation in China will clearly inform High Commissioner Bachelet's constructive and critical dialogue and engagement. The Special rapporteur made clear in her remarks that she welcomes the High Commissioner's forthcoming visit to China, and looks forward to receiving a positive response to her own request to carry out a mission to the country.

Watch the statement here: 

The full statement by ISHR and CSW can be read here. For additional information, contact Sarah M Brooks at @sarahmcneer or s.brooks[at]


Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré


  • Asia
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • United Nations
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • China