Dharamshala: - The UN human rights council Tuesday criticised China of arresting activists, curbing Internet use and suppressing ethnic minorities, as the UN formally reviewed its rights record for the first time since Xi Jinping became head of the communist regime.
Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary in the US State Department's bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, said China should cease using harassment, detention and arrest to silence human rights activists and their families and friends.
"We're concerned that China suppresses freedoms of assembly, association, religion and expression..., harasses, detains and punishes activists..., targets rights defenders' family members and friends and implements policies that undermine the human rights of ethnic minorities," Zeya said.
US-based Human Rights Watch urged China to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by ending harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture of activists. "China is good about signing human rights treaties, but terrible about putting them into practice," said its China director Sophie Richardson.
Human Rights Watch also urged Beijing to improve media freedom and halt abuses against its Tibetan and Muslim Uighur ethnic minorities. A total of 121 Tibetans Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China since 2009 to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Rights groups blame religious repression and cultural erosion, while Beijing says it has brought massive investment to the relatively undeveloped region.
The criticism focused on China's unfulfilled promise to ratify an international human rights treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Chinese special envoy Wu Hailong, who led Beijing's delegation in Geneva, said talks with other countries in Geneva had been "open, candid... and cooperative." However he added that some of the accusations levelled at China had been "based on misunderstandings and prejudices."
But Julie de Rivero, of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC that China's focus on economic progress was a way of avoiding the real issues. "The question is why does does China continue to torture people in prisons and why is it systematic? Why do they not allow human rights defenders to raise questions that party members are even raising, about corruption? When it comes from the mouth of a human rights defender it earns them a place in prison," she said.
The regime signed the treaty in 1998 but its parliament has never ratified it. As part of a U.N. International Bill of Human Rights, the ICCPR requires nations to uphold basic individual rights such as freedom of religion, assembly and speech.
Hours before the session began, Tibetans and supporters scaled the the Palais des Nations and unfurled a banner reading: "China fails human rights in Tibet - U.N. stand up for Tibet".
The group of Tibetans and supporters urged the U.N. member states to block China's election to the Human Rights Council in early November. U.N. security detained the four Tibet supporters from Denmark and Britain for several hours, and a spokeswoman for Students for a Free Tibet later said they had not been charged and were expected to return to their home countries.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was willing to work with other countries on human rights as long as it was in a spirit of mutual respect. "But we firmly oppose those kinds of biased and malicious criticisms," she added, referring to the Tibetan protest.
The UN member states, including United States, Australia and Germany rebuked China at the session for what they say is the religious repression of ethnic minorities, including Tibetans in Tibet and Uighurs in Eastern Turkistan.
The review, led by Poland, Sierra Leone and the United Emirates, called for better treatment of women, disabled people, and ethnic minorities; a reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty; and the release of everyone detained for political reasons.
The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) Wednesday said that "Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, the US, the UK and Iceland raised their concerns on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet".
The CTA also expressed gratitude towards the UN member states as cited above for their efforts to hold China accountable with regards to its human rights record in Tibet.
The United Nations Human Rights Council, which reviews all U.N. members every four years, convened in Geneva, where sharply opposing views of China's human rights record were exposed.
China is not currently among the 47 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has a rotating membership. The Geneva forum was examining its record on Tuesday as part of its periodic review of each U.N. member state every four years.
In 2009, the UN Human Rights Council strongly urged China to do more to reduce poverty, introduce judicial and political reforms and respect the rights of ethnic minorities.