Han Jie | Radio Free Asia

Rights activists and former protest leaders have called on the United Nations to investigate human rights violations at the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party over the past three decades, specifically in relation to the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement and massacre of civilians in and around Tiananmen Square.

In a formal complaint filed to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Wang Dan called for an investigation into the “gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in connection to the 1989 massacre.”

The complaint letter, which was co-signed by 21 other activists and the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, called on the Council to request permission to carry out an independent factual investigation into the events in Beijing in early June 1989, and for the findings to be made public.

China should also be asked to permit discussion, dialogue and gatherings relating to the 1989 protests and massacre, and to cease censoring Tiananmen-related information and discussion in print and on the internet, the letter said.

It also called for the release of all 1989 activists currently detained, and an end to “ongoing persecution and the unrelenting surveillance and harassment of 1989 protestors, the families of the victims, and those trying to seek remedies and commemorate the dead.”

Wang said China wields a strong influence at the U.N. in its capacity as a permanent member of the Security Council.

“When I was in contact with … U.N. officials, they told me that China has the power to review the budgets of a lot of U.N. departments and agencies,” Wang told RFA in an interview.

“That’s how it manages to exert such a huge influence on decision-making by a lot of agencies,” he said. “It threatens them with budget cuts, so some offices will have misgivings [about criticizing China].”

“This is a very direct form of interference from China,” Wang said.

Veteran 1989 democracy activist Fang Zheng, who lost both legs after being crushed by a tank during the crackdown, was among those who signed the letter.

“I think an action like this at the very least is going to put a bit of pressure on the Chinese government,” Fang said. “Maybe this has to be a long-term action: perhaps we won’t see results on the first attempt or even after many attempts, but this is one of the few approaches we can take, as overseas democracy activists.”

‘Gross violations’ of rights since 1989 

The complaint detailed the Chinese government’s “gross violations” of Chinese citizens’ human rights during the 1989 massacre and in the aftermath––including the right to life, the right to be free from arbitrary detention, exile, and torture, the right to a fair trial, the right to effective remedy, and the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

“The massacre 30 years ago has not ended yet: the Chinese government even determined that the victims were criminals, and a large number of exiles are still deprived of their right to return to their own country,” the letter said.

In a commentary explaining the action further, Wang and CHRD director Frances Eve wrote that U.N. founding principles dictate that when member states fail in their “duty to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the international community must step in to address the situation.

“The Council must live up to its principles and take on a powerful abuser like China,” Wang and Even wrote. “As the world’s main human rights body, through which the international community can act together to protect human rights, the Council must demonstrate its strength, fairness, and principled opposition to double standards and biases.”

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in March that Beijing’s influence operations at the U.N. were having a negative impact on the work of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

HRW China director Sophie Richardson warned that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within, citing HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are still largely banned in China, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, while veteran dissidents are placed under police surveillance or detention ahead of each anniversary.

The Tiananmen Mothers victims’ group have been writing to China’sNational People’s Congress (NPC) with demands for a change in the official verdict, compensation to victims’ families and a public inquiry into the massacre annually for more than 20 years, but have never received any kind of reply, only police restrictions on their movements.

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