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China rejects NGO participation in human rights talks with Switzerland

Switzerland and china engage in human rights talks after a 5 year break
After the previous human rights dialogue in 2018, China refused to continue the dialogue in 2019. At the time, Switzerland had criticised China's actions against the Uyghurs. © Keystone / Peter Schneider

Swiss NGOs have condemned their exclusion from the first Switzerland-China human rights dialogue to take place since 2018, calling it a “missed opportunity” for the Asian state to show willingness to address their concerns. 

The two-day dialogue, which had been suspended in 2019 after Beijing objected to Switzerland supporting a United Nations demand for the closure of controversial camps in China’s Xinjiang region, took place in the Swiss capital Bern earlier this week. 

++Swiss-Chinese human rights talks resume after hiatus

The Swiss foreign ministry told Keystone-SDA the discussions were direct, critical and open, and addressed various crucial topics. These included civil and political rights, such as the right to life, freedom of expression, and the rule of law. The two countries also addressed the rights of national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities – in particular the Uyghur and Tibetan populations – as well as women, the LGBTQ+ community, and the situation in Hong Kong. 

Missed opportunity for critical discussions

However, non-governmental organisations were excluded from the dialogue at the request of China. The Swiss foreign ministry had invited five NGOs to take part, but China vetoed their involvement, Christoph Wiedmer from the Society for Threatened Peoples told Keystone. 

Simon Geissbühler, head of the Peace and Human Rights Division of the Swiss foreign ministry, acknowledged that a separate segment had been planned with the human rights organisations, but that China had refused to participate.

Among the NGOs invited were the Uighur Association of Switzerland, the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Society, the International Service for Human Rights and Amnesty International, which strongly condemned China’s decision. It said that the Asian country had missed a rare opportunity to engage in critical discussions and demonstrate a willingness to address human rights concerns.

The NGOs warned that China’s attempt to position itself as a positive actor in human rights was only “window dressing”.

The Chinese embassy refrained from directly commenting on the exclusion of the organisations, stating that China was willing to discuss human rights issues with Switzerland on the grounds of mutual respect.

Swiss left-leaning parties have long criticised the country’s human rights dialogue with China as a strategic initiative to advance Switzerland’s economic trade interests.

Another round of human rights dialogue will follow in China in 2024. 

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