Even as questions persist as to how China handled its own coronavirus pandemic — including whether the Chinese government effectively silenced doctors and nurses who spoke out in the early days of the virus’ spread — the United Nations has reportedly appointed China to serve on a U.N. Human Rights panel designed to help identify threats to the freedom of speech, and governments who are carrying out “enforced disappearances” and “arbitrary detention.”
International news reports that China’s appointment came Wednesday, just as countries like the United States began to probe deeper into how the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was allowed to spread so quickly inside mainland China, and whether China’s reported death count — just over 2,500 — from the virus was, indeed, accurate.
It now seems, according to reports cataloging the return of thousands of cremated remains to families in and around Wuhan, China, the coronavirus epicenter, that more than 40,000 likely died from the virus in the Wuhan area alone.
The U.N., always on the cutting edge of global matters will allow China to “have a say in selecting at least 17 UN human rights ‘mandate-holders’ over the next year. China will also assist in screening candidates for UN human rights positions.”
“It’s absurd and immoral for the UN to allow China’s oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide,” the executive director of UN Watch, which first reported China’s appointment to the panel, told media in a statement. “Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.”
The appointment seems particularly egregious in light of China’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic and reports that the Chinese government, already well known for curbing the freedom of speech of its constituents as well as their access to vital information, silenced doctors who raised the alarm on coronavirus.
The New York Times reported in early February that “Chinese officials’ initial handling of the coronavirus epidemic allowed it to spread.”
“Back in December, weeks before China admitted the outbreak, Dr. Li Wenliang sent a warning about seven people with a ‘mysterious illness’ to an online chat group that included medical students,” per the NYT. “‘Quarantined in the emergency department,’ the doctor wrote to the group. Hours later, officials from the health department summoned the doctor and sanctioned him for sharing information. He was then compelled to sign a statement of secrecy and told his warning constituted ‘illegal behavior.'”
“In those weeks, the authorities silenced doctors and others for raising red flags,” the NYT adds. “They played down the dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware they should protect themselves.”
As for “arbitrary detention,” in the weeks and months before China suffered the first coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government was being investigated for a series of “concentration camps,” where millions of ethnically-Chinese Muslims, known as Uigurs, were reportedly being kept in cramped, unsafe conditions and forced to work as slaves in Chinese factories.