Note: this article, featuring our client Emma Reilly, was originally published here.
UN Human Rights Office Accused of Helping China Keep An Eye on Dissidents
Emma Reilly, a UN employee who first alleged the practice in 2013, said in an Oct. 21 letter to senior U.S. diplomats and members of Congress, “The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) apparently continues to provide China with advance information on whether named human rights defenders plan to attend meetings” in Geneva.
Reilly’s letter, obtained by Fox News, that included an attachment of an email showing that names were handed over, states that a number of the targeted activists included Tibetan and Uighur dissidents, some who were U.S. nationals and residents.
According to Reilly, China’s request for the names was granted even though a similar bid for information from Turkey was reportedly denied.
The UN has flatly denied turning over the names.
Reilly, however, says she has faced retaliation by superiors at the OHCHR since filing her complaint. It was first reported on in 2017, but Reilly has not spoken with the media until now.
Undeterred by the risks of speaking out to the media, Reilly, a dual Irish/U.K. national, recently told Fox News: “Instead of taking action to stop names being handed over, the UN has focused its energy on retaliating against me for daring to report it. I have been ostracized, publicly defamed, deprived of functions, and my career has been left in tatters.”
Reilly alleges that the UN human rights office is trying to curry favor with Beijing.
“Publicly, the UN has simply lied and claimed names were never handed to China. In court, however, the UN argued that it was unreasonable of me to believe that any of the foundational principles of the UN Human Rights Office — do no harm, treat all states equally, and protect sensitive information — could take precedence over the mere possibility of a better political relationship with China.”
On the list of names that was handed over, Reilly alleges, were several leading Uighur activists.
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, expressed frustration at how the U.N. human rights office’s handling of the situation. “It’s a bit unclear to me – which is actually the problem itself.” Isa said. “…There is very little transparency around this issue to this day.”
In July, Isa’s organization stated, “The WUC’s efforts to get confirmation of whether China is still provided with advance information on our work has gone without success. Not only does the UN fail in its obligation to denounce China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs, but it may even assist China by providing the details of Uyghur activists who plan to speak.”
China has been accused of putting up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in labor camps in the northwest of the country for “re-education.”
A spokesperson for Sen.Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading supporter of Chinese dissidents, told Fox News: “If the reports about the UN jeopardizing the safety of Chinese dissidents by handing over information about them to the Chinese government are true, it would confirm criticisms that the UN is a den of villains who bow down before the world’s worst regimes while attacking democracies.”
The spokesperson added: “The U.N., as an international organization, should be resisting coercion from the Chinese Communist Party — not succumbing to it.”
The U.N. denies the practice, calling the allegations a “distortion.”
Rolando Gomez, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council at OHCHR, told Fox News: I hope to put…this distortion, I would say, to rest. Under no circumstances the Office of the High Commissioner divulged names of human rights defenders coming to the council.”
Reilly, the whistleblower, took issue with the U.N. response.
“When Chinese dissidents come to the U.N. to speak out about human rights abuses, the last thing they expect is for the U.N. to report them to China. I have been asking the UN to stop this horrific practice, and investigate those responsible, for almost seven years. The U.N. has consistently refused to act.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a human rights organization based in Geneva, told Fox News that in the last five years China had become, “increasingly aggressive in trying to stifle, silence and squelch even the slightest bit of criticism from any actor at the U.N.”
Neuer, who had previously brought up Reilly’s case with the U.N., said it seemed that the human rights office was susceptible to such pressure and noted that, “China can possibly harm a UN employee’s career if they don’t go along with their dictates.”
Reilly stood by her decision to blow the whistle.
“Managers at the U.N. human rights office often ask why I spoke up — it seems not to occur to them that I could prioritize the lives and safety of human rights activists over my own career.”