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China: UN expert says unilateral sanctions must not be used as foreign policy tool and means of economic coercion

17 May 2024

BEIJING (17 May 2024) – States should lift sanctions against China and also take strong action to curb sanction over-compliance by businesses and other actors under their jurisdiction, the UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, said today.

“China represents a particular case with regards to the impact of unilateral sanctions and means of their enforcement, given its strong and diverse economy and its growing global economic outreach,” Douhan said in a statement following her 12-day official visit to the country.

“Decline in business activities and the significant loss of global markets either due to unilateral sanctions per se or due to over-compliance with such measures by foreign businesses and entities have led to job losses, with consequent disruptions in social protection schemes, by disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, particularly in labour-intensive sectors, including women, older persons, and all those in informal employment,” the independent expert said.

Unilateral sanctions have been imposed against China since 2017 with mounting U.S. pressure on Chinese technological companies and the imposition of export controls, designation of companies’ officials and the launch of administrative and civil charges.

These have been followed by further sanctions and restrictions related to and in connection with Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong SAR, by expanding the list of targets to include key sectors of economic activity, including in agriculture, construction, trade, new and green technologies, energy, finance, telecommunications and others.

“During my visit I received numerous reports on the unilateral sanctions’ adverse impact and the consequent socio-economic implications affecting peoples’ lives,” Douhan said.

“Xinjiang is particularly affected, with key economic sectors and cross-border and international supply chains being disrupted for fear of primary or secondary sanctions for alleged commercial or production ties with this region,” she said. The expert received information about job cuts and interruption of production activities in third countries, as well as a suspension of international humanitarian projects, both accounting for the international negative spill-over effects.

The multifaceted negative impact of sanctions is also showcased in areas such as education and academic/scientific cooperation with the listing of several Chinese prominent universities and research centres, the interruption of exchange programmes, scholarships and joint research projects between Chinese and foreign – mainly U.S. and European – institutions, as well as the broader stigmatisation of Chinese students and scholars who may be denied entry visas or submitted to thorough background checks on national security grounds in pursuing their studies or academic and professional careers.

“Access to justice and the fundamental principles of due process and the presumption of innocence are also seriously undermined by the listing and de-listing procedures, based on the rebuttable presumption of wrongfulness of everything with any nexus to Xinjiang or designated companies,” Douhan said. “Designated individuals and entities are not provided with the evidence of grounds for their designation and have extremely limited capacity to pursue administrative and judicial proceedings before the sanctioning states’ court systems, which often are lengthy, costly, non-transparent and non-efficient.”

“I wish to reiterate the illegality of extraterritorial application of unilateral sanctions and I call on states, in particular sanctioning states, to effectively address over-compliance of businesses and other entities under their jurisdiction in order to mitigate or completely eliminate any adverse humanitarian impact.”

During her visit the UN expert met representatives from national and local government institutions, non-governmental organisations, associations, humanitarian actors, businesses, UN entities, academia, businesses, as well as the diplomatic community. In addition to the capital Beijing, she also visited Urumqi, Shihezi, Changji, Hotan, and Shenzhen.

The Special Rapporteur will present her country visit report to the Human Rights Council in September 2024.

Ms Alena Douhan (Belarus) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights by the Human Rights Council in March 2020. Ms. Douhan has extensive experience in the fields of international law and human rights as, a Professor of international law at the Belarusian State University (Minsk), a visiting Professor at the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed conflict, (Bochum, Germany) and the Director of the Peace Research Centre (Minsk). She received her PhD at the Belarusian State University in 2005 and obtained Dr. hab. in International Law and European Law in 2015 (Belarus). Ms. Douhan’s academic and research interests are in the fields of international law, sanctions and human rights law, international security law, law of international organizations, international dispute settlement, and international environmental law.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information about the visit, please contact: Damianos Serefidis ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or John Newland ([email protected])

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