UN expert slammed over $275,900 contribution from China

Professor Alena Douhan is said to have received a US$200,000 (S$275,900) contribution from Beijing in 2021. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - A watchdog said on Thursday (May 19) that an independent UN expert took a large payment from Beijing, alleging that she helped China "whitewash" its treatment of the Uighur minority and demanding that she return the money.

Professor Alena Douhan, the United Nations special rapporteur focused on the negative impact of unilateral sanctions, received a US$200,000 (S$275,900) contribution from Beijing in 2021, said Geneva-based rights group UN Watch, pointing to a UN filing.

In a statement, the group called on her "to return US$200,000 that she received from the Chinese state while she helped the regime whitewash its ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs".

Prof Douhan, a law professor from Belarus, is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020. She does not speak on behalf of the UN.

Her mandate is controversial, with rights activists accusing the expert of playing into authoritarian regimes' propaganda by blaming their countries' woes on Western sanctions.

She has visited countries such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe, and concluded a trip to Iran this week, after which she decried the "devastating humanitarian impact of sanctions", insisting they were illegal and should be lifted.


UN Watch said Prof Douhan had headlined a Beijing-sponsored online "propaganda" event last September under the banner "Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land", referring to the north-western region that is home to the Uighurs.

The United States government and lawmakers in a number of other Western countries have labelled China's treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang a "genocide" - a charge Beijing vehemently denies.

Rights groups say that at least one million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in "re-education camps" in the region, and face widespread rights abuses, including forced sterilisation and forced labour.

China says it is running vocational training centres in the region designed to counter extremism.

During the September event, Chinese diplomats and officials accused Western countries of a smear campaign, UN Watch said.

A video was screened claiming that "Xinjiang's policies conform to international labour and human rights standards and support the will of all ethnic groups to live a better life", it said.

UN Watch also said Prof Douhan had participated in two other China-backed events last year targeting Western sanctions, which were co-sponsored by Belarus, Iran, Venezuela and Russia, among others.

"It beggars belief that a supposed independent human rights expert can accept money from regimes at the same time as she endorses their events designed to cover up atrocities," UN Watch chief Hillel Neuer said in the statement.

The Chinese contribution to Prof Douhan was publicly divulged in a March filing to the UN General Assembly detailing the activities of all the independent experts and working groups appointed by the rights council.

When contacted by AFP, a UN rights office spokesman stressed the experts do not receive financial remuneration and "undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith".

The experts' mandates are funded through the regular UN budget, but "the resources are never sufficient for the volume of work entrusted to them", he said, explaining the need for voluntary contributions earmarked for specific mandates.

A number of countries provide contributions to specific mandates they support, but China's contribution to Prof Douhan was by far the largest she was given last year.

She also received US$150,000 from Russia and US$25,000 from Qatar, the filing showed.

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