UN Judge Dismissed Before Ruling on Allegations Agency Helped Beijing to Persecute Dissidents

The United Nations has been accused of undermining judicial independence and staging a legal “coup d’etat” after it fired an Australian judge in charge of the case where a whistle-blower disclosed the UN’s role in assisting China in its human rights violation. In July 2019, the international body dismissed Australian judge Rowan Downing, QC, a former international war crimes judge, from his role as President of the UN Dispute Tribunal. Downing, 69, was supervising the case of former UN human rights officer Emma Reilly who revealed her organisation had been going against its own rules to provide the Chinese government with the identity of Uyghur and other Chinese dissidents scheduled to speak at the UN Human Rights Council. Reilly said this information enabled the Chinese authorities to threaten and, in some cases, torture the dissidents’ families who are still living in China. According to reports from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on March 20, less than two weeks before the final judgements on Reilly’s case were released, the UN terminated the judge, Downing, who had been critical about the UN’s treatment of Reilly. In an interview from March 2021 that has only now been allowed to be made public, he referred to his dismissal as “the sort of conduct that happens possibly following a coup—a coup d’etat–where people want to get rid of judges quickly.” “It was, in fact, an attack upon the independence of the judiciary because… no nation-state would be able to acceptably do that,” he said, The Age reported. The dismissal of Downing and Reilly came amid concerns the Chinese Communist Party is taking advantage of its expanding leadership role in the UN to reshape the organisation in ways that serve its interests. For example, Chinese nationals have held the under-secretary-general position for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) since 2007. Additionally, since 2016, the former and current heads of UN-DESA have been preventing Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, from participating in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Beijing has also been pushing its geopolitical agenda, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), under the guise of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). At the 2017 Belt and Road Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the UN system supported Beijing to achieve the SDGs. In 2019, the Chinese government was accused of obstructing the work of the UN Human Rights Council by convincing other autocratic regimes such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Russia to positively evaluate China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang, where more than one million Muslim Uyghurs are detained and tortured. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on February 28, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) In a tweet on March 20, Reilly said the UN’s removal of Downing was to stop him from ruling in her favour. Downing has previously accused Guterres of inaccurately reporting on the situation, leading to Reilly being ostracised by other members. He also criticised Guterres for failing to handle Reilly’s complaint properly and unlawfully delaying the UN’s consideration of the matter. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has denied the accusation. Reilly first made a complaint in 2013 after a Geneva-based Chinese diplomat requested the UN to confirm the identities of “anti-government Chinese separatists” individuals set to speak at the UN Human Rights Council. Her direct superior, Eric Tistounet, head of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), asked the staff to hand the names to the Chinese diplomat “not to exacerbate the Chinese mistrust against us.” Reilly reported the issue to her superiors, but nothing changed. As she continued to reject the practice over the years, Reilly was kept at the UN with a salary while undertaking legal action over her treatment. She was formally sacked in 2012 after a report on her case was published in the French daily Le Monde. Follow Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected]

UN Judge Dismissed Before Ruling on Allegations Agency Helped Beijing to Persecute Dissidents

The United Nations has been accused of undermining judicial independence and staging a legal “coup d’etat” after it fired an Australian judge in charge of the case where a whistle-blower disclosed the UN’s role in assisting China in its human rights violation.

In July 2019, the international body dismissed Australian judge Rowan Downing, QC, a former international war crimes judge, from his role as President of the UN Dispute Tribunal.

Downing, 69, was supervising the case of former UN human rights officer Emma Reilly who revealed her organisation had been going against its own rules to provide the Chinese government with the identity of Uyghur and other Chinese dissidents scheduled to speak at the UN Human Rights Council. Reilly said this information enabled the Chinese authorities to threaten and, in some cases, torture the dissidents’ families who are still living in China.

According to reports from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on March 20, less than two weeks before the final judgements on Reilly’s case were released, the UN terminated the judge, Downing, who had been critical about the UN’s treatment of Reilly.

In an interview from March 2021 that has only now been allowed to be made public, he referred to his dismissal as “the sort of conduct that happens possibly following a coup—a coup d’etat–where people want to get rid of judges quickly.”

“It was, in fact, an attack upon the independence of the judiciary because… no nation-state would be able to acceptably do that,” he said, The Age reported.

The dismissal of Downing and Reilly came amid concerns the Chinese Communist Party is taking advantage of its expanding leadership role in the UN to reshape the organisation in ways that serve its interests.

For example, Chinese nationals have held the under-secretary-general position for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) since 2007. Additionally, since 2016, the former and current heads of UN-DESA have been preventing Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, from participating in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Beijing has also been pushing its geopolitical agenda, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), under the guise of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

At the 2017 Belt and Road Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the UN system supported Beijing to achieve the SDGs.

In 2019, the Chinese government was accused of obstructing the work of the UN Human Rights Council by convincing other autocratic regimes such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Russia to positively evaluate China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang, where more than one million Muslim Uyghurs are detained and tortured.

Epoch Times Photo
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on February 28, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

In a tweet on March 20, Reilly said the UN’s removal of Downing was to stop him from ruling in her favour. Downing has previously accused Guterres of inaccurately reporting on the situation, leading to Reilly being ostracised by other members. He also criticised Guterres for failing to handle Reilly’s complaint properly and unlawfully delaying the UN’s consideration of the matter.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has denied the accusation.

Reilly first made a complaint in 2013 after a Geneva-based Chinese diplomat requested the UN to confirm the identities of “anti-government Chinese separatists” individuals set to speak at the UN Human Rights Council.

Her direct superior, Eric Tistounet, head of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), asked the staff to hand the names to the Chinese diplomat “not to exacerbate the Chinese mistrust against us.”

Reilly reported the issue to her superiors, but nothing changed. As she continued to reject the practice over the years, Reilly was kept at the UN with a salary while undertaking legal action over her treatment. She was formally sacked in 2012 after a report on her case was published in the French daily Le Monde.


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Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected]