UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of China: Summary, Analysis, and Suggestions for Follow-up

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UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of China:

Summary, Analysis, and Suggestions for Follow-up

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 11, 2009) – On February 9, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group conducted its review of China’s human rights records, and on February 11 the UPR Working Group issued its outcome report on China, to be adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2009.

Though the shortcomings of the UPR mechanism have been well-documented and expectations for impact of the review were low, CHRD is nonetheless distressed by China’s dismissive attitude towards critical comments by some UN member states and the general unwillingness of most member states to confront the human rights records of the Chinese government. CHRD was further disappointed by the notable silence of the United States during the UPR process so far. Though the US, under former President George W. Bush, refused to run for election to membership in the Human Rights Council, all 192 UN member states are permitted to take part in these two UPR sessions.

Looking ahead to the coming months, CHRD notes the myriad events that may provide the Chinese government with a pretext to crackdown on rights activists. CHRD urges the international community to closely follow China’s actions and continue to press China on the protection of human rights.

Summary and Analysis

Interactive Dialogue on February 9

Prior to the UPR sessions, CHRD submitted a memo listing five main areas of concern, which included the criminalization of free expression, torture, arbitrary detention, lack of judicial independence, and persecution of human rights defenders (original available here). CHRD also released a list of 16 questions and recommendations for countries to raise during the interactive dialogue session (original available here). CHRD commends those countries who addressed these and other pressing concerns. Particularly note worthy:

  • Australia noted “grave concerns about reports of harassment, arbitrary arrest, punishment and detention of religious and ethnic minorities,” and asked China to “investigate reports of harassment and detention of human rights defenders.”
  • The Czech Republic recommended China “improve its national implementation of CAT [the Convention Against Torture]” and “establish an independent and effective complaints procedure for victims of torture.”
  • Hungary called on China to “accept different opinions if expressed by human rights defenders through peaceful demonstration.”
  • The Netherlands recommended that China “continue to advance the rule of law and to deepen the reform of the judicial system,” adding, “we are concerned about the independence of the judiciary, especially with respect to cases that concern crimes endangering state security.”
  • Canada asked China to “abolish all forms of administrative detention, including re-education through labor” and “eliminate abuse of psychiatric committal.”

In addition to those countries mentioned above, a number of countries, including Mexico, the United Kingdom, Italy, and others took the opportunity to raise serious concerns with China’s human rights record. However, the vast majority of countries present neglected their responsibility to address serious human rights problems in China and instead chose to offer platitudes, perhaps in hopes of gaining diplomatic favor or out of concern for their own upcoming reviews, or remained silent. CHRD is particularly disappointed that some countries, including India and South Africa, often lauded as examples for developing countries fighting for democracy and human rights, failed to confront the abuses of human rights by the Chinese government.

The Chinese delegation, rather than engaging in the dialogue cooperatively, responded to countries’ queries with stock answers which were evasive, vague and often blatantly untrue. Among some of the claims made by the Chinese delegation were that “there is no such thing as ‘black jails’” in China, that “no individual press has been penalized for voicing their opinions or views,” and that although some Chinese citizens did inquire about staging demonstrations during the Olympics, they later “gave up” their applications after meeting with public security organs and no applicants were arrested.

Demonstrating their unwillingness to engage in a constructive assessment of the domestic human rights situation, the Chinese delegation further noted with “regret” the “political statements” made by certain countries.

The delegation did claim, however, that it is considering reviewing RTL and provided some official numbers of RTL camps and detainees, stating that 170,000 individuals were currently detained in 320 RTL camps. The delegation further added that it is considering allowing one Special Rapporteur of the UN to visit China this year. China’s national report, prepared for the UPR Working Group, is available here.

Adoption of Report on February 11

On February 11, the UPR Working Group issued its outcome report. CHRD notes that China rejected nearly all of the recommendations made by countries critical of China’s rights record. Those recommendations that were adopted were overly vague, such as Algeria’s recommendation that China “continue to explore methods of development and implementation of human rights in harmony with its characteristics, its realities and the needs of Chinese society,” or ignored the most serious rights violations in China. Some went so far as to attack, rather than defend, human rights, such as Cuba’s recommendation that China “maintain, in strict compliance of law, to avoid the impunity for people who are qualifying themselves as human rights defenders with the objective of attacking the interests of the state and the people of China.”

Looking Ahead: Suggestions for International Community

The months ahead provide ample opportunities to press the Chinese government to live up to its responsibility to protect human rights.

First, CHRD has called upon U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to address human rights concerns when she makes her first trip to China on February 20 (full text of CHRD’s letter is available here). This visit represents a critical opportunity to set the tone for the new administration’s relationship with the Chinese government, as well as a chance to make up for the US’s conspicuous absence from the UPR proceedings.

Second, during the UPR session, China made a number of references to its Human Rights Action Plan for 2009-2010 (please see CHRD’s November 2008 press release on the plan, available here). CHRD calls for the inclusion of genuine civil society actors, including independent NGOs and human rights activists, as opposed to the government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) selected by the state to add legitimacy to the process. CHRD asks members of international civil society monitor China’s drafting of the National Action Plan and support their Chinese counterparts in their effort to become part of the process.

Third, before the final adoption of the UPR report in the June 2009 session of the Human Rights Council, UN member states and civil society stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on the outcome report. The June session provides another excellent opportunity for drawing attention to the human rights situation in China. NGOs with Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation can attend the June session.

Finally, we fear that, in the days leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, human rights activists in China face imminent risks. Chinese police have warned activists that they risk imprisonment during this time if they dare to speak out or organize commemorative activities. With a plethora of “sensitive” anniversaries, such as the 80th anniversary of the May 4 movement, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, and the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on the Democracy Wall Movement, there is every indication that the pressure on activists will be even more serious than in past years. CHRD calls on the international community to monitor the situation closely and keep up the pressure on the Chinese government.

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