Chinese Government, Having Failed to Honor its Previous Commitments, Has Disqualified Itself for UN Human Rights Council

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Chinese Government, Having Failed to Honor its Previous Commitments,

Has Disqualified Itself for UN Human Rights Council

Chinese Human Rights Defenders

May 8, 2009

On May 12, 2009, the 63rd UN General Assembly will decide in a secret ballot of all member states if China, among other candidates seeking to be re-elected for membership, is qualified to remain on the UN Human Rights Council. Membership in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is voted on once every three years.

CHRD documentations in the past three years have unequivocally demonstrated the Chinese government’s systematic failures to honor its 2006 “voluntary pledge and commitments” to “promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people.” The government, in its 2009 “voluntary pledge”, is now repeating the same commitments. There is no indication that it will take these commitments seriously or make any efforts to implement them. We believe that the Chinese government has disqualified itself for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council. We call on the government to take concrete steps to implement its promises and improve its human rights record, so it might be ready to seek re-election next round, in 2012. We ask UN member states to cast their votes on the basis of China’s actual track record, not on unfulfilled, vague and hollow commitments.

The UN General Assembly resolution on the establishment of the Human Rights Council states that “when electing members of the Council, member states shall take into account the contributions of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto” (Art. 8).[1]

The Chinese government’s “voluntary pledge” (see attachment) related to the announcement of its candidacy for re-election to the Human Rights Council focuses primarily on the PRC’s efforts in enacting legislation and promulgating administrative regulations, ratifying or acceding to international treaties or other instruments, but offers little indication of any concrete steps taken to implement these laws and regulations or international treaties, nor of any actual improvement.

The “voluntary pledge” highlights the PRC’s cooperation with the Human Rights Council by undergoing “Universal Periodic Review (UPR),” submitting state reports to treaty bodies, participating in UN activities to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and promulgating a National Human Rights Action Plan, but it fails to mention the government’s blocking of Chinese NGOs and civil society representatives from participating in these activities, suppressing information domestically, and categorically rejecting any criticism of its rights abuses during the UPR session.[2] Nor did the “pledge” say anything, of course, of the Chinese government’s persecution of activists celebrating the 2008 International Human Rights Day with the release of an open petition, Charter 08, demanding democratic reform and better protection for human rights, on the eve of the UDHR’s 60th anniversary.[3] Finally, the “pledge” does not acknowledge that the National Human Rights Action Plan, like the “pledge” itself, lacks details, substance, and concrete measures for implementation and enforcement.[4]

The “voluntary pledge” claims that “China contributed a lot to the institution-building of the [Human Rights] Council.” Such a claim is contradicted by the Chinese representatives’ role, often with delegates from other countries with spotty human rights records, in undermining the independence of human rights experts, in excluding NGO participation by accusing them of “distorting facts and spreading lies to pursue a hidden political agenda”,[5] or in intimidating UN experts through the government’s intensive lobbying prior to the treaty body review sessions.

Moreover, in three years since the Chinese government was elected to the HRC in 2006, authorities have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, monitored, harassed and intimidated many human rights defenders and individuals complaining about human rights abuses.[6] And though the government did submit its state report to the UN Committee against Torture, torture has persisted and torturers continue to face no legal consequences today.[7] Meanwhile, the government continues to abrogate freedom of expression, association, and assembly.[8]

While China has improved living standards for many Chinese over the last few decades, economic and social changes have brought new human rights challenges in their wake, and the systematic absence of democracy and rule of law has proved detrimental to facing these challenges and to efforts to end human rights violations. CHRD urges the Chinese government to take tangible actions to reform its political and legal system and improve its human rights record, rather than repeating commitments, so that it may be ready to seek re-election to the HRC by the next round of voting in 2012.

In particular, CHRD urges the Chinese government take concrete steps towards implementing its commitments by meeting several benchmarks:

(1) Ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

(2) Abolishing all systems of arbitrary detention.

(3) Ending the criminalization of freedom of speech and of the press.

(4) Abolishing “Political and Legal Committees”, the party and government’s tools of control of the judiciary.

(5) Ending persecution of human rights defenders.

The Chinese government should undertake a review of all the concluding observations and recommendations by the UN treaty bodies on China, in particular by the Committee Against Torture and by the “Universal Periodic Review” Working Group, to come up with specific plans to put their suggestions into concrete action.

The Chinese government must make strong commitments to building the Human Rights Council institutions of special procedures with independent expertise, supporting an effective and impartial system for scrutinizing the human rights practices of all states, and increasing participation by NGOs.

See also Vaclav Havel’s Op-Ed article “A Table for Tyrants” on the New York Times about the Human Rights Council election at

[1] A/RES/60/251, available at:

[2] For a review of the Chinese government’ performance during UPR, see CHRD, UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of China: Summary, Analysis, and Suggestions for Follow-up


[3] CHRD, Chinese Government Responds with a Crackdown on Activists for Commemorating 60th Anniversary of UDHR /Article/Class9/Class98/200812/20081210085443_12282.html

[4] See CHRD, China’s ‘Human Rights Action Plan’: Long Awaited, Short in Substance,

[5] International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights Monitor Series, “COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE 42ND SESSION ANNUAL MEETING WITH STATES PARTIES 28 APRIL 2009″.

[6] CHRD, Dancing in Shackles: A report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2007) /Article/Class9/Class11/200805/20080501034205_8531.html.

[7] CHRD, Persistent Torture, Unaccountable Torturers (2008), /Article/Class9/Class11/200811/20081105101541_11571.html; Silencing Complaints: Human Rights Abuses against Petitioners in China (2008) /Article/Class9/Class11/200803/20080314221750_8056.html.

[8] CHRD, “Follow the Principles of the Party”: State Control of the Media (and What the Media is Doing to Fight Back) /Article/Class9/Class11/200812/20081209223905_12273.html; Tug of War over China’s Cyberspace . /Article/Class9/Class11/200903/20090318235654_14369.html

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