“Persisting in Resisting” ——Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2022)

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“Persisting in Resisting” ——Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2022)

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders— March 15, 2023) This year marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognizes the key role of human rights defenders (HRDs) in the realization of human rights and provides that each State has a responsibility and duty “to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms” (art. 2(1)). While the Chinese government violates the Declaration in its unceasing persecution of human rights defenders, HRDs nonetheless continue to fight to promote and advocate for human rights in China.   

Inspired by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders call for inputs to her report on the positive changes achieved by human rights defenders globally, CHRD presents its 2022 Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China echoing her report’s focus on hope, achievements, and lessons learnt.  

Twenty-five experienced HRDs in China responded to the Special Rapporteur’s questionnaire, which CHRD circulated within its networks. The number of responses may be relatively small in relation to the whole population, and do not capture the situation for human rights defenders in the Uyghur region, areas populated by Tibetans, or in Hong Kong.  

Nevertheless, given the Chinese government’s suppression of human rights defenders, and their lack of channels to express their views publicly without facing reprisals, even a limited sample can provide a clarifying, unique snapshot of the critical role of HRDs in defending and realizing human rights in China, the challenges and risks they face, and the opportunities for having an impact on making lasting and sometimes systemic changes.   

            Key takeaways from 2022:    

  • Human rights defenders in China continued to foster support and build solidarity within their communities, both online and in-person.  
  • HRDs enhanced their security awareness and shared knowledge and tactics to scale the Great Firewall and evade digital surveillance. 
  • HRDs continued to make use of the few legal tools available to them, despite China’s deeply flawed legal system and lack of independence of the judiciary. They sought justice for victims of human rights abuses and helped them defend their rights, scoring some small victories. They also sought to hold perpetrators accountable.  
  • The continued resistance of human rights defenders in China, against all odds, speaks to their abiding hope in justice, and for their future.  Many spoke of drawing strength from mental preparedness and spiritual faith. As one HRD put it, a major ongoing achievement of the movement is simply “persisting in resisting.” 
  • Although perhaps unacknowledged and unappreciated, HRDs were often at the forefront in assisting marginalized populations and helping to build a more inclusive China. 
  • HRDs expressed that attention to individual cases by UN experts, international NGOs, or foreign governments played a positive role in putting pressure on the government and/or improving conditions for HRDs. 

Besides these takeaways from the questionnaire of human rights defenders, CHRD also noted that 2022 was in some respects a breakthrough year for the human rights movement in China: 

  • Activism found new inspiration and purpose in 2022, as many people across the country, especially youth and women, took to the streets and the Internet to protest against China’s inflexible Zero-Covid policies. These protests undoubtedly played a role in the Chinese government’s subsequent decision to abandon its strict Covid controls.  
  • Impressive efforts by diasporic communities and international human rights defenders resulted in progress at countering the Chinese authorities’ false narratives aimed at covering up or defending the government’s gross and systematic human rights violations, particularly in the Uyghur region and in Tibetan areas. These efforts helped facilitate actions taken by UN human rights mechanisms, such as the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2022.  

This report presents the findings and our analysis of the responses CHRD gathered to the above-mentioned questionnaire of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Mary Lawlor. The report is organized into five sections, tracking the questions in the survey: 

  1. Positive Role of Human Rights Defenders: This section documents the role played by HRDs in achieving some small victories and systemic changes in China, which has led to sustained improvements in the human rights of others, not only in 2022 but in previous years as well.  
  2. Pathways to Change: This identifies some of the means and opportunities human rights defenders have used to achieve these improvements. 
  3. Risks Human Rights Defenders Face: This section summarizes the major risks human rights defenders were subjected to while working to bring about change in China.  
  4. The Role of other Stakeholders (NGOs, INGOs, international mechanisms, media, etc.): This section presents findings about the support and protection that was provided to human rights defenders by other stakeholders.  
  5. Recommendations: We sum up the actions that HRDs in China suggest that the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and other international mechanisms should take to assist human rights defenders, and to encourage States and businesses to provide an environment that enables human rights defenders to be successful in their important work.  

 Read the full report

Download a copy


William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, CHRD, +1-623-295-9604, William [at] nchrd.org, @williamnee

Renee Xia, Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia [at] nchrd.org, @reneexiachrd

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