Friday, January 26, 2024

Responding to today’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) focusing on China’s human rights record, Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brooks said:

“Today’s rights review should have been a real reckoning for the Chinese authorities: a rare space for other governments to amplify the grave human rights violations faced by victims across China and beyond.

“Instead, we saw China seeking to gaslight the global community, denying the scope and scale of violations of human rights documented in UN reports, while offering up its anti-human rights approach as a model for other countries.

“The authorities flat-out refused to acknowledge fundamental facts: presenting their repression of Uyghurs as an effective counter to terrorism and their suppression of civic space in Hong Kong as providing stability in the city.

“And yet it didn’t all go China’s way. As one example, many states made recommendations to China for more meaningful cooperation with the UN system and its mechanisms – including implementation of expert policy recommendations and unfettered access for international rights experts. This shows the central importance of the UN system’s work, as well as a growing consensus that China’s attempts to undermine it – by distorting dialogue and cooperation – are deeply problematic.

“The tragedy of this UPR review is that China’s time-tested tactic of repressing human rights defenders – whether in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong or elsewhere – means that those best placed to take this work forward were not in the room. They are silenced, in prison or otherwise detained, under surveillance, in exile. If governments want to see their recommendations realized, support for human rights defenders in China must be central to their engagement with the country.”


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process under which all UN member states undergo a review of their human rights record every few years at the UN Human Rights Council. China is now undergoing its fourth review, after the third in 2018. Today in Geneva a large Chinese government delegation heard recommendations and responded to questions from states on a range of human rights issues. China will accept or note the recommendations and the Human Rights Council will adopt the outcome report of the review in June. The stated purpose of the UPR is to be a “cooperative mechanism” to improve the human rights situation on the ground.

In China’s previous UPRs, the government demonstrated its bad faith engagement with the process. Independent Chinese civil society has been systematically excluded. The most egregious example is the death in custody of human rights defender Cao Shunli, who was detained while trying to travel to Geneva to participate in the second UPR in 2013. This 14 March 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of her death. China has become emboldened in deploying its tactic of reprisals in the years since; Hong Kong civil society now faces the threat of prosecution under the 2020 National Security Law for cooperating with the UN system.

China said in its state report ahead of today’s review that it “attaches great importance to follow-up work” on the 284 recommendations it accepted out of 346 in its third UPR in 2018. However, many of those accepted recommendations were weak or problematic, or encouraged China to “continue” policies that violate human rights. With respect to some robust recommendations, China claimed they had “already been implemented” – and didn’t commit to doing more. Amnesty International found that most recommendations that had been “accepted” had not been implemented, and even more, that progress had regressed in some areas.

In 2018, China rejected several recommendations about access for independent experts within the UN special procedures system, a key measure of cooperating with the UN system, on the grounds it constituted interference in China’s “sovereignty and internal affairs”. The government has still not granted full and unfettered access to the UN and other independent human rights monitors. Only one special procedures mandate holder visited during the period under review while 13 requests and reminders for visits went ignored.

Since 2018, different UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about China’s worsening human rights record, mirroring Amnesty International’s findings. In 2022, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that, against a backdrop of restrictive and discriminatory laws, policy and practices, China’s actions targeting members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.

That same year, the UN Human Rights Committee called for the repeal of the National Security Law and sedition provisions of the Crimes Ordinance in Hong Kong. Instead, the local government plans to further legislate such crimes this year under the new “Safeguarding National Security Bill” under Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the territory’s ‘mini-constitution’.

China’s report due to the UN Committee against Torture is overdue by four years. Contrary to the government’s claims in its state report that it is “committed to giving the people a sense of fairness and justice,” Amnesty International has documented arbitrary detention, torture, other ill-treatment and unfair trials against ethnic minorities and human rights defenders during this period.

Activists, journalists and lawyers in China including Hong Kong – such as Chow Hang-tung, Ding Jiaxi, Xu Zhiyong, Wang Jianbing and Zhang Zhan – remain imprisoned despite findings from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that they should be released.

Tags: China, Human Rights, Freedom of expression.