As China’s second Universal Periodic Review approaches, the human rights situation inside the country continues to deteriorate.
One positive development since China’s previous UPR is the rise of civil society and human rights defenders. Yet human rights defenders have been harassed and detained simply for trying to participate in the UPR. In October 2012, Chinese activist Cao Shunli submitted an application requesting that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs make public the modalities for public participation in the UPR; in November, she received a reply declining the request on the grounds that the review and process constituted “state secrets.” Since June 2013, at least three groups of protestors have gathered outside the Ministry to demand a role in the UPR; one group was forcibly removed, with dozens detained briefly by police. A group of activists attempted to file an administrative lawsuit against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to disclose UPR-related information, but in September 2013 a Beijing court announced that it would not take the case.
Other activists are also suffering reprisals from the state for their efforts at transparency and accountability. Since February 2013 the government has arbitrarily detained at least 55 activists, taken into custody critics and online opinion leaders, and increased controls on social media, online expression, and public activism, rolling back the hard-won space China’s civil society has gained in recent years. A dozen of these activists had called for asset disclosures by officials—a call not unlike those made by senior Chinese leaders to crack down on corruption, yet the activist find themselves charged with “disturbing public order” and other criminal offenses.
The situations in Tibet and Xinjiang have worsened as the government continues to halt or redress the gross, uncorrected human rights abuses in those regions. More than 120 Tibetans have self-immolated, many of them having expressed a desire for religious and political freedoms.
The government has moved away from the language of “universality,” and demonstrated little or no willingness to cooperate with UN mechanisms critical to establishing accountability for human rights violations, such as the Commission of Inquiry for North Korea. Currently there are also outstanding requests to visit China by the special rapporteurs on the freedom of association and assembly, human rights defenders, independence of judges and lawyers, disappearances, and discrimination against women, among others.
Chinese officials often insist that the country’s human rights situation be given special consideration and be considered in light of “national conditions.” Yet the purpose of UPR is for all countries to be scrutinized equally, and a government that denies rather than embraces popular participation in the process deserves no leeway. We call on States to use the UPR on China to raise serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country and call on China to take concrete and meaningful steps to put an end to human rights violations. No State can be exempted of its obligations to protect human rights. If Chinadoes not show significant progress through the UPR,given the gravity of the abuses, member states should seriously start considering addressing the situation through a resolution.