China’s record of non-cooperation

In 2006 China was elected to the newly created Human Rights Council. As a Council member, China is required to “fully cooperate with the Council,” but has consistently failed to meet this obligation.

As of March 2009, China has seven outstanding requests for visits from independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, ranging from 2002 to 2008. The requests from UN independent experts on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (2002), on toxic waste (2005), on health (2006), on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2005, with a reminder in 2008), on housing (2008), on the right to food (2008) and on human rights defenders (2008) have not been granted.

Although in principle China has agreed to two additional requests, it has refused to set dates. In 2004 China agreed to a visit by the UN independent expert on freedom of religion. Despite repeated letters reminding the government of its invitation, no date has been set for her visit. Similarly the independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty has yet to receive an official date for the visit request China granted in 2006.

On April 10, 2008, six of the Council’s independent experts issued a joint statement of concern regarding the “ongoing protests and reports of high numbers of arrests in the Tibet Autonomous region and surrounding areas in China.” While recognizing that China had invited several fact-finding delegations to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region, they said that such visits “are no substitute for granting access to those United Nations experts who have requested a visit to China.” They urged China to invite and allow access to the independent experts “to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them by the Human Rights Council.” Then UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour similarly asked to visit Tibet to assess the ongoing crisis. The Chinese government denied her request, saying that “the timing was not convenient,” but that “there would be a possibility for Arbour to visit in the future at a mutually convenient time.” But China has not yet extended an invitation to the Council’s experts to visit the region.

China has only allowed visits from the experts on the right to education and on torture and the working group on arbitrary detention.

Even when it has permitted a visit, China has limited the expert’s access. The independent expert on torture, after a decade of making requests and cancellations of two earlier invitations, finally visited China in 2005, but found that the government often obstructed or restricted his fact-finding. During his visit, the government placed him under frequent surveillance, denied him authorization to visit detention centers on his own, effectively giving prison authorities advance notice of his visits, and prevented him from meeting with specific people he had asked to see. During the course of his visit, according to the expert, “a number of alleged victims and family members were intimidated by security personnel, placed under police surveillance, instructed not to meet the Special Rapporteur, or were physically prevented from meeting with him.” Similarly, during the 2004 visit by the Working Group on arbitrary detention, prison officials blocked access to certain detainees.

In the past four years, China has only responded to 130 of the 171 letters of allegation and urgent appeals sent by the Council’s experts. China also failed to respond by the deadline to any of the 12 questionnaires sent by Council experts.

Despite this long record of obstructing access, China claimed at its Universal Periodic Review in February 2009 that it maintains good cooperation with the Council’s experts. The government then invited Navenethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit China “at a time convenient to both sides.”

The government of China has an equally poor record of cooperation with other parts of the United Nations human rights and refugee protection system. In November 2007, the Committee Against Torture repeatedly noted China’s lack of access and unwillingness to cooperate with requests for information. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) likewise has repeatedly requested and been refused access to the Chinese-North Korean border from which China continues to send back North Korean asylum seekers over UNHCR’s protests.

Failure to acknowledge human rights abuses in the report to the Universal Periodic Review

For its Universal Periodic Review in February 2009, China submitted a report that denied the existence of human rights violations in the country. Although information about rights review is supposed to be widely disseminated inside each country, and the process is meant to allow for considerable citizen input, virtually no information about China's review was circulated inside the country.

In its report, the government did not acknowledge serious abuses, such as torture in police custody, excessive use of the death penalty, prosecutions for violating unknowable—and unchallengeable—“state secrets” laws, press censorship, restrictions on religious freedom, limitations on trade unions, arbitrary detention, abuses of ethnic minorities, and persecution of government critics. Instead, Ambassador Li Baodong insisted that China is a country of democratic institutions, ethnic equality and fully guaranteed freedoms of expression, with more than 250 laws to protect human rights.

At the review, China rejected any criticism of its record as politicized, refused to speak of its difficulties and turned down 70 recommendations put to it to improve its human rights record. Recommendations rejected included: abolishing the death penalty and administrative detention; granting access to Tibet; guaranteeing its citizens religious freedom; reforming its states secret laws; respecting the rights of national minorities; establishing a national human rights institution; and issuing a standing invitation to the Council’s human rights experts.