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UN Expert Body Calls for Greater Protections for Ethnic Groups, Rural Inhabitants, and Rights Defenders in China

August 28, 2009

A United Nations expert body said today that China must “carefully consider the root causes” of inter-ethnic tensions within its borders, particularly in rural ethnic regions such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

In relation to the ethnic clashes in XUAR in July 2009 and TAR in March 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the “Committee”) recommended in its final report, issued after a comprehensive review of China’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the “Convention”), that detained individuals be guaranteed “humane treatment while in custody” and “fair trial standards according to international law, including access to a lawyer of their choice, presumption of innocence, and handing down proportionate sentences on those found guilty.”

In addition to addressing issues affecting ethnic minority groups, the Committee’s report identified a wide range of specific legislative and policy recommendations, including:

  • Adopt a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination, fully in accordance with the Convention, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, as well as a comprehensive national anti-discrimination law to ensure equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms protected under the Convention. 
  • Promptly and impartially investigate all allegations of harassment, intimidation, or other acts impeding the work of lawyers and revise all laws and regulations that are inconsistent with the protections for lawyers’ free exercise of their profession under both China’s domestic Lawyers Law and international standards.
  • Intensify efforts to eliminate economic and social disparities between China’s rural and urban regions, implement the decision to reform the hukou system of household registration, and ensure that internal migrants, in particular members of ethnic minorities, enjoy the same work, social security, health, and education benefits as long-time urban residents.
  • Take effective measures to ensure that administrative detention and Reeducation-Through-Labor are used restrictively, subject to full judicial control in line with international human rights standards, and not disproportionately applied to members of ethnic groups.

Notably, the Committee cited previous recommendations of other UN monitoring mechanisms, including Committee against Torture and Universal Periodic Review recommendations, which China itself supported. In addition, while welcoming the adoption of China’s Human Rights Action Plan 2009-2010, the Committee called for more specific details on its implementation, including whether the plan would extend beyond 2010.

The Committee also expressed concern over the reported lack of citizen complaints and judicial actions alleging racial discrimination, and asked China to “verify if the scarcity of such complaints is not the result of lack of effective remedies enabling victims to seek redress, victims’ lack of awareness of their rights, fear of reprisals, lack of confidence in the police and judicial authorities, or lack of attention or sensitivity to cases of racial discrimination on the part of the authorities.”

In addition, the Committee emphasized the need for open access to information, and recommended that China’s Committee reports and the Committee’s concluding observations be made accessible to the public. The Committee also urged China to engage in meaningful dialogue with civil society organizations working in the area of human rights protection.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a body of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring implementation by State parties of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. As a party to the Convention, China is required to report regularly to the Committee on its efforts to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms. On August 7 and 10, 2009, the Committee conducted a thorough review of China’s most recent progress report, submitted on June 24, 2008. In addition to China’s report, the Committee also invited parallel NGO submissions and other sources of information.

For more information on China’s progress in implementing its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, see: