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UN Experts Voice Serious Concern as China Faces Human Rights Review

October 18, 2013

In a year when the authorities have intensified their crackdown on citizen calls for greater government accountability and citizen participation, China will undergo its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR)* of its human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council next Tuesday, October 22, in Geneva. China is also making a bid for election to the UN Human Rights Council in November.

Chinese authorities have, since February, detained and arrested scores of rights defenders, including advocates of public disclosure of officials’ assets and participants in the moderate New Citizens’ Movement. Since July, they have rounded up hundreds of bloggers in a high profile campaign to “cleanse” the Internet of rumors. On September 14, the authorities disappeared rights defender Cao Shunli (曹顺利) from the Beijing Airport, who was en route to Geneva to attend a human rights training session. To date, the authorities still have not accounted for Cao’s whereabouts or condition.

A representative of the growing citizen legal activism in China, Cao has in recent years been using Chinese laws and the courts to press the government for greater information openness and to include citizen participation in its international reporting on the country’s human rights progress. Beginning in June, Cao also participated in sit-ins in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to petition for participation in the UPR reporting process. The authorities systematically rejected these requests. (Click here to see Cao Shunli’s case documents.)

“At a moment when China is trying to assume a greater leadership role in the international human rights system, it is actively undermining the core values and fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in that system,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “Among the voluntary pledges China has made to the Human Rights Council for its membership bid, is ‘to strengthen the development of democracy and the rule of law.’ It now needs to demonstrate its good faith and commitment to that pledge by action.”

Earlier this week in a stern statement, independent UN experts raised their serious concern about what they see as “a pattern of increased harassment by China of those calling for greater accountability of public officials, transparency and political and legal reforms.” Referring to continuous police harassment of sit-in participants in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the experts, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association said:

Impeding people, who are demanding to participate in the UPR, from peacefully demonstrating constitutes a breach of China’s international obligations to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, one of the core rights to be enjoyed in a democracy.

The statement was jointly issued by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on freedom of opinion and expression, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.

Human Rights in China urges the UN member states, during China’s UPR, to raise questions and concerns about China’s intimidation of or reprisals against civil society actors and its active undermining of the UPR guidelines on civil society participation in a key Human Rights Council process.

*The UPR as defined by the Human Rights Council

“The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. With the UN Human Rights Council’s support, the UPR provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. It also provides the opportunity for civil society organisations to engage in the process, which aims at reminding States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


For more information on Cao Shunli and Chen Jianfang, see:


For more information on China's Universal Periodic Review and related UN work, see:


  • China's 2013 national report: Chinese
  • OHCHR’s compilation of UN information for the 2013 PRC review: English
  • OHCHR's summary of stakeholders' submissions for the 2013 PRC review: English


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