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China’s Challenge to International Human Rights at UN Threatens Everyone: HRIC Submission to the Human Rights Council

March 30, 2018

In a parallel report submitted to the Human Rights Council, HRIC cautions that China has been mounting a systematic campaign at the United Nations to undermine the existing human rights system with consequences for Chinese people and for the effectiveness of human rights protections for all people. China has advocated a “state-centric” and “governance” approach to human rights that rejects the “universality” of human rights—that all human beings are entitled to a set of fundamental rights and freedoms, the foundational principle of the international human rights system. Instead, it favors the “localization” of rights as equal to and as a replacement for international standards. This view has been clearly articulated in recent official speeches, including one by Chinese Ambassador Yu Jianhua at the Human Rights Council in February 2018, as well as by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi:

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in human rights practices. No one path of human rights development should be regarded as the only choice, nor should we mechanically follow the paths of other countries. Instead of imposing either eastern or western models, we need to advocate diversity and localization, and work for a rebalancing of human rights models. No one path or system is superior to others as each has its own distinctive features. (Wang Yi speech, “Advance the Global Human Rights Cause and Build a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind,” Beijing, China, December 7, 2017, Opening Ceremony of the First South-South Human Rights Forum)

Last week, at the Human Rights Council, China led the passage of a resolution called “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights.” Bundled up in copious reasonable-sounding language that appears to affirm existing international human rights standards and norms, it in fact advances an alternative model that calls for the establishment of a “cooperative mechanism” that ensures “equal treatment of all States” and “mutually beneficial cooperation” among states. In other words, a system that will “respect” all states, however they choose to handle human rights issues at home, a system of international human rights that essentially marginalizes rights for the individual. Despite some states expressing concerns about its overemphasis on states at the expense of individuals, and that the proposed approach would ultimately fail to hold states accountable, the resolution passed with 28 yes votes, 17 abstentions, and just one no vote, from the United States.

In its submission, HRIC also highlights China’s recent constitutional amendments conferring legality to a dictatorship with one powerful leader with life tenure as a mockery of any claims of respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

HRIC’s report was submitted in advance of China’s third Universal Periodic Review, scheduled for November 2018. Through the UPR, the Human Rights Council assesses each UN member state’s implementation of its human rights obligations contained in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties, voluntary pledges and commitments, and applicable international humanitarian law.

Read HRIC’s full submission with recommendations to China and UN member states.

Related Resources
  • Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights, A/HRC/37/L.36 (March 19, 2018). EN
  • Wang Yi, speech at the Opening Ceremony of the First South-South Human Rights Forum (December 7, 2017): EN

China's UPR 2018

  • HRIC report: “Stakeholder Submission by Human Rights in China,” (March 2018). EN

China's UPR 2013

  • HRIC report: “The China Challenge to International Human Rights: What’s At Stake? A UPR Mid-Term Progress Assessment by Human Rights in China,” (November 2016). ENCH
  • HRIC summary charts: China’s responses to recommendations advanced by Human Rights Council member and observer states, 2nd Universal Periodic Review of China (2014). ENCH ​

China's UPR 2009

  • HRIC report: “Note on China’s progress since the 2009 Universal Periodic Review,” a stakeholder’s submission by Human Rights in China (2013). ENCH