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At UN, China Faced Tough Questions on Women’s Rights, Gets Poor Grade for Universal Suffrage for Hong Kong

October 23, 2014

Today in Geneva, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women posed hard-hitting questions on the progress of women’s rights in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao. In a comprehensive exchange with the Chinese delegation, the independent experts on the Committee raised a wide range of systemic issues, including:

  • Restrictions on and harassment of civil society;
  • Access to justice and judicial independence;
  • Women’s right to know and access to information;
  • Discrimination against vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, rural women, LGBT women, and women with disabilities; and
  • Specific assessments of actual implementation of laws and policies.

In response to the experts’ detailed and informed questions, the delegation provided answers heavily focused on formal laws, policies, and implementation mechanisms, with numerous statistics. When it came to infanticide and other sensitive topics, however, the delegation asserted that data were either not sufficiently disaggregated or not available at all.

In a separate session, the UN Human Rights Committee addressed, among other issues, universal suffrage in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region—the impetus to the on-going protests—as part of its follow-up procedure to last year’s review of civil and political rights in the region.

For the information provided by the Hong Kong SAR in response to the Human Rights Committee’s 2013 recommendation that Hong Kong ensure universal suffrage without restrictions of any kind—including both the rights to vote and to stand for election—the Committee’s Special Rapporteur suggested a grade of C1, which denotes that a response was received but actions taken do not implement the recommendation. 

Several of the Committee members voiced their support for the grade and the importance of this follow-up given the tensions between the Hong Kong government and civil society. The Committee agreed to send a follow-up letter emphasizing its prior recommendation and requesting additional information on how universal suffrage measures under consideration comport with Hong Kong’s international obligations.

The sessions are part of the formal review procedure under two key international human rights treaties: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Background on China’s CEDAW Review

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a group 23 independent experts on women’s rights, is tasked with reviewing all state parties to the CEDAW. This is China’s fifth review before the Committee since it ratified the Convention in 1980.

As part of the process, civil society members had a chance to provide input through written submissions and oral briefings to the experts. HRIC highlighted structural and systemic issues that impact on the full range of women’s rights.  These included:

  • Availability and transparency of data on policies and practices impacting women;
  • Access to Justice for women’s rights violations;
  • Women’s political participation;
  • China’s restrictive civil society regulatory framework; and
  • China’s endemic corruption, which presents significant challenges to advancing women’s rights.

Next week, the Committee will issue a report setting out its concluding observations and recommendations.

Background on Hong Kong’s Follow-up Review under ICCPR

Today’s session was a follow-up to a review of Hong Kong conducted by the Human Rights Committee, the body that oversees the implementation of the ICCPR, in March 2013. The purpose of the session was limited to examining information that Hong Kong provided regarding three specific follow-up questions that the Committee identified at the conclusion of its review. These questions included both police violence and universal suffrage— two timely and important topics. 

Even though China has not ratified the ICCPR, the treaty applies to Hong Kong through its ratification by the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 1976. In their 1984 Joint Declaration (Chapter XIII of Annex I), the governments of China and the U.K. agreed that the treaty provisions applicable to Hong Kong would remain in force after the 1997 reversion to Chinese sovereignty.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee will make its assessment public “at the end of its October session.”

HRIC Resources and Official Documents Relating to CEDAW

Combined Seventh and Eighth Review (2014)

  • China’s combined seventh and eighth periodic report (2013): ENCH
  • List of issues and questions in relation to the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of China (2014): ENCH
  • HRIC pre-sessional submission in advance of the fifth review of China’s implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (2014): ENCH

See more >>

HRIC Resources and Official Documents Relating to Universal Suffrage in HK

Official Documents

Hong Kong related resources

2019 Anti-Extradition Protests

2014 Occupy Movement


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