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UN Experts Report on China’s Implementation of International Obligation to Respect, Protect, and Ensure Rights of Ethnic Minorities and Other Vulnerable Groups

August 30, 2018

In a report issued today, a UN committee of independent experts detail numerous concerns over the adequacy of the Chinese government’s efforts in implementing its treaty obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to respect and protect the rights of ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups.

After briefly noting aspects of progress—including significant reduction of poverty—the Committee report, formally known as the Concluding Observations, outlines concerns and recommendations. The Committee also states that China must ensure the “inclusion of human rights in its people-centered approach to development, leaving no one behind.” Among the key concerns raised are:

Domestic law still not in conformity with the Convention and international standards

  • Lack of domestic legal definition of and appropriate criminalization of racial discrimination;
  • Broad and vague definitions of terrorism, extremism, and separatism in current domestic legislation, leading to criminalization of religious expression and racial profiling of ethnic and ethno-religious minorities.

Ongoing reports of human rights abuses, large scale detentions, and targeting of ethnic groups

  • Torture and ill-treatment of political protestors and human rights defenders of ethnic minorities;
  • Mass surveillance and detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in extra-legal facilities under the pretext of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism;
  • Significant travel and movement restrictions on Tibetans within and outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, with an almost complete ban on issuance of passports for foreign travel.

Reflecting the frustration of repeated requests for more relevant information throughout the review process, the Committee also expressed strong concern regarding the failure of the China delegation to provide meaningful information, in particular:

  • Lack of data disaggregated by ethnic group on poverty statistics and unemployment rates;
  • Lack of comprehensive statistics, surveys, and administrative records on the instances of racial discrimination, racist hate speech, and hate crimes, noting the possible lack of effective mechanisms or the existence of barriers for victims to seek recourse.

As these concerns highlight, there is a serious gap between the international standards that China obligated itself to respect and implement when it signed and ratified the Convention in 1981, and what the Chinese government reports as progress in combatting racial discrimination and compliance with its treaty obligations.  In addition to ongoing civil society reports of serious rights restrictions in Tibet, the Committee review and interactive dialogue with the Chinese delegation also took place amid a swelling stream of news reports over the past year on a massive and intensifying campaign targeting ethnic Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

In response to an expert question during the review, Mr. Hu Lianhe, member of the Chinese delegation, delivered a sweeping denial of all allegations of state suppression of ethnic Uyghurs. He said: “People of all ethnicities [in XUAR] live and work happily with their freedom of religion and faith fully ensured. The problem of arbitrary detention does not exist, and the problem of the lack of freedom of religion and faith does not exist. The so-called Xinjiang No Rights Zone concept is completely inconsistent with facts. The so-called re-education centers do not exist in Xinjiang.”  But he stressed that “Xinjiang is a place victimized by terrorism . . . . [and] has long suffered the invasion and harassment of the three forces [of terrorism, separatism, extremism].”

“The rigorous review and hard-hitting questions raised by the independent experts during the interactive dialogue and the UN Committee’s Concluding Observations report highlight the inadequacy of China’s official assertions of progress.  Meaningful progress must be supported by concrete data or at the very least not fly in the face of facts or reasonable plausibility,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “Citing only a limited number of racial discrimination cases in a country with 1.3 billion people or complete denial of the existence of large scale detention camps describes an alternate reality that indicates either a deep lack of understanding of what discrimination means under international human rights standards or an attempt to undermine those standards with some version of ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics,’” Hom added.

The Committee’s Concluding Observations set out numerous recommendations for steps the Chinese government should take to further its implementation of the Convention, including the protection of language and cultural rights of Tibetans and ethnic Mongolians, the right to engage in peaceful protests, and release of all individuals improperly detained and prosecuted.  The Committee has also requested that China provide a follow- up report one year later with information on progress regarding a detailed and concrete list of issues.

In the coming year, the international community must also do its part through sustained attention and concrete action to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of ethnic groups—especially the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and ethnic Mongolians—do not continue to be trampled upon by China.

In particular, the international community should be rigorously monitoring and pressing for progress on the specific areas identified by the Committee to be addressed in China’s one year CERD progress report.  China has been asked to:

  • Monitor the number of non-governmental organizations that work on issues related to the Convention and are officially registered in China;
  • Halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried, and convicted for a criminal offence in any extra-legal detention facilities; and immediately release individuals currently detained under these circumstances, and allow those wrongfully held to seek redress;
  • Undertake prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into all allegations of racial, ethnic, and ethno-religious profiling, holding those responsible accountable and providing effective remedies, including compensation and guarantees of non-repetition;
  • Implement mandatory collection and data analysis on the ethnicity of all individuals stopped by law enforcement, as well as the reasons for and outcome of those stops, and report publicly on this data at regular intervals;
  • Ensure domestic laws are narrow in scope, transparent, necessary and proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal; and are not based on any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin;
  • Eliminate travel restrictions that disproportionately affect members of ethnic minority groups, and provide information regarding the promotion of, and any restrictions on the use of, ethnic minority languages;
  • Disclose the current location and status of Uyghur students, refugees, and asylum seekers who returned to China pursuant to a demand by the State party over the past five years.
Related Resources

CERD Concluding Observations, August 30, 2018

PRC State Party Report to CERD, January 24, 2017

HRIC, CERD: A Parallel NGO Report by Human Rights in China, July 2018

Other NGO Reports, July 2018

(Video) Consideration of China - 2654th Meeting 96th Session Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination