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UN Rights Review of China: Citizens’ Crucial Role

October 22, 2013

“Whether the shoes fit, only the person knows,” states the Chinese delegation today in its closing remarks to the UN Human Rights Council at the second Universal Periodic Review of China’s human rights record by UN member states. The Chinese delegation then elaborated: “The Chinese are in the best position to know the situation of human rights in China.”

China’s statement conflates “the Chinese” with the Chinese government and diverts attention away from a stark reality: the people of China—the Chinese most directly affected by the human rights situation—are increasingly asserting rights protected by both domestic and international law. There is a growing rights consciousness fueling citizen actions. Yet, Chinese voices, like Cao Shunli’s (曹顺利) demanding information about and participation in China’s international human rights reporting, are being silenced, harassed, and intimidated.

The intensified, on-going crackdown on rights defenders this year is the response to a broadening citizen activism in China, which now targets even moderate voices that press for greater transparency and official accountability. Voices and citizen actions like these are essential to advancing progress on rule of law and effectively addressing the complex human rights challenges facing China.

In April, the authorities detained three advocates of asset transparency— Liu Ping (刘萍), Wei Zhongping (魏忠平), and Li Sihua (李思华)—on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” because they held up signs in the street to demand that high-ranking officials disclose their assets. In August, authorities criminally detained Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), a prominent Guangzhou-based defender who in March 2013 organized a petition for the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Beijing police also formally detained Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a leading advocate of the moderate New Citizens’ Movement which urges citizens to exercise their rights and fulfill their duties as citizens. In September, the authorities disappeared Cao Shunli, who sought greater transparency and citizen participation in the government’s preparation for the UPR. On October 21, the day before the UPR, the government announced the formal arrest of Wang Gongquan (王功权), a billionaire venture capitalist and a vocal supporter of the New Citizens’ Movement, charging him of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.”

In his concluding remarks at China’s UPR, Mr. Wu Hailong (吴海龙), Special Envoy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the Chinese delegation, said it was regrettable that some states’ comments were based on misunderstanding and prejudices, and that “we hope that countries concerned evaluate and judge China’s human rights situation in a more objective, comprehensive, and impartial manner.”

As the UPR process moves forward, China needs to respond not only to the recommendations of UN member states but also to the objective, comprehensive, and impartial evaluation of China’s human rights situation by its own people.

Background on the Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review  (UPR) is a peer review and dialogue-based mechanism whereby the human rights practices of each UN member state is examined once every four and a half years by other countries. The UPR, conducted at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, is based on three official documents: a national report submitted by the State under review, a compilation of UN information prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a summary of reports submitted by non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, also prepared by the OHCHR. States under review can accept or reject recommendations addressed to it by other countries during an interactive dialogue. States are expected to implement recommendations they accept and report on progress at the subsequent review cycle. The UN encourages each government to broadly consult with the public and civil society at the domestic level when preparing its national report and, more importantly, when implementing recommendations resulting from the review and monitoring progress.

In recent years, Chinese citizens have publicly demanded transparency and accountability in China's international human rights reporting, including in the drafting of its UPR national report.


For more information on the rights defenders mentioned above, see:

For more information on China’s Universal Periodic Reviews, see:



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