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China’s Human Rights Record Comes Under Public Scrutiny

The human rights record of China was examined by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group for the fourth time on January 23, 2024 in a meeting in Geneva. The first, second and third UPR reviews of China took place in February 2009, October 2013, and November 2018, respectively.

The UPR process, which takes place every five years or so and came into inception in 2008, is the only mechanism where every country’s human rights performance is assessed by the international community. During China’s recent UPR, from January 22 to February 2, a record total of 161 UN member states commented on Beijing’s human rights record and made non-binding recommendations for improvements with the Chinese authorities.

The UPR Working Group is comprised of the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council. However, each of the 193 UN Member States can participate in a country review.  The documents on which China’s review was based were: 

  1. A national report submitted by China
  2. A UN assessment of the state of human rights in China
  3. A stakeholder report summarizing concerns shared by NGOs.

China reportedly carried out extensive lobbying of countries and UN diplomats and lobbied them to speak positively of its human rights record prior to the UPR.

Representatives from various human rights organizations made submissions towards China’s UPR and also attended the review session from January 22 – February 2, 2024. Coverage on the human rights abuses in Tibet is available through the International Tibet Network. The Uyghur perspective is shared by the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Chinese Human Rights Defenders expressed concern on the UPR system. Hong Kong Watch welcomed recommendations on Hong Kong at the UPR.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted the recommendations for China made by the UN member states on January 26, 2024.

China has largely succeeded in silencing and deflecting criticism of its human rights record, especially from countries in the global south. China has also rejected recommendations from past UPR cycles related to the rights of the rights of Uyghurs and Tibetans, cooperation with the UN and unrestricted UN access to all regions of the country, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, the death penalty, and the ratification of international treaties. While the peer-review process provides a needed platform to examine and scrutinize China’s human rights record, the process itself has not led to any meaningful improvement in some of the core human rights issues related to China. As per the UPR rules, China has until its next UPR session, in 2029, to implement the recommendations it chooses.

As Amnesty International China director Sarah Brooks states “the tragedy of this UPR review is that China’s time-tested tactic of repressing human rights defenders – whether in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong or elsewhere – means that those best placed to take this work forward were not in the room. They are silenced, in prison or otherwise detained, under surveillance, in exile. If governments want to see their recommendations realized, support for human rights defenders in China must be central to their engagement with the country.”