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China: Draft Report from U.N. Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights

(Mar. 18, 2009) On February 9, 2009, a United Nations human rights panel, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), conducted its first full review of human rights in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Sixty country delegations took part in the review process. The UPR mechanism, created by the U.N. General Assembly on March 15, 2006 (Resolution 60/251), entails the review, once every four years, of the human rights records of all 192 U.N. Member States. (Universal Periodic Review, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website, (last visited Mar. 11, 2009).)

The draft report of the UPR, issued on February 11, states that the PRC has indicated that certain recommendations made by the Working Group were being or had already been implemented. These are: measures to guarantee that all detainees are held in facilities with decent standard and treatment, development and adoption of a comprehensive policy to combat child labor, and strengthening of protection of various ethnic minority rights. The PRC pledged to examine certain other recommendations and provide responses to them. The recommendations include: incorporation of a legal definition of discrimination in its national law, reduction in the number of crimes carrying the death penalty, adoption of specific legislation on domestic violence, and provision of a follow-up on its UPR.

A number of the recommendations made by the 60 participant delegations for improving human rights in China were rejected by the PRC. Some of these recommendations are to:

  • abolish the death penalty;
  • abolish “all forms of administrative detention, including “Re-Education Through Labor”
  • ensure the independence of the judiciary and of lawyers;
  • reform the State Secrets Law and the definitions of crimes as incitement to subversion of state power;
  • eliminate abuse of committal to psychiatric institutions;
  • extend eased media regulations for foreign journalists to Chinese journalists;
  • ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
  • establish a national human rights institution;
  • improve treatment of and legal safeguards for human rights defenders and persons held on charges of violating state security;
  • implement the November 2008 recommendations of the Committee against Torture, especially on the inadmissibility in court of statements made under torture and the non-refoulement of refugees from North Korea;
  • respect the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang;
  • review the government's approach to religious groups and practitioners, including those not organized in the country's officially recognized churches, and guarantee religious freedom for all Chinese citizens, including the members of minority communities and religions.

(U.N. Human Rights Council, Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: China, A/HRC/WG.6/4/L.11 (Feb. 11, 2009), available at
.) As part of its participation in the UPR, the PRC also submitted its own report on human rights in China. (U.N. Human Rights Council, Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 15 (A) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1: China, A/HRC/WG.6/4/CHN/1 (Nov. 10, 2008), available at

Some observers, taking the long view, held that the new review mechanism was a positive change from battles with the PRC before the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Council's predecessor. In those appearances, the PRC was able “year after year” to win enough votes to prevent the Commission from making a formal criticism of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and other human rights abuses. (China Rejects Human Rights Criticism at UN, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, Feb. 11, 2009, available at

Several human rights groups were highly critical of the UPR, however. For example, in the view of Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), “[a]s a test of a state-driven process aimed at advancing human rights among member states through constructive dialogue, consensus decision-making, and cooperation, the [UPR], with regard to China, is a failure.” She added, “[i]nstead, the process has given China a 'cover' for impunity.” A particularly “glaring act,” the HRIC points out, was that the PRC “not only rejected recommendations to protect human rights defenders, but … accepted a recommendation by Cuba to target 'people who are qualifying themselves as human rights defenders with the objective of attacking the interests of [the] state and the people of China.'” (China Rejects UN Recommendations for Substantive Reform to Advance Human Rights: HRIC Summary, Human Rights in China website, Feb. 11, 2009, available at