By: Christopher Gawronski

On 6 November 2018, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council conducted its third periodic review of the human rights situation in China.


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. It is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. The UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.

Source: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx

The review began with a presentation of the National Report by Mr. Le Yucheng, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. Following the presentation, other States made comments, commendations and criticisms, asked questions, and offered recommendations to China for human rights improvements. The Chinese delegation responded to numerous points raised by member countries and offered some closing remarks at the end of the review.

The day before the review, China staged a lunch event featuring Chinese dignitaries talking about the country’s human rights progress. The presentation accompanied an extensive display of information posters describing various aspects of China’s human rights activities and reports produced by China about various human rights topics in China.

On Friday, 9 November 2018, the UPR Working Group adopted the Report on China, which contained a total of 346 recommendations from 150 states. China will consider the recommendations and respond no later than the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council (March 2019).

Below is a summary of China’s UPR process, including:

•    Presentation of the National Report

•    Interactive Dialogue and Recommendations from States

•    Background information

o    China’s Participation in International Human Rights Treaties

o    Summary of UN Documentation and Stakeholder Submissions


Presentation of the National Report

In its National Report, China indicated that it had accepted 204 of the 252 recommendations made by countries during its previous UPR in 2013.

Mr. Le Yucheng, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs opened by reviewing China’s progress in human rights development since its last UPR. China has committed to improving its legal policy and administrative systems for the protection of human rights. Over the past five years, China has rolled out over 1500 reform measures, thirty-two new laws, and its third national human rights action plan. China has established the largest education, social security and health care systems in the world. China has had great success in alleviating poverty with the world’s largest poverty reduction program: To date, over 700 million people have been brought out of poverty, and future plans include lifting all rural people above the poverty line by 2020.

Mr. Yucheng described some of China’s many judicial and legal reforms. He stressed China’s implementation of a trial-centred criminal procedure system. The system adheres to the principle of legality, presumes the innocence of the accused, and is evidence-based. China has also created the world’s largest website of court documents to promote transparency in the judicial system.

The Vice Minister then talked about individual rights and ethnic groups. Freedom of expression and religious belief is protected according to the law. He noted that China has the largest number of internet users in the world at over 800 million, thus demonstrating how freely people can express themselves. China has advanced women’s rights, enhanced the protection of children, developed an elderly care system, and created a living allowance system for persons with disabilities. All fifty-five ethnic minority groups are represented at the National People’s Congress.

Mr. Yucheng described the continued implementation of the “One Country – Two Systems” approach to the administration of the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (SARs), which both enjoy significant legal and political autonomy according to the Basic Law of each region. In Hong Kong, the rule of law is respected, and the national government believes that protection of the independent judiciary in Hong Kong is critical. In Macao, significant actions have been taken to promote education, improve labor rights, assist persons with disabilities and reform the criminal code.

China recognizes additional human rights needs, and Mr. Yucheng described plans for further improvement. Chine will continue to improve judicial safeguards, update the criminal law and criminal procedures, adopt new laws on legal assistance and the protection of personal information. Also, there will be revisions to laws protecting children and the elderly. He stressed that China is firmly committed to international law and international order. The country has been actively involved in global human rights governance and contributed to the work of several human rights rapporteurs and working groups. China will continue its support of international human rights mechanisms, including annual contributions of USD 800,000 to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. China has also extended an invitation to High Commissioner Bachelet to visit China.

Mr. Yucheng closed by saying that China has achieved its human rights success because it has followed a path suited to its national conditions. It has adopted a people-centred development approach, with the ultimate goal of the government being to increase the people’s sense of fulfilment, happiness and security. He noted that China respects the individual path each country chooses for its own human rights development and looked forward to a dialogue based on cooperation, mutual learning and respect.


Interactive Dialogue and Recommendations from States

Many countries began by commending China for its progress in human rights and especially its remarkable progress in reducing poverty levels. Several countries positively noted and encouraged China’s attention to climate change, its leadership in promoting multilateralism, its anti-terrorism activities, and its progress in implementing its national human rights action plan. Particularly generous comments came from Pakistan and South Africa who praised China’s leadership in promoting South-South cooperation. Numerous West African countries, least developed countries and small island nations who recognized and thanked China for its investment in their countries and regions. Russia commended China for its law regulating the work of foreign NGOs, and Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela offered comments that encouraged China to continue pursuing its human rights path and achieving a successful society based on social democracy.

Numerous countries were concerned about China’s failure to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its continued use of the death penalty. Some countries, especially in South Asia, noted concerns about legal rights and labor conditions for migrant workers. Many concerns were voiced about the treatment of certain minorities, especially Muslims, Tibetans and Uygurs. A few countries made particularly critical comments voicing concerns about the treatment of human rights defenders, and tight control on civil society organizations. Of these countries, Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom in particular referred to the use of forced labor and re-education camps for certain minority groups, lack of protection for lawyers defending human rights, and concern about a general deterioration of human rights in China.

Numerous recommendations were offered by States during the interactive dialogue. The most common were that China should ratify the ICCPR, abolish or place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, establish an independent national human rights institution, expand on its efforts to combat human trafficking, ensure freedom of expression especially for human rights defenders, and provide unrestricted access for international human rights monitors to Xinjiang and other areas with large minority populations. Many countries also suggested improvements to public services and social programs, as well as continuing to address gender gaps in pay, development, services, and the participation of women in public and business roles. Several countries recommended acceding to additional human rights treaties and optional protocols, in particular those addressing migrant worker rights, the death penalty, and torture. Other recommendations suggested that China should become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ensure all human transplant organs are freely donated, improve efforts to protect the environment and counter pollution, eliminate child labor, expand the ability for NGOs to work in China, prohibit corporal punishment of children, provide basic healthcare for migrants and migrant workers, and ensure registration of infant girls at birth.

The Chinese delegation appreciated the many countries recognizing China’s progress, but it was disappointed by those disregarding China’s achievements and could not accept those comments asserting that the human rights situation has worsened. The delegation would try to correct misunderstandings where statements were based on prejudice or incorrect facts. Over the course of the interactive dialogue, China responded to a number of issues and questions, many of which are summarized below.

•    Requests to share experience regarding poverty reduction: China has focused on increased for funding for poverty reduction programs, improving school conditions and child nutrition, and giving high attention to bilingual education. Most importantly, increasing overall development is critical for promoting poverty reduction.

•    Requests to share experience regarding social protection: China has paced its reform based on its capacity, keeping the social system on par with the pace of development, and building capacity in ethnic minority areas.

•    Death penalty: The death penalty is cautiously applied and has been removed as a penalty for many crimes; this is a very controversial issue in China.

•    Organ transplants: A verification system has been implemented to ensure organs come from dead or willing individuals, not from prisoners.

•    Housing conditions: China’s goal of housing for all requires that housing be for residents and not for speculation; policies promote renovation of shantytowns and subsidies for public housing.

•    ICCPR: China has been studying its laws and making legal preparations for ratification.

•    Rome Statute: China has communications with the ICC and expects the institution to develop further before China considers joining.

•    Sexual orientation: Chinese law protects such groups in health care and privacy; however, same sex marriage is not recognized.

•    National human rights institution: China will continue to study creating a single national institution, but these functions are already carried out by various existing national government institutions.

•    Torture and detention: Chinese laws prohibit torture, including during interrogation of suspects or detainees. This issue is not being raised in good faith because China has provided evidence and information demonstrating its compliance with the law.

•    Foreign NGOs: Over 400 foreign NGOs have been registered according to the law and their legitimate activities will be protected.

•    Religious freedom: China protects religious belief by law. Several examples of alleged suppression relate to non-religious issues but rather illegal buildings or other illegal activities of a religious group. Also, Falun Gong is not a religion but an evil cult that is banned by Chinese law.

•    Freedom of expression: China has the largest number of internet users and largest online content development; it seems that critical countries believe that only those people promoting anti-government or anti-China sentiment are exercising their freedom of expression. There is no absolute freedom and even freedom of expression is subject to the law.

•    Lawyers’ rights and human rights defenders: Protection of lawyers is key to protecting the rule of law; however, lawyers who violate the law must be held accountable. This is not repression of lawyers, but a protection of those lawyers who respect the law. Also, it is unfair that common criminals in China are mislabeled as human rights defenders by some countries.

•    Hong Kong SAR: Recent concerns for human rights issues, especially press freedom are groundless: There is no censorship of the press. It should be clarified that protestors are not persecuted on basis of opinion but on basis of disorderly conduct. Regarding political candidates, requiring elected office-seekers to swear allegiance to Hong Kong SAR is appropriate because Hong Kong is an integral part of China and advocacy of independence or self-determination is not appropriate.

•    Tibet: Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Chinese law including in Tibet. The law also protects the languages of ethnic groups including in Tibet. The fact that all schools and TV programs are bilingual helps with exchange of cultures and interests, it is not for cultural assimilation.

•    Xinjiang and the Uygur ethnic group: Concerns about this region are not based on facts. There were violent terrorist activities in the region and the local people wanted the government to take action. The situation is now improved, and millions have since visited the Xinjiang region for tourism. Many in Xinjiang are very pleased with how development is now progressing in the region. The vocational training institution is for learning languages and combatting extremism. It is free of charge, respects the local cultures and religions, and training is done by contract with the participants. Those who have been taken in by extremist groups can participate in the training for re-education and an opportunity to reduce criminal penalties.

•    Terrorism: China has learned that stability is critical and prevention is needed to curb terrorism. Regional training centers are intended to help people impacted by terrorism reintegrate into society, which helps protect the human rights of the majority of people. China has been inspired by the experiences of other countries such as in Europe where high schools have courses about anti-extremism.

Vice Minister Yucheng closed by thanking the overwhelming number of countries who have recognized China’s progress and understand the challenges faced by China. For those countries expressing more critical expressing concerns, China will seriously consider those made in good faith and attempt to share information to correct any misunderstandings. China rejected politically-motivated comments, and countries attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of China. Mr. Yucheng said that China hopes countries will put an end to confrontational approaches and double standards and become impartial and objective about addressing human rights issues.


Background Information

To prepare for the review, the Working Group received two reports compiled by the OHCHR. One gave an overview of the reports of UN treaty bodies, special procedures and other relevant UN documents pertaining to human rights in China (A/HRC/WG.6/31/CHN/2). The other report was a compilation of 122 contributions by stakeholder groups submitted specifically for the UPR process (A/HRC/WG.6/31/CHN/3). Below is a summary of the main issues raised in both reports.


China’s Participation in International Human Rights Treaties

Treaty Signed Only State Party

Int’l Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination


Int’l Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)


•    1st Optional Protocol to ICCPR

•    2nd Optional Protocol to ICCPR

Int’l Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)


•    Optional Protocol to ICESCR 

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women


•    Optional Protocol   

Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment


•    Optional Protocol

Convention on the Rights of the Child


•    Optional Protocol on involvement of children in armed conflict 


•    Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography 


•    Optional Protocol on a communication procedure

Int’l Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families

Int’l Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


•    Optional Protocol 

Keystate party, signed, not action.


Summary of UN Documentation and Stakeholder Submissions

Scope of international obligations and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms and bodies

Several UN entities and NGOs pointed out China’s failure to ratify certain human rights treaties, recommending that China become a party to those treaties and remove any reservations to the treaties. Recommendations were also made to ratify the Convention against Discrimination in Education and to engage with special procedure mandate holders dealing with the full range of human rights.

Of particular note, at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his dismay at the continuing efforts made by China to prevent independent members of civil society from engaging with human rights mechanisms.

National human rights framework

One NGO and two UN committees noted that China lacks a national human rights institution. The UN committees recommended that such an institution should be established with a broad mandate to promote and protect all human rights. NGOs expressed concern at the vagueness of national security laws that provide broad authority to law enforcement and the government’s drive to use all manner of electronic surveillance and biometric identification without oversight, transparency, or privacy protections. NGOs also were concerned with the implementation of a “social credit system” that scores citizens on a range of behaviors and may result in punishment without due process.

Implementation of international human rights obligations, taking into account applicable international humanitarian law

Cross-Cutting Issues

UN committees and NGOs expressed concern about the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws generally and about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in particular. Two UN committees were also concerned about the persistence of deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society and the resulting persistence of illegal practices like sex-selective abortions, forced abortions and sterilizations and the infanticide of girls.

UN entities noted success in extreme poverty reduction and improvements driven by investments in other countries. However, they also noted negative impacts of urbanization and environmental issues on rural populations and the lack of accountability for corporate environmental pollution. NGOs highlighted significant disparities of income and services available to rural versus urban populations within China. Several also noted negative environmental and social consequences caused by Chinese companies operating in other countries, in particular Myanmar, Ecuador and Bolivia.

UN entities and one NGO were concerned with the application of national security and anti-terrorism laws to the expressive acts of ethnic minorities and activities of human rights defenders.

Civil and Political Rights

Many groups called on China to reduce or eliminate application of the death penalty. There were also calls for reducing the time police are allowed to detain a person. Several groups expressed concern about the use of enforced disappearance and holding detainees incommunicado.

UN experts and many NGOs were concerned about the harassment and prosecution of human rights defenders and government interference with people who communicate with UN human rights mechanisms. NGOs also raised concerns about involuntary psychiatric commitment and organ donation.

Many concerns were expressed about the independence of the judiciary, including problems with political interference with judges and with lawyers defending human rights or “sensitive” cases. NGOs were concerned about the ability of trade unions to organize and the cruel treatment of labor organizers.

UN entities were concerned about restrictions on the freedom of expression and information, especially as a result of the state monopoly on telecommunications. They were also concerned about the death of several journalists and the resulting ability of journalists to report on government activities without fear of reprisal.

NGOs also expressed concern about censorship restrictions on expression, especially online, and the jailing of journalists and bloggers; authorities had even blocked access to some domestic human rights organizations. Some groups were concerned with legal restrictions on religious practices and the legal recognition and regulation of only certain religious groups.

Many groups recommended additional actions be taken to prevent human trafficking, including forced labor, forced marriage and illegal adoption. A UN committee especially recommended ensuring that the “re-education through labor” system is eliminated and not replaced with a similar, alternative system.

UN entities were concerned with the use of forced “gay conversion therapy” as well as the lack of consistent registration for all infants especially the children of migrant workers. NGOs noted with concern the mandated collection of biometric information for residents of Xinjiang province and the government’s general power to close websites and social media accounts.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

UN entities remained concerned about the level of corruption in China despite government efforts to combat corruption and recommended accountability mechanisms. They also expressed concern about unsafe working conditions and a widening gender pay gap. NGOs also noted worker safety and health concerns and problems with collective bargaining and wage payments for migrant workers.

Both groups noted disparities in work and social benefits available to rural and vulnerable populations. UN committees were particularly concerned about unequal services for migrant workers, child malnutrition, and the persistence of female infanticide.

Several NGOs expressed various health-related concerns. Discrimination affects persons with HIV and TB, and reproductive health services are not equally available to all population groups. Also, occupational health problems disproportionately affect poor workers.

UN committees were concerned about the growing disparity in educational opportunities for poor, rural, and migrant worker communities, and especially for women and girls and ethnic and religious minorities. NGOs expressed concern about the insufficiency of human rights knowledge and education.

Rights of Specific Persons or Groups

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and NGOs were concerned about the operability of the draft anti-domestic violence law and the availability of resources for domestic violence victims. NGOs also reiterated concerns about a gender gap in pay, gender-based discrimination in employment, and a continuing low percentage of women in governmental and political positions.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was concerned about restrictions on the ability of Tibetan children to study and practice their religion and alarmed about reports of child self-immolation and the government’s punitive response toward the families of self-immolation victims. The Committee was also concerned about the estimated large scale of trafficking in children. The Committee and NGOs expressed concern about the legality and application of corporal punishment, especially in institutions, and the use of children for labor, especially girls and migrant children.

There was general concern about the treatment of disabilities as something to be “rehabilitated” and the resulting lack of services for people with disabilities, especially in rural areas and for children in school.

UN committees and NGOs voiced concern about ongoing discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, especially Tibetans, Uygurs and Mongols. The committees were concerned about high rates of unemployment among minorities and forced resettlement of minority and nomadic peoples into urban areas. NGOs were particularly concerned about government actions taken against minority human rights defenders, and the arbitrary detention and forced “re-education” of minorities.

Several UN committees were concerned about the number of asylum-seekers and refugees awaiting decision on their legal status. The committees recommended providing proper humanitarian treatment of such people and other migrants and not forcibly deporting them where there were risks of irreparable harm upon repatriation. NGOs noted the effective second-class citizen status of migrant workers and large-scale forced evictions from cities of migrants from rural areas.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that China simplify, streamline and facilitate the process of birth registration by removing all financial and administrative barriers, especially in rural areas, in order to reduce statelessness.

Specific Regions or Territories

Regarding Hong Kong, numerous UN committees and NGOs were concerned with the restrictive policy toward migrants and asylum-seekers, resulting in discrimination and refoulement. There were also numerous comments regarding restrictions on freedom of expression and intimidation or censoring of journalists. UN committees recommended Hong Kong change the legal age for marriage and criminal responsibility to be in line with international norms, and were concerned about the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. NGOs noted with concern laws that restricted access to health care, allowed for long working hours (50+ per week), and required domestic workers to live in their employer’s residence. NGOs recommended outlawing corporal punishment and enhancing anti-poverty initiatives to reduce income disparities.

Regarding Macao, UN committees expressed concern about the continued prevalence of child sex tourism and domestic violence. There were also concerns about widespread discrimination against migrants and LGBT persons, the lack of educational opportunities for the children of migrant workers, and the use of solitary confinement for children in detention. One NGO voiced concern about restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, intimidation of journalists and others under the “Internal Security Framework Law”, and discrimination against transgender people.


Adoption of the Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review

On Friday, 9 November 2018, the UPR Working Group adopted the Report on China, which contained a total of 346 recommendations from 150 states. China will consider the recommendations and respond no later than the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council (March 2019).


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