China: Progress on human rights must be on the agenda


In China's final year as a Council member, ISHR calls for the government to release detained defenders and desist from passing restrictive legislation. Coordinated and creative actions from the international community can press this point, and signal to human rights defenders on the ground its solidarity.

China's FM Wang Yi (Credit UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

(Geneva) - The systemic and unrelenting crackdown on human rights activists in China is the worst it has been in years, ISHR has said in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council. The response from the international community should reflect that reality.

ISHR’s statement, drafted in partnership with grassroots human rights defenders, outlines the ways in which the Chinese government, in law and in practice, suppresses dissent and shuts down spaces for independent organisations.

‘In the current environment, Chinese defenders need all the support they can get,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR Asia Programme Manager. ‘Since 2012, it’s been one wave after another of repression. Their space to speak, to work and to network at home is severely restricted, while the chances to engage with the international community are fewer and riskier than ever before.’

‘The response from the UN and member states must be sufficient to meet this new challenge,’ Ms Brooks said.

Reflecting upon the importance of membership standards to the Council’s legitimacy, the statement also urged the Chinese government to take specific actions to halt harassment and supression of defenders and civil societyrelease individuals detained for their human rights work; and scrap legislation that limits fundamental freedoms before the end of their Council term in 2016. If not, the Council has an obligation to respond accordingly.

This call came clearly from Chinese netizens, who, while welcoming the Item 2 joint statement on 10 March, also pressed for more concrete action:

'We believe that a process by the UN to investigate the human rights situation in China would be the most effective way to expose the crimes of the Chinese government, stop the deterioration of the human rights situation, and protect the human rights of the Chinese people.

While posing political challenges in the short term, Ms. Brooks emphasised the long-term benefits to such efforts to publicly raise concerns about human rights in China. ‘The Council and its members have good reason to push for better respect for rights within China, both because it is the right thing to do and also because it will have an impact on other agendas. For issues of international priority, from conflict and human rights violations in Syria, to accountability in North Korea, to the global refugee crisis, to respect by businesses for human rights; a responsible and rights-respecting government in China that upholds its obligations and commitments is key.’

‘That said the immediate need for those working on the ground is visibility and support - in short, solidarity - from the international community. The list of names at the end of the statement –  nearly four dozen of hundreds of defenders currently in some form of detention for the human rights work – these are the people the Council must work to support and protect.’

The full statement as prepared in English, as well as a simplified Chinese version, can be found below.

For updates or inquiries, please contact Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR Programme Manager and Advocate, at s.brooks[at] 

Photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

A video of the ISHR statement is here.

A version of the statement in Chinese is also available. 

Item 4 General Debate

Statement by the International Service for Human Rights

Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Human rights defenders and civil society globally are facing worsening restrictions and attacks, including in, but by no means limited to, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burundi, Egypt, Russia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.

The High Commissioner, UN experts and States – jointly and individually – have drawn our attention during this session to the deteriorating situation of human rights in China. This is an important step – but nonetheless insufficient to combat the comprehensive crackdown now taking place in the country.

Lawyers and human rights defenders in China face nearly insurmountable challenges.  Even the most basic rights of the accused – for example, to be innocent until found guilty – are violated by such trends as televised confessions and systematic refusals to allow detained defenders to meet their lawyers or their families. This has a ripple effect, discouraging dissent and defaming those who protect human rights.

In short, we see in China an unprecedented, systematic, and ongoing assault on civil society. This requires an extraordinary response from the international community, including this Council. China, as a current member, should live up to the pledges it made before joining. We urge the Chinese government to take concrete measures to improve the human rights situation before it concludes its term this year. If not, as civil society has said on many occasions, the Council itself has an obligation to act.

First, China must halt its crackdown on human rights defenders; the international community should continue to call for release of those detained and arrested. More attention is needed on such practices as prolonged pretrial detention, residential surveillance in police designated place, and the use of black jails, in many cases amounting to enforced disappearance.

Even when released, defenders are often treated as criminal suspects – placed under surveillance, prevented from traveling within and outside the country, and pressured to self-censor.

Second, China must scrap legislation that further limits the space for civil society. With the draft Foreign NGO Management Law and the Charities Law, Chinese officials are moving to impose strict regulations on the operations a wide range of organisations and prevent independent domestic NGOs from obtaining funding. The newly passed National Security Law and Counterterrorism Law have far-reaching provisions that violate fundamental rights to association and expression, and that legitimise the actions of public security authorities to silence defenders.

Your action and continued concern are desperately needed, including for detained defenders Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, for Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo, Guo Feixiong, and Xu Zhiyong, for Li Heping and Gao Yue and Zhao Wei, Chen Yunfei, Tang Jingling, Yuan Xingting, Wang Qingying, Su Changlan, Liu Ping, Yu Shiwen. For Wang Quanzhang, Liu Sixin, Zhou Shifeng. For Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian, Zhang Kai and Zhang Congzhu. For Mi Chongbiao, Ding Jiaxi, He Xiaobo, Jia Lingmin, Zeng Feiyang.  Li Guozhi, Chen Wei, Chen Xi, Xie Yang, Xie Yanyi, Wu Gen, Li Shuyan, Li Chunfu, Hu Shigen, Liu Yongping, Gou Hongguo, Huang Wenxun, Tufu Wugan, Gu Yuesi,  Lin Bin, Wang Fang, and Yin Xu’an. 



  • Asia
  • Human rights defenders
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • China