Civil society and human rights must be central to China's anti-poverty efforts


The recent visit to China by Philip Alston, the UN's independent expert on extreme poverty and human rights, challenges official narratives of 'harmonious development' and reaffirms ISHR's concerns about the long-ranging impacts of the crackdown on lawyers and civil society.

"China's achievements in alleviating extreme poverty in recent years, and in meeting highly ambitious targets for improving social well-being, have been extraordinary... [but] it is important to draw a distinction between the achievement of development objectives and the respect for human rights obligations..."

UN expert Philip Alston is not afraid of taking on big challenges.

While acknowledging the significant positive effect of lifting a reported 800 million people out of poverty since the shift towards a market economy in the late 1970s, his reflections at the end of his official visit to China indicate that the approach to economic development in the country needs to be reinforced by respect for human rights, guarantees of appeal processes and access to remedy, and be back up by accurate, transparent data.

This message is not new; it has long been a demand of many in the human rights community in the country and internationally, especially those supporting the communities in Uyghur and Tibetan areas most impacted by China's 'Open the West' economic development strategy.

Alston's trip has provided more space for critical discussion of the impacts of poverty alleviation programmes. These included worries about accountability of local governments, the absence of a national human rights institution, and limits on space for civil society actors to participate at every stage of the policymaking process.  

At the same time, The Special Rapporteur's trip exposed the government's desire to silence those critics - from ordinary citizens to Alston himself - at almost any cost. 

'For China to tail, intimidate, and interfere in the work of a human rights advocate is, sadly, not new,' says ISHR's Asia programme manager, Sarah M Brooks. 'However, that this would be the approach taken to an expert appointed by the UN, and invited by the government itself, is a clear demonstration of how far they are willing to go to control the "harmonious development" narrative.'

'It also sends a message to ordinary citizens trying to defend economic, social and cultural rights: "Give it up. You don't stand a chance." In the face of this threat, the international community must stand in solidarity with Chinese defenders.'

The Special rapporteur will present his report, with recommendations to the government, in June 2017. 



  • Asia
  • United Nations
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • China