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China Deals Another Blow to the International Human Rights Framework at its UN Universal Periodic Review

Andrea Worden, November 25, 2018

 

UPR session, Nov 2018, Chine

China Review — 31st Session of Universal Periodic Review, Nov. 6, 2018, Geneva.

 

Over the past several years, the Chinese government has steadily been promoting its own version of human rights –– “human rights with Chinese characteristics”–– at the UN, and maneuvering to insert language trumpeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with Xi Jinping as its core wordsmith, into various UN resolutions, with an eye toward assuming a leadership role in global human rights governance. China’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on November 6, 2018 provided a high-level global forum for the government to announce its newly formulated five-pronged “human rights development path with Chinese characteristics.” In a press conference following the review, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun claimed that more than 120 countries supported China’s path during the review, and that China’s formulation was “completely correct.” In prioritizing “the right to development” as the fundamental human right and implicitly discarding the fundamental principle of the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of all human rights, China’s “path” poses a serious threat to the international human rights system.

Although the key components of the PRC’s human rights path are not new, they have been repackaged into a tidy framework, which China confidently proclaimed at its 2018 UPR (@1:25 and 6:09). Earlier, at its 2013 UPR, the PRC stated in its national report that it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” By 2018, China had discovered the path, described by Zhang Jun as “national conditions-based, people-centered, development-oriented, rule of law-guided and openness-driven.”  This article takes a look at some of China’s moves to promote its “development-trumps-all” human rights narrative and agenda, weaken the UPR mechanism (and, in the process, the credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)), and further its efforts to gut the international human rights framework as we know it.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Mechanism   

The UPR is a key mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC); indeed, it was intended to make the HRC, established in 2006, more robust and equitable than the body it replaced, the UN Human Rights Commission. In this intergovernmental, State-driven mechanism, all 193 UN Member states are reviewed every four and a half years. The review is conducted on the basis of three documents: the national report of the State being reviewed, and two documents prepared by OHCHR–– the compilation of UN information on the State under review, and the summary of stakeholders’ information, which includes information submitted by NGOs.

Three and a half hours is allocated for the review.  The UN Member State under review is allotted a total of 70 minutes, which it uses for opening and final remarks, and comments and responses during the interactive dialogue. The remaining 2 hours and 20 minutes is apportioned equally among the countries that sign up in advance to speak at the review. In China’s 2018 UPR, each State that registered to speak was given 45 seconds to make their statements; in 2013, each country had 50 seconds. The Chinese government uses its influence to stack the roster with its friends (e.g. aid recipients, like-minded dictatorships, BRI partners, etc.) and as a result, countries poised to offer remarks critical of the PRC’s human rights record and make substantive human rights-based recommendations have less time to do so.

 

UPR session, Nov 2018

 

The review is intended to evaluate the State under review’s progress toward achieving and implementing recommendations it accepted during its previous review; fulfillment of the State’s human rights obligations and commitments; and the country’s overall human rights situation. During the interactive dialogue portion of China’s 2018 UPR, 150 delegations made statements, and offered 346 recommendations (@1:30). The Chinese government will provide its position on the recommendations by the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019. Regarding which recommendations the PRC is likely to accept, and those it’s likely to reject, the head of the UPR delegation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, suggested the answer during his final remarks. He said “an overwhelming number of countries have fully recognized China’s efforts and achievements in promoting and protecting human rights over the last five years,” and that the Chinese delegation sincerely appreciated their “many constructive comments and recommendations.” @3:07:22) As for certain other countries, Vice Minister Le said, “We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, and in total disregard of facts; even less will we entertain attempts to use human rights as an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs or undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (@3:08:14)

China Finds its Human Rights Path for the New Era

In the PRC’s National Report submitted for its 2013 UPR (2013 Report), the section that lays out the government’s human rights theory is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights under socialism with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of “human rights with Chinese characteristics.” As noted above, the government stated at that time it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” (para. 5.) The 2013 Report further states that China:

“respects the principle of universality of human rights and is of the view that all countries have a duty to take measures, commensurate with their national conditions, continuously to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the basic spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international human rights instruments.” (para. 4)

By the time of its 2018 UPR, the PRC had finished its exploration and discovered a “distinctively Chinese” path (@6:35), a path that abandons international human rights norms. The relevant section of the 2018 Report is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of the principle of universality of human rights; indeed, the only mention of “universal” is in the negative: “There is no universal road for the development of human rights in the world.” (para. 4) Nor is there a mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), or “relevant international human rights instruments.” Australia noted the change from 2013 in an advance question to China, and asked:

“Does China still accept the principle of universal human rights, and if not, can China explain how its conception of human rights fits into the international human rights regime built on the concept of universality? Can China explain how “human rights with Chinese characteristics” differs from universal human rights, and if it does not, why it wishes to introduce this distinction?” (Advance Questions, Addendum 3)

This is clearly a human rights path grounded in Xi Jinping’s New Era. Not only are fundamental norms of the universality and interdependence of human rights jettisoned, the Chinese government has also dispensed with any mention of theories articulated by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. While the 2013 Report contains references to Hu’s “scientific outlook on development” and “harmonious society,” they are absent from the 2018 Report. The Report states:

“[T]he cause of human rights must be promoted on the basis of national conditions and the needs of the people of that country, and cannot be defined on the basis of a single authority. Guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, China attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights, ever acting as an advocate, practitioner and promoter of the cause of protecting human rights and always following the road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics.” [2018 Report, Para. 4, emphasis added]

The translated phrase “on the basis of a single authority” is a curious rendering of the classical phrase 定于一尊 (dingyuyizun). The meaning is more along the lines of “no one (path of human rights development) should be regarded as the only choice,” or superior to all other choices.

In its 2018 Report, the Chinese government argues, in effect, that the international human rights framework is just one choice among others, and that it should not be taken as the highest authority. What, then, is the highest authority, or “the right system”? For China’s human rights development, there is only one “correct path”–– and it lies with Xi Jinping. The report describes the five-pronged path as the “road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics” ­­–– a road that “takes national conditions as the foundation”; “takes the people as the centre”; “takes development as the priority”; “takes the rule of law as the criterion”; and “takes openness as the motivator.” (paras. 5-10.)

The PRC’s “Development First” Agenda Gains Further Ground in the HRC

Development, and the right to development, were front and center during the interactive dialogue portion of the UPR, punctuated by strong concerns raised by a smaller number of States about the mass detention of Muslim minorities in “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang, and a wide range of other human rights abuses in China.

As it’s done in the past, the Chinese government seemingly rounded up its friends and beneficiaries to engage in what could be taken as an example of offline “flooding”: the UPR, whose purpose is to review the human rights obligations and actual human rights on the ground of the State under review, was inundated by comments and recommendations from countries praising China’s development, requesting China share best practices, expressing gratitude for aid, and asking for more.  Many developing countries and members of the so-called Like-Minded Group (including, e.g., Russia, Syria, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), which are decidedly not human rights-friendly, offered recommendations to China such as the following:

Namibia: “Continue sharing experiences and best practices in implementing people’s right to development.” (Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: China (11/8/18); A/HRC/WG.6/31/L.3, para. 6.128)

Pakistan: “Continue to promote discussions in the Human Rights Council on the role of development in promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.33); “Continue to promote the Belt and Road Initiative to help other developing countries in their development endeavours” (para. 6.45).

And in an advance question to China before the review, Pakistan asked: “China has made tremendous achievements in implementing the right to development. Could China share relevant experience?”  (Advance Questions to China First Batch –Rev)

Lao People’s Democratic Republic: “Continue to communicate with other developing countries on the experience of the state governance, including promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.52).

Nigeria: “Sustain its efforts in the global fight against terrorism and extremism” (para. 6.145).

Venezuela: “Continue to forge a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation and building a community with a shared future for human beings” (para. 6.36).

It’s worth noting that Venezuela didn’t quite get the New Era lexicon right during the interactive dialogue, and its recommendation was amended in an early version of the draft report for political correctness. Venezuela did not utter the CCP’s “win-win” slogan during its oral statement, and it described the future as a “shared future for human beings,” neglecting the “building” of “a community.”  The Spanish-to-English interpreter used “forms” instead of “type” (as in “new type of international relations”) and “equity” instead of “fairness.” These “mistakes” were subsequently fixed, in what seems to be another example of PRC influence and discourse management at the UN.

 

UPR session, Nov 2018, Suisse

You may listen to a country’s recommendations for China by selecting the country from menu on the right. http://webtv.un.org/search/china-review-31st-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5858293845001/?term=&lan=english&page=7#player

 

Money Matters and OHCHR  

In its 2018 Report, the PRC notes that it donated $100,000 to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development mandate, a new special procedure created in September 2016 (para. 76). At first glance, it’s puzzling that this mandate was created in the first place when a Working Group on the Right to Development already exists, but it turns out to have been another move by the PRC to promote development within the HRC, and occupy more “space” and resources focused on the right to development. Not surprisingly, Venezuela introduced the resolution creating the mandate on behalf of China and the Non-Aligned Movement, which was adopted by a vote of 34-2, with 11 abstentions. France and the UK voted against the resolution. The first (and current) special rapporteur, Mr. Saad Alfarargi of Egypt, participated in the first South-South Human Rights Forum held in Beijing in December 2017, by invitation from the Chinese government. During the UPR, Vice Minister Le said that the PRC will invite the Chair of the Working Group on the Right to Development to visit China (@10:24).

At the 2013 UPR, the PRC announced a dramatic increase in its funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Special Envoy of the MFA, Wu Hailong, said that China would increase its annual donation to OHCHR from $50,000 to $800,000 for the next four years (@17:30). During the 2018 review, Vice Minister Le announced that China would (again) donate $800,000 annually to the OHCHR for the next five years (@10:20).  The PRC stated in the 2018 Report that it “maintains constructive contacts with [OHCHR], encourages them to perform their duties objectively and impartially, and attaches importance to the concerns of developing countries” (para. 76).

The Chinese government clearly has influence at OHCHR, which it uses to shield its human rights record from scrutiny, mute criticism, and control access to information it would rather keep hidden. The extent of the PRC’s influence, and the different tactics and leverage it uses to exert it, awaits an investigative journalist to thoroughly unravel, but in its groundbreaking report on China’s interference in UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch provides several examples of Chinese pressure on the OHCHR and special procedures, quoting one UN official as saying:  “China keeps bullying us, saying, ‘Don’t do that,’ ‘Don’t do this,’ or ‘We urge you not to do this.’”

One of the main functions of OHCHR is to provide support for the work of the HRC, including the UPR, and, as mentioned earlier, it is responsible for drafting the compilation of UN information, and the summary of stakeholders’ information. In the run-up to the 2018 UPR, OHCHR was involved in machinations that point to PRC interference in the Office’s work. The details of the disappearing and reappearing NGO submissions on the OHCHR website, inputs from groups the Chinese government views as particularly “troublesome,” and exclusion of their information from the stakeholders’ summary prepared by OHCHR, are explained in a joint statement signed by concerned NGOs, which include, among others, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, World Uyghur Congress, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Demosistō, and the International Service for Human Rights. The NGOs stated that despite the OHCHR’s belated fix of most of the issues (mere days before the review), they “remain very concerned that the removal of these reports gives further credence to well-documented NGO concerns of China’s growing influence within the UN human rights system, and the deliberate silencing of critical voices.”

After China’s success in the HRC in June 2017 with its resolution titled, “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” I wrote, “What this means, in short, is that China will continue to promote, and attempt to expand, the importance of the right to development and economic rights, while at the same time endeavoring to curtail and weaken the enforcement of civil and political rights.” And so it has. During the UPR, the Chinese government touted its self-described “correct” human rights path, and by presenting a depraved defense of its “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang demonstrated that it was wholly unconcerned with civil and political rights, and the truth. Despite strong, rights-based recommendations from the human rights-friendly countries that participated in the review, China was nonetheless able to use the global stage of the UPR to further advance its “development trumps all” agenda at the expense of the established international human rights framework.

 

 

Andrea Worden croppedAndrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.

Follow her on Twitter @tingdc

 

 


Andrea Worden’s UN human rights series on China Change:

China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.

As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.

With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.

China Fails in its Gambit to Use the UN NGO Committee to Silence the Society for Threatened Peoples and Uyghur Activist Dolkun Isa, July 10, 2018.

 

 

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China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN

Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017

 

xi jinping UN Geneva

Xi Jinping in Geneva, January 2017. Photo: UN Geneva

 

In January 2017, after his success at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Xi Jinping traveled to Geneva to deliver a rare, invitation-only speech at the UN’s Palais des Nations. Most of the top UN officials were present, and Secretary- General António Guterres gave opening remarks that failed to include even a mention of human rights. Human Rights Watch described Xi’s reception in Geneva by UN officials as an “obsequious red carpet treatment,” and said the measures to protect Xi and ensure the event unfolded without disruptions were “highly unusual.” These measures included emptying the complex of many of the approximately 3,000 staff who work there, closing parking lots and meeting rooms, and prohibiting accredited nongovernmental organizations from attending. Only one of the gates to the sprawling Palais de Nations complex remained open, and there were reports of long lines for security checks. Moreover, junior staff at the UN were reportedly drafted to escort the 200 members of the Chinese delegation accompanying Xi. Police thwarted the efforts of a few Tibetan activists who tried to unfurl a Tibetan flag.

Xi’s high-profile speech in Geneva, titled “Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” echoed some of the themes of his well-received Davos speech –– positioning China, and Xi himself, as the vacuum-filling leader of a globalized, interdependent and interconnected world. In his wide-ranging speech, Xi rejected trade protectionism and isolationism, and called for countries to cooperate on trade, climate change, nuclear disarmament, terrorism, global health issues, and other cross-border issues, while respecting the sovereign equality of all nations.

The notion of  “building a community of shared future for all humankind” (goujian renlei mingyun gongtongti) has appeared repeatedly in Xi’s speeches in international fora during the past five years, since, according to Xinhua, the concept was first advanced at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 2012. It appears to be an official catchphrase for China’s growing leadership role in global governance. In terms of human rights, the contours of a “community of shared future” are fairly clear. Beneath the lofty and vague rhetoric, China’s position on human rights is consistent with its longstanding approach and policies, but Xi’s speech in Geneva and other official Chinese statements seek to frame the Chinese view as a new approach to global human rights governance, with China at the helm.

The bedrock principle for China is sovereign equality and non-interference. In his speech, Xi stated:

Sovereign equality is the most important norm governing state-to-state relations over the past centuries and the cardinal principle observed by the United Nations and all other international organizations. The essence of sovereign equality is that the sovereignty and dignity of all countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, must be respected, their internal affairs allow no interference and they have the right to independently choose their social system and development path.  

Other points in Xi’s speech relating to human rights, which Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu, the head of the Chinese Mission to the UN Office at Geneva, has echoed in his statements and activities at the Human Rights Council throughout 2017, include the following:

  • Use dialogue, consultation and cooperation to deal with differences
  • Reject double standards in the application of international law
  • Promote “openness and inclusiveness” and “reject dominance by just one or several countries”
  • Major powers should “build a new model of relations featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation”
  • China puts “people’s rights and interests above everything else” and its accomplishment in lifting “over 700 million people out of poverty” is a “significant contribution to the global cause of human rights”
  • China “is ready to work with all the other UN members states as well as international organizations and agencies to advance the great cause of building a community of shared future for mankind.”

The Chinese Mission to the UN Office at Geneva has vigorously promoted China’s views on human rights in the Human Rights Council this year through resolutions, statements and side events under the rubric of “a community of shared future” –– an indication that China is taking more concrete and assertive steps to position itself as a leader in the Human Rights Council.

Despite the fact that the UN human rights framework is grounded on the principle of the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, China nonetheless is pushing its version of “human rights with Chinese characteristics,” which prioritizes the right to development and economic rights over individual civil and political rights, and insists on a relativistic approach to human rights based on each country’s unique history, culture, values, and political system.

China’s slogan, “building a community of shared future,” made its way into two resolutions that were adopted during the Human Rights Council’s 34th session (HCR34) in March 2017:  a resolution on the “Question of the realization in all countries of economic social and cultural rights” (A/HRC/34/L.4/Rev.1) and a resolution on “The right to food” (A/HRC/34/L.21).  Human Rights Council resolutions are not legally binding, rather they are the political expression of the views of the HRC members (or a majority) and generally “are a means of gauging the international community’s level of political commitment and degree of willingness to discuss a specific question regarding human rights or related fields.” States may table HRC resolutions as a step in the process of establishing a new thematic issue in the HRC.

In an official statement on the website of the Chinese Mission to the UN Office at Geneva, the Chinese government overstates the significance of the inclusion of its “community of shared future” slogan in the resolutions adopted during HRC34. In both the resolutions, the phrase appears in one of many preambular (i.e., introductory, not operative) clauses, tucked among other aspirational language.  The official Chinese statement proclaims, however: “This is the first time that the concept of ‘community of shared future for human beings’ is incorporated into the Human Rights Council resolutions, officially making it an important part of the international human rights discourse.” The PRC statement goes on to claim that the adoption of this concept “demonstrates China’s growing influence and ability to set the agenda in international human rights governance.”

On March 1 during HRC34, Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu delivered a joint statement on behalf of a group of 140 countries titled “Promote and Protect Human Rights and Build a Community of Shared Future for Human Beings.” The statement summarized several key points from Xi’s January speech, including: sovereign equality must be respected; human rights should be promoted and protected through dialogue and cooperation and not politicized; and countries should aim for win-win cooperation and outcomes.

On March 8, the Chinese Mission to the UN Office at Geneva and the Chinese “government-organized NGO” (GONGO) China Society for Human Rights Studies cosponsored a side event titled “Building a Community of Shared Future for Mankind: A New Approach to Global Human Rights Governance,” during which, according to a Xinhua report, Chinese human rights experts from universities and research centers “elaborated the idea of a community of shared future for mankind in the context of human rights governance, saying interpretation of human rights ideas cannot be taken out of their cultural contexts.”  Needless to say no Chinese human rights lawyers or activists participated in the side event.

During the June session of the Human Rights Council (HRC35), China again organized a side event on “building a community of shared future,” and again delivered a joint statement on behalf of more than 140 countries, titled “Joining Hands to Reduce Poverty, Promote and Protect Human Rights.” At the side event titled “International Seminar on Human Rights and Building a Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” Ma Zhaoxu stated that peace and development were the prerequisites for human rights, and “development provides the basic conditions for realizing various human rights.”  Such statements from China­­ ­­––that development is a prerequisite for human rights ––undermines the consensus language in numerous UN resolutions and declarations China has agreed to, for example, text in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) (1993) that provides:

Paragraph 5. All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

***

Paragraph 8 (in relevant part). Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. In the context of the above, the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels should be universal and conducted without conditions attached.

***

Paragraph 10 (in relevant part). The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the right to development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.

As stated in the Declaration on the Right to Development, the human person is the central subject of development.

While development facilitates the enjoyment of all human rights, the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.

 

China’s activities in Geneva and the Human Rights Council during the first half of the year set the stage for its major initiative in the HRC in 2017. In June, at HRC35, China sponsored a resolution titled “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights.” At first glance, the resolution seems unproblematic, but upon closer scrutiny, and in light of the explanation given by the United States for why it voted against the resolution, it appears that by tweaking certain language, China effectively privileged the right to development over other rights and attempted to dilute certain human rights norms. The U.S. described China’s resolution as “attempting to reframe the relationship between development and human rights in a way that deviates from consensus texts adopted by UN Member States.” The United States called for a vote on the resolution (most resolutions are adopted without a vote), and China’s resolution was adopted by a vote of 30 to 13, with 3 abstentions.[1] With the resolution’s adoption, the Council requested the Advisory Committee of the HRC to operationalize paragraph 6 and “conduct a study on the ways in which development contributes to the enjoyment of all human rights by all, in particular on best experiences and practices, and to submit the report to the Human Rights Council before its forty-first session.” China will undoubtedly figure prominently in this study, which may serve to advance its “development first” agenda at the Council.

In an article published by China Society for Human Rights Studies after the resolution was adopted, a professor at Peking University wrote: “At present, China has put forward the idea of creating a community of shared future for all mankind, which means that China will participate in global human rights governance more actively and will play a more important role in it.” In June 2017, the People’s Daily, reporting on a conference convened in Tianjin on the theory of building a shared future and global human rights governance, wrote that the concept “had become an important topic in the global human rights discourse.”

The People’s Daily extolled the adoption of the resolution in Geneva, describing the resolution expansively in an editorial as a recognition of the concept “development promotes human rights”:

“The introduction of the concept of ‘development promoting human rights’ into the international human rights system for the first time marked a major shift in the global human rights discourse and is a huge victory for developing countries… The adoption of the resolution also symbolizes the elevation of developing countries’ right to speak on human rights… and will promote greater justice and rationality in the international human rights system.

The editorial also stated that “for a long time Western governments have monopolized the international human rights agenda and discourse, and that some people in the West often use human rights as a pretense to export their values, even to the extent of using them as an excuse to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.”

An article in Study Times (学习时报) praised the resolution, also stating that it was the first time the concept “development promotes human rights” entered into the international human rights system, which followed China’s major concept “building a community of shared future for humanity” being written into a UN Security Council resolution–– both instances of China contributing its proposals to global human rights governance.

The People’s Daily editorial and other Chinese media reports proclaimed that the Western “monopoly” on human rights governance is over, and that China will now firmly take the lead on behalf of the developing world.

What this means, in short, is that China will continue to promote, and attempt to expand, the importance of the right to development and economic rights, while at the same time endeavoring to curtail and weaken the enforcement of civil and political rights. The UN and its member states, including China, have in various UN instruments, however, recognized that both sets of rights – civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, are universal, interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and must be treated on the same footing and with the same emphasis.

The significance of China’s resolution, which is more rhetoric than substance, can best be understood by examining the explanation the U.S. gave for why it voted against the resolution. The U.S. stated in its explanation that it rejects “any suggestion that development goals could permit countries to deviate from their human rights obligations and commitments.” It further provides specific examples of how China selectively took text from various UN instruments, including the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), to misrepresent the relationship between human rights and development. The statement also suggests a contentious negotiation process with China over the language of the resolution. The U.S. stated:

[W]e regret that the resolution draws from these instruments in a selective and imbalanced way that often omits key language that fully explains the relationship between human rights and development, or changes consensus language to materially alter its meaning.  We and others have negotiated in good faith to restore this carefully negotiated balance in this resolution.  The sponsors made only minimal changes to address these concerns and the changes fall far short of achieving balance. As one example of many, preambular paragraph 5 draws from VDPA paragraph 8, but omits the crucial term “democracy,” and unhelpfully changes “respect for human rights,” to “realization of human rights.”…. These and other distortions of consensus language reinforce the incorrect message that development is a prerequisite for states fulfilling their human rights obligations – a message that is clearly inconsistent with states’ commitments reflected in the VDPA.

Germany, which also voted against China’s resolution, delivered a statement on behalf of the EU, stating that human rights and development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, but China’s resolution positioned development above human rights. The German representative said that the EU believed that the path of development must accord with all human rights, and that development has two main pillars: one is human rights, democracy, rule of law and good governance, and the other is sustainable development. Moreover, paragraph 10 of the VDPA emphasizes that sustainable development cannot be realized in a situation in which human rights are not respected and protected. The German diplomat also noted that China had selectively used text from various international human rights instruments and distorted the relationship between human rights and development, creating a hierarchy in which development was placed above human rights. Accordingly, the German diplomat stated, the EU could not support the proposed resolution.

After China’s resolution was adopted, the Geneva-based NGO International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) urged the international community and Chinese civil society to pay close attention to the lobbying of the Chinese government on the international human rights platform, and to be on guard against the Chinese government’s efforts to replace UN human rights norms with “human rights with Chinese characteristics.”

As readers of China Change are well aware, Xi Jinping’s “community of shared future for all human beings” excludes many of China’s own citizens. Those human beings left out of Xi’s “shared future” include Chinese human rights defenders and lawyers, democracy and civil society activists, Tibetans, Uyghurs, petitioners, Falun Gong believers, Christians, Buddhists, petitioners –– the list goes on.  Xi’s highly choreographed, invite-only, no-civil society-allowed speech at the UN’s Palais des Nations in January was a stark example both of the lack of inclusiveness in his “shared future,” and the tolerance for China’s human rights record at the UN.

Governments and civil society actors will have an important opportunity to address China’s efforts to replace settled UN human rights norms with “human rights with Chinese characteristics”’ standards, along with a multitude of other human rights issues, when China undergoes its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the fall of 2018. China will likely use its next UPR as a platform to bolster its leadership role in the HRC. Many of China’s supporters or those beholden to it will undoubtedly praise China’s June 2017 resolution on development and extol the wisdom of “building a community of shared future for humankind.” The deadline for civil society reports is March 2018, and China’s national report is due by the end of July 2018. Governments are also supposed to consult with domestic civil society groups and other stakeholders in the drafting of their national report. Cao Shunli died because of her efforts to participate in the formulation of China’s national report for its second UPR in October 2013. To honor her memory and struggle, the US and other like-minded national governments and international NGOs should actively support Chinese civil society efforts to participate in the UPR process.

 

[1] The 13 countries that voted against the resolution, in addition to the U.S. were Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, U.K., Germany, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Netherlands, Albania, Belgium, and Croatia. The 3 abstentions were Korea, Georgia, and Panama.

 

 

Andrea Worden croppedAndrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others. 

 

 


Related:

The Cost of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms, Human Rights Watch, September, 2017.

China accuses U.N. rights envoy of ‘meddling’ in its judiciary, Reuters, June 8, 2017.

U.N. rights envoy says Chinese authorities interfered with his work, Reuters, August 23, 2016

 

 

 

 

Absentees, Raise Your Hands!

By Liu Yu, published: February 25, 2015

“You see?  No hands are raised by those who are absent in the classroom.  Everyone is here. What a wonderful class!”

 

I complain about China now and then, and a friend of mine pointed out my failing to appreciate it. “China is in great shape now,” she pointed to the window. “Can’t you see? It is now in many ways a lot more advanced than overseas!”

I guess I have to agree. Following the direction of her finger, I can see the gleaming facades of skyscrapers, the new cars of all makes and models, and the hustle and bustle of daily activities, even with the polluted air and reduced visibility. The prosperity is real. And add to that, there are the elderly women practicing Taiji, the boys playing basketball, and the roadside vendors selling kababs. If Zhang Zeduan (张择端) were still alive, he would have more than enough scenes for a modern-day scroll of “Along the River during the Qingming Festival” (清明上河圖).

Ashamed of my negativity, I suddenly recall a well-known joke: a teacher, making a roll call to take attendance in the class every day, would shout to the class: “Absentees, raise your hands!”

Han Ying (韩颖), founder of Smile, a Beijing-based volunteer group that collects used clothes and raises school supplies and books for poor children and families.  Ms Han was arrested on September 30, 2014, for voicing  support for Occupy Central.

Han Ying (韩颖)

I ask my friend: Do you know Han Ying (韩颖)? She doesn’t. I then explain to her that Han Ying is a woman who lives in the Haidian district of Beijing.  Ms. Han was stalked, harassed, and even beaten up by government thugs simply because she came out as an independent candidate in the elections of the local people’s representatives. Ms. Han is only one of the many independent candidates who have been brutally suppressed this year [2011]. [Ms. Han is the founder of Smile, a Beijing-based volunteer group that collects used clothes and raises school supplies and books for poor children and families. Ms Han was arrested on September 30, 2014, for voicing support for Occupy Central. – The editor]

I ask my friend: Do you know Lei Jinmo (雷金模)? She doesn’t. I told her that Mr. Lei is a mine worker who suffering from “black lung,” or pneumoconiosis, an illness resulting from years of unprotected exposure to industrial dust. He is dying but has no money for medical treatment. Mr. Lei is just one of the countless patients afflicted with “black lung” or other work-related illnesses who receive no healthcare, no relief of any kind.

I ask my friend again: Do you know there have been farmers who have perished while defending their properties and rights? She doesn’t. I told her that a villager who had clashed with the government while defending his rights died in detention of a “sudden illness,” and his is just one of the many mysterious cases of “death in custody” across this wonderful land of ours.

In the same breath, I has recounted the stories of more than a dozen people of whom my friend has never heard. They are “the absentees in the classroom,” missing from our era of great prosperity. Information about them has been scarce and fleeting, for their very existence puts stains on the picture of social development and stability. We catch a glimpse of them now and then on the Internet before censorship wipes them out. In our time of mass media, if the media are stripped of their stories, they are next to non-existent. I am not suggesting that the prosperity painted in the modern version of “Along the River during the Qingming Festival” is phony; I only want to point out that there is a world out there behind the scenes that is not so glorious.

Lei Jinmo (雷金模), who died in early 2012, received help from Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a NGO founded by investigative reporter Wang Keqin (王克勤).

Lei Jinmo (雷金模), who died in early 2012, received help from Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a NGO founded by investigative reporter Wang Keqin (王克勤).

“Those are the teething problems of our rapid development,” my friend responded, “we must focus on the mainstream of our time!”  I am not sure what the mainstream really is, but I do know this: when a person afflicted with gastric ulcers seeks medical help, his doctor is not going to turn a blind eye to his ulcerous stomach by advising him that he need not worry because the “mainstream” of his health is good: “After all, your other organs are good!”

It is said that there are three kinds of knowledge: what you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know.  For my friend, the stories of the likes of Han Ying and Lei Jinmo probably fall in the category of “what you don’t know that you don’t know.” Since she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, even though in nature she is kind and considerate, she will never have the urge or curiosity to peek behind the “Along the River during the Qingming Festival” scroll; she is bound to believe that what she sees and hears within the 5th ring road of Beijing are the “true notes of our time.”

Well, back when humans didn’t know about the existence of Mars, nobody was curious about what was on it.

In a society where dissemination of information is restricted, narrow perspective is inevitable. “How can you nag about our society so much?” Someone might chastise you, “you drive a new car, you live in a beautifully renovated apartment, you hold a cup of coffee worth 30RMB a piece in one hand and an iPhone in the other, you eat McDonalds and wear Septwolves, and do you realize you are biting the hand that feeds you?”

You must know that China is not an enclave within the 5th ring road of its metropolis, and out there beyond our narrow horizons, there are Han Yings and Lei Jinmos. And for every known Han Ying and Lei Jinmo, there could be countless Han Yings and Lei Jinmos whom we might never get to know. To stay alert to what has been covered up in whitewash, one must constantly tell oneself:  Don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep.

This may sound simple enough, but not everyone understands it. In the early 30’s of the 20th century, the famous Irish writer George Bernard Shaw visited the Soviet Union. He was given guided tours of the many accomplishments of the great Soviet socialism. Upon returning home, Mr. Shaw wrote articles to dispute the numerous contentions that “defamed” the Soviet economic success. “We desire to record that we saw nowhere evidence of such economic slavery, privation, unemployment and cynical despair of betterment as are accepted as inevitable and ignored by the press as having ‘no news value’ in our own countries.” “Everywhere we went, we saw enthusiastic workers full of hope for the future.” The stark realities were that around the years of Shaw’s visit, about seven million people in the Soviet Union died of starvation, a result of forced agricultural collectivization.

Another example was Edgar Snow, the author of “Red Star over China.” After visiting China twice in 1960 and 1964 respectively, Snow dismissed the news about a great famine in China as groundless “cold war propaganda.”  “I assert that I saw no starving people in China,” Snow declared, “nothing that looked like old-time famine.”

You see?  No hands are raised from those who are absent in the classroom.  Everyone is here. What a wonderful class!

 

————

刘瑜 (2)Liu Yu (刘瑜) is a professor of political science at Tsinghua University. She lived in the U.S. from 2000 to 2007 and held a doctorate in Political Science from Columbia University.  She now researches democratization in developing countries, including China, and she is the author of Details of Democracy (《民主的细节》,in Chinese), a collection of her blogs that described how politics works in America, A Bullet for You (《送你一颗子弹》, in Chinese), and The Water Level of Ideas (《观念的水位》, in Chinese)

 

Related:

How to Be a Chinese Democrat: An Interview with Liu Yu, by Ian Johnson, February 3, 2015.

 

(Translated by Zhong Ming)

Chinese original, published in December, 2011.

“They told us to love the Chinese and ‘look East’ for solutions” – Stories of China in Africa

As we looked at yesterday, China may not be as welcomed in Africa as some authors might argue. My friends told me a few stories after reflecting on our first discussion that I thought should be shared, but didn’t quite fit into yesterday’s post.*

Friend from Zambia

You know, it’s probably not fair to think that the Chinese are only bad for Zambia. If they weren’t there many of the mines would have closed. Any job is better than no job. The people working in the mines just consider how much better things were for them when the mines were operated by the gov’t, rather than thinking about what it would be like without any job at all. If we were rational we’d probably be thankful, but we aren’t.

We have a law that the bosses of the mines should be down in the shafts with the workers (this is supposed to improve safety), but when one of the mines collapsed it was only dead Zambians, the Chinese bosses didn’t even get dust on them. This happens in China too, but its not acceptable for them to do business in Zambia like they do in China. Were trying to get rid of corruption in my country, but it seems even more difficult when foreign companies refuse to obey the laws.

Friend from Zimbabwe

I remember when our economy collapsed after Mugabe took the land from the white farmers and gave it away. We didn’t call it land re-distribution, we called it something like “cleaning up.” After that with the sanctions and the departure of foreign companies, it was like things got worse every day. We had to start lining up for bread at midnight, and it seemed like every few weeks they were having to cut another string of zeroes from our money. It was a mess.

Then the Chinese came to invest, and things stopped getting worse. The government told us at that time to love the Chinese, and to “look East” for solutions to our problems. We didn’t like them though. Around that time, the government started cutting off all of the other voices in the media, so people started buying satellite dishes so they could watch foreign news and dramas. The government was then going to make these dishes illegal, and it was like we were becoming China.

When the Chinese companies came, they always brought a lot of their own workers, and so the government gave them some land in our low-density neighborhoods for housing. A few months later they had built a high-rise apartment building in the middle of this suburb. In that area people had walls around their home for privacy, but with this new building there was no more privacy.

Friend from Ghana

Even though it’s been decades since the colonialists left, our governments still have a colonial mind set when it comes to our economies. We export resources to foreign companies instead of refining them. This limits employment, and keeps us from realizing the full value of our resources. It’s not that China is colonizing us, but that they encourage us to keep the same frame of mind.  Our leaders our interested in the easy gains, but one day our minerals and oil will run out and then what will we do?

Conclusion

These stories highlight an important lesson that most world powers forget – just because you’re doing something that grows GDP doesn’t mean that you will be liked for it (ask a Tibetan, Uighur, Afghan…). China is helping to develop Africa’s economy, but many Africans want to see improvements in their governments. In my friends’ view it seems that their government officials are getting richer while their own needs go unmet. Like most foreign based projects, China is offering what it has available instead of what the locals are asking for, and these two forces create tension and opposition.

*These are paraphrases, not word for word, but the speakers have reviewed them to make sure I captured their thoughts.

Why didn’t the gov’t build this village a road?

Over the past few days, I’ve mentioned the village on the cliff several times, but haven’t yet discussed one of the biggest questions I had on my mind during my time there, Why didn’t the gov’t build this village a road? Why is it being left to charities to do the gov’t’s work?

I should say that we aren’t just talking about a single road, the majority of the projects we visited were infrastructure projects. One involved repairing an irrigation system, another was to fix a broken water pump, and the third was to build a water pump. Throughout China this charity is also involved in rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and village clinics.

This ties back into an important argument made by economists who say despite the hundreds of billions of dollars the Chinese gov’t has poured into infrastructure over the last few decades, China’s infrastructure investment is still far behind the US and other developed countries. This, they argue, means that China’s investing is still producing excellent returns, and is far from the waste of resources that more pessimistic economists allege.

Perhaps this is why I was so frustrated by what I saw in the countryside. Yes, there is still clearly a need, and yes, China is still funding infrastructure with billions of dollars, but a tiny percentage of that is reaching those who live in poverty. These optimistic economists fail to ask whether or not these resources are being used to fulfill actual needs, or if they are being wasted on vanity projects (like turning bridges into tunnels).

The Chinese aid worker I talked with about this issue tried valiantly to come up with a politically safe answer to my question, “Why didn’t the gov’t build this village road?” Finally she said, “They didn’t build it because it wouldn’t help local GDP very much. They are only interested in projects that build their resume and reputation.” The ugly fact is that instead of building a road that would have allowed these 40 families access to the city and its markets, which did make a huge difference for them, the local gov’t decided instead to invest in a new old looking town that might someday attract tourists.

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The same was true of the other projects that had been ignored by local officials. In the most remote village we visited the charity had built a water pumping station. I had heard about how villagers prior to the pump had been forced to walk several kilometers and cross over a mountain to the next valley for fresh water, and how much better off they were now thanks to our efforts. So you can imagine my surprise when the village was next to a rather large stream.

“Why don’t they just use this water?” I asked, “Why were they going so far away?” The first response was, “They have always done it this way.” The second response was, “During the 60’s a mine was built upstream, it released a lot of contaminates into the water which caused many diseases.”

So even here, in one of the most isolated villages I had ever been to, reckless gov’t projects had created a need that had never existed before AND then refused to address the problem (a similar theme appeared today in People’s Daily). It should be noted that gov’t officials took us to see the pump in new cars, and then asked the charity to help pay for the needed repairs.

As you can probably tell reading this, I am more than a little frustrated by this issue. China’s gov’t has footed the bill for Olympic stadiums, high-speed railways, airports, space shuttles, and who knows how many official cars and banquets, but somehow still fails to provide the basics. While many have been impressed by China’s political system when visiting Shanghai and Beijing, one would have the exact opposite impression if they visited these villages.

The biggest challenge facing China

This year a crowd of economists and social spectators have started to wonder aloud if 2012 will be the year China’s system collapses (to be fair, this is an annual tradition). This time they are pointing to mass incidents, economic troubles, growing evidence of corruption, a Grand Canyon sized gap between rich and poor, and scandals that seem to rock the country on a bi-weekly basis. These are challenges China has overcome before, but on a much smaller scale and without having to contend with the openness of Weibo. Some might go so far as to say that what has already been set in motion makes it impossible to avoid such a catastrophe.

However, there is a single problem underlying many of China’s greatest woes: Mistrust.

Over the next few days we’ll be exploring some of the ways in which trust has disappeared from Chinese society, what the costs of this mistrust are, and how it can be restored. And, if China wants to continue its massive economic growth, trust must be restored.

Trust between strangers

The other day my co-worker was in a tizzy as she entered the office. The night before, she had forgotten her cell phone in the office and couldn’t tell her husband to pick up their son. For the next 30 minutes she approached strangers in the subway station to ask them if she could use their phone to make one quick call. She was even going to give them a few RMB for their troubles. She is well off and dresses as such, but without the audacity of China’s nouveau riche. Yet not one of the hundreds of people who passed her were willing to help.

While this is in no way a shocking example, it hit my co-worker quite deeply. After all, she is a Nanjing native, and remembers a time when the city was much smaller and a sense of trust still existed. She told me that people today seem much colder than before, and took her own experience as evidence of that fact.

This feeling of distrust is fueled by rapid urbanization, and is in no way unique to China (as Stan Abrams points out in this excellent post). However, nowhere on Earth is changing as quickly as China and that has a profound effect on how people view strangers. There is something deeply unsettling about not knowing your neighbors.

Additionally, I’ve heard many people, both foreign and Chinese, discuss the ways in which the Cultural Revolution destroyed the trust between strangers. This sad era was just one of many crackdowns that led to persecution on a massive scale which saw neighbors and friends turn on one another. I remember a Chinese-American friend in the US whose mother would scold her for talking to classmates that weren’t “true friends,” even 30 years after the nightmare was over and 10,000 miles away. During the Cultural Revolution her mother’s father had been locked in a classroom for days by the local Red Guard unit. Shortly after that she was adopted by an uncle in an effort to help her escape the label of “class enemy.”

While I would say that a more general kind of trust has returned to the countryside, there is still little trust when it comes to exposing one’s politics. There are some lessons learned in childhood that are impossible to forget.

All of this is not to say that there is no trust in China’s urban centers; I regularly see contradictory evidence. For example: on buses in Chengdu, passengers often get on the bus in the back, then hand their bus passes forward, often worth nearly 100RMB, to complete strangers without the slightest worry as to whether or not the pass will be returned (it almost always is). Instead, what is important is that people feel that there is no trust.

I believe this stems from the greater trust issues that are so pervasive in modern China. After all if you can’t trust larger social institutions, how can you trust a stranger?

Next we’ll be exploring the trust deficit between individuals and businesses.