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With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework

Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018


Xi Jinping UN

Xi Jinping spoke at the UN assembly in 2015.


During the past year, China, supported by authoritarian allies like Russia, Turkey and Egypt, has taken an increasingly aggressive anti-human rights posture at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) and elsewhere in the UN system where human rights are a core focal point. Its aim appears to be nothing less than “disappearing” the existing human rights framework –– one of the UN’s three pillars established by the UN Charter — from the mission and work of the UN, and replacing it with a Chinese version that focuses almost exclusively on “the right to development,” “dialogue” and “mutually beneficial cooperation.” China hasn’t won yet, but it’s seizing the moment of the Trump presidency, Brexit, the rise of authoritarianism globally, and Xi Jinping’s elevation as “president for life,” to push its agenda at the Human Rights Council with an unprecedented pace and boldness.

China’s first-ever HRC resolution, titled “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” was adopted by the Council in June 2017. I discuss this resolution in China Pushes ‘Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN. On March 23, 2018, the HRC adopted China’s second resolution, titled “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights” (hereinafter “MBC resolution”). The MBC resolution is almost mind numbing in its repetitive use of bromides and lack of any apparent substantive content. But, as with China’s June 2017 resolution, more is going on than meets the casual observer’s eye.

Despite the challenges facing the U.S. State Department and its human rights apparatus under the current administration, to its credit the U.S. called for a vote at the Human Rights Council (where most resolutions are adopted by consensus, without a vote) on both of China’s resolutions. The MBC resolution was adopted by a vote of 28 in favor, with 17 abstentions and 1 “no”–– the United States. The strongly worded Explanation of Vote issued by the U.S. sheds light on China’s motivation behind the MBC resolution, which echoes China’s aim in advancing its June 2017 resolution: the gradual disembowelment of the existing UN human rights framework.

In its explanation, the U.S stated:

“It is clear that China is attempting through this resolution to weaken the UN human rights system and the norms underpinning it. The ‘feel good’ language about ‘mutually beneficial cooperation’ is intended to benefit autocratic states at the expense of people whose human rights and fundamental freedoms we are all obligated, as States, to respect. For these reasons, the United States is calling a vote and will vote against this resolution. We encourage other countries not to support this resolution.”

Noting that China’s resolution insists that governments be respected, the U.S. countered: “A call for governments that abuse their own citizens’ rights to be respected has no place in a forum dedicated to respecting and protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the individual.” It describes the resolution as an effort by China “to insulate itself from criticism of its human rights record by demanding ‘respect.’” The U.S. further stated: “The only way for any government to achieve respect is for that government to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Several of the abstaining countries criticized the resolution; Switzerland stated that the resolution contained “vague and ambiguous language that weakens fundamental human rights principles.”

There is only one paragraph in the two-page resolution that focuses on the human person as the subject of, and beneficiary in the realization of human rights. Otherwise, “mutually beneficial” appears to mean for the benefit of states only — that through “dialogue” and “cooperation” they will be spared any criticism on their human rights record. The introductory (preambular) paragraph, which reaffirms that “the human person is the central subject of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and consequently should be the principal beneficiary and should participate actively in the realization of these rights and freedoms,” was apparently added only after negotiations; this text is absent from an earlier draft of China’s resolution.

The MBC resolution effectively takes the individual out of the picture. China frames the realization of human rights as purely a matter for states, focusing solely, as Human Rights Watch put it, on “intergovernmental cooperation and dialogue rather than actual human rights violations or accountability for those [violations].” There is not even one mention of the word “individual” in the resolution, nor do the terms “human rights defender” or “civil society” appear. But “cooperation,” appears 19 times, and the words “mutually” or “mutual,” are mentioned 13 times, “dialogue” makes 6 appearances, and “constructive” is used 5 times.

The sole nod to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the resolution – that NGOs should also “contribute actively” to “promote mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights” — rings hollow in light of the Chinese government’s relentless crackdown on NGOs and human rights defenders at home and at the UN.

Like China’s June 2017 resolution on “the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” the MBC resolution also contains one of the key mottos of Xi Jinping’s “New Era.” The MBC resolution states: “Recognizing the importance of fostering international relations based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and mutually beneficial cooperation, with the aim of building a community of shared future for human beings, in which human rights are enjoyed by all.” [Emphasis added.] It was this hollow phrase, with uncertain meaning, that an earlier Chinese government statement extolled as demonstrating “China’s growing influence and ability to set the agenda in international human rights governance.”

On March 11, 2018, shortly before the MBC resolution was adopted in Geneva, China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing adopted proposed amendments to the PRC Constitution, one of which enshrined the slogan “building a community of shared future for human beings” in the preamble. In the statement explaining its “no” vote, the U.S. addressed the inappropriateness of the slogan’s appearance in a UN resolution:

“Furthermore, Chinese spokespersons in Beijing . . . have been clear about their intent to glorify their head of State by inserting his thoughts into the international human rights lexicon. None of us should support incorporating language targeting a domestic political audience into multilateral settings. This is especially true as the term has no clear meaning internationally and is vulnerable to subsequent interpretation and reinvention by the one country that uses the phrase.”

At a daily news briefing on March 26, 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying disingenuously overstated the significance of the resolution’s adoption, but made clear the Chinese government’s intent. She said, “The international community has reached an important consensus that only through dialogue and cooperation can the human rights cause of all countries be better promoted and protected.” [Emphasis added.] The MBC resolution does not say “only”; nevertheless, the resolution might be viewed as bringing China one step closer to its goal of “only dialogue and cooperation” in the field of human rights.

Hua Chunying further stated: “I think the comments by this U.S. official in Geneva . . . were extremely unreasonable, and also reflects the consistent ignorance and haughtiness of the U.S. side.”

China will have its third Universal Periodic Review in November. An earlier draft of the MBC resolution reveals China’s vision of how it thinks that review should unfold: without criticism and without any consideration of the Chinese government’s actual human rights record. An earlier draft of its resolution provided that the HRC “recognizes the crucial role of the Universal Periodic Review in contributing to the advancement of mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights…”

This paragraph in the resolution as adopted, following negotiations, reads: “Emphasizes the importance of the universal periodic review as a mechanism based on cooperation and constructive dialogue with the objective of, inter alia, improving the situation of human rights on the ground and promoting the fulfillment of the human rights obligations and commitments undertaken by States…” [Emphasis added.]

It’s incumbent on the U.S. and those states that abstained on the MBC resolution vote to make China’s Universal Periodic Review count — for the sake of the countless victims of human rights abuses in China, and for the human rights defenders in China who are working at great personal risk to protect and promote human rights on the ground. Wang Quanzhang, Liu Xia, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Huang Qi, among many others, should be named, and Liu Xiaobo, Li Baiguang, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and Cao Shunli remembered. We must do what we can to prevent China from turning its upcoming Universal Periodic Review into a victory celebration for “human rights with Chinese characteristics.”



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



Also by Andrea Worden:

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.



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




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. 




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





Activist Guo Feixiong Held 743 Days Without Yard Time

China Change, published: August 21, 2015

We believe that this is a deliberate effort to harm Guo Feixiong and kill him slowly.


(Subtitles provided by @WLYeung and @awfan )


Chinese democracy activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, also known by his original name, Yang Maodong 杨茂东) has now been held in Guangzhou’s Tianhe Detention Center for 743 days since his detention on August 8, 2013, without once being let out for fresh air. Having protested multiple times without result, Guo’s lawyers now report that during their most recent meeting Guo’s memory, speech, and thinking all showed signs of damage.

These actions by the Chinese authorities have already led to widespread anger and concern among Chinese human rights activists. We believe that this is a deliberate effort to harm Guo Feixiong and kill him slowly. We ask that international organizations and foreign governments pay close attention to Guo Feixiong’s situation and carry out effective interventions to halt these heinous acts by the Chinese authorities.

After Guo Feixiong was secretly detained in Guangzhou on August 8, 2013, police waited many days before finally confirming his whereabouts. On June 19, 2014, the authorities charged Guo with two counts of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public space.” First, they allege that Guo Feixiong gave speeches outside the offices of Southern Weekly in January 2013 and later published several commentaries on what’s known as the Southern Weekly New Year’s Editorial incident on overseas media sites. Second, they allege that Guo and friends appeared in the streets holding signs demanding that officials disclose their assets and that the National People’s Congress ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and, further, that they took photographs that were uploaded to the Internet.

As the hearing in Guo Feixiong’s trial was adjourned on November 28, 2014, the presiding judge announced that the verdict would be announced at a later date. But Guo remains in custody to this day while he continues to await the verdict’s announcement.

According to his lawyer, Guo Feixiong is being held in a cell with 30 other detainees, leaving each person only one square meter of space. Still awaiting a verdict, Guo has now been illegally detained for more than two years under these conditions and has never been allowed yard time.

Guo Feixiong in Beijing, summer of 2013. Photo provided by Guozhen Xiao.

Guo Feixiong in Beijing, summer of 2012. Photo provided by Guozhen Xiao.

The authorities have committed numerous violations in the course of handling Guo Feixiong’s case. Article 25 of the State Council’s Detention Center Regulations clearly states that detainees “should be given one to two hours of outside activity time each day.” And Article 27 of the Ministry of Public Security’s Measures for Implementing the Detention Center Regulations states that “detention cells should provide each person living therein with a minimum of two square meters.”

The abuse of Guo Feixiong has been continuous and deliberate. In a formal complaint filed this past June, Guo wrote: “Bailiffs from the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou escorted me between the Tianhe District Detention Center and the court to attend a pre-trial hearing on August 1 and trial hearings on September 12 and November 28, 2014. On those three occasions, the bailiffs abused me by covering my head with a black hood, handcuffing my wrists behind my back, and placing my feet in shackles. They intentionally over-tightened the handcuffs and shackles to put pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in my hands and feet, causing evident swelling and abrasions. In particular, they tightened the shackles such that it caused partial paralysis in my left ankle that has not yet fully recovered. On the way to trial, I was hooded, cuffed, and shackled, with the authorities intentionally tightening the metal cuffs and shackles so that the metal bands dug into the flesh on my hands and feet.”

China is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on November 3, 1988. However, the Chinese government has shown complete disregard for its international commitments, trying to fool the international community while it willfully violates its obligations.

As far as Guo Feixiong’s so-called criminality is concerned, his behavior does not constitute any criminal offense under China’s Criminal Law. In his defense arguments to the court, Guo Feixiong’s lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星) said: “Set aside for a moment the phony and contradictory nature of the witness statements put forward by the prosecution. Even if the all of the evidence presented to the court by the prosecution were genuine and true, Yang Maodong and [co-defendant] Sun Desheng would still be guilty of no criminal offense whatsoever.”

Guo’s other defense attorney, Zhang Lei (张磊), has said: “I believe that Guo Feixiong has been framed and thrown in jail for exercising the democratic rights and civil and political rights belonging to Chinese people. I feel that all Chinese people ought to enjoy these civil and political rights.”

On the contrary, the Chinese authorities’ violations do not stop with the detention center regulations mentioned above. According to China’s Criminal Procedure Law and international legal standards, the authorities committed criminal acts in their enforced disappearance of Guo Feixiong (detaining him on August 8, 2013, but not notifying his family of the detention until August 17), torture, delayed verdict, and illegal detention.

There have been other serious violations of procedural law connected to the prosecution of Guo Feixiong, according to an account by his lawyers. The authorities deprived Guo of his right to meet with defense counsel during the investigation phase. At trial, numerous defense witnesses were forcibly taken away and therefore prevented from appearing in court. Lawyers were not permitted to copy audiovisual materials submitted as evidence. During the trial, the defendant and his lawyers were deprived of their right to speak.

Guo Feixiong was born in Gucheng County, Hubei (湖北谷城), in 1966. In 1988, he graduated from Shanghai’s East China Normal University and went on to become a successful bookseller. In 2005, he became a consultant for the Beijing Zhisheng Law Firm (北京智晟律师事务所) and began taking part in rights defense activity in Guangdong Province, where he played a key role in the widely covered Taishi Village Recall Case. Since April 2005, he has been placed under criminal detention four times for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” The third time, he was eventually convicted of “illegal business activity” and sentenced to five years in prison. This is now Guo Feixiong’s fourth arrest.

In an appeal sent to then-UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, on June 4, 2007, Guo Feixiong’s wife Zhang Qing (张青) described the torture her husband received after he was arrested in September 2006: “Police from the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau’s Pretrial Investigation Unit shackled Guo Feixiong’s hands and feet to a bed for many weeks. Interrogators deprived him of sleep for several days in order to force him to confess out of exhaustion. In protest, he carried out a 25-day hunger strike. When Guo Feixiong was transferred to a detention center in Shenyang, interrogators handcuffed his wrists behind his back, suspended him, and had him sit on a ‘tiger bench.’ They also hit him in the genitals with electric prods.”

The Chinese authorities’ indefinite detention of Guo Feixiong and their torture and inhumane treatment toward him causes us to fear that Guo’s health and perhaps even his life may be in danger. The tragedy of human rights defender Cao Shunli, who died in custody of mistreatment and deprivation of medical care, demands that we remain alert and take steps to prevent another tragedy. We also have the responsibility to confront China on its abuses, and urge it to adhere to its laws and its international commitments.

When Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was detained in August 2006, Guo Feixiong issued a plea to the world: “I call on those inside and outside China to devote themselves with unyielding determination to the campaign to rescue Gao Zhisheng. We are not just trying to rescue an individual, but rather the spirit of the Chinese people and Chinese nation. We are giving aid to the entire campaign for democracy and rights in China. This campaign is not just about individuals, but rather has an overall significance.”

Today, we once again appeal to the world: Save Guo Feixiong and free him!


Researched and written by Guozhen Xiao, translated by China Change.



Prominent Rights Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained, China Change, August 17, 2013

Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng Indictment, China Change, July 7, 2014

The Sovereignty of the People: My Conviction and My Dream, Guo Feixiong’s Court Statement, China Change, November 28, 2014.

Lawyers Describe Trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, China Change, November 28, 2014.

Meet Guo Feixiong, by Xiao Guozhen, China Change, July 23, 2014.

Guo Feixiong, a Civil Rights Hero, by Xiao Shu, China Change, January 8, 2015.


中文版 《郭飞雄坐牢743天没有放风》



PRC–the Party Representatives of China–Does Not Pass the Minimum Test

By YANG Jianli, President, Initiatives for China, former political prisoner of China (2002-2006)

Published: November 9, 2013            



Dr. Yang Jianli

Dr. Yang Jianli

Last night, I was on the phone with Ms. Zhang Qing, the wife of Guo Feixiong (pen name for Yang Maodong). Guo, who was imprisoned from 2006 to 2011 for peacefully demonstrating in defense of journalists’ rights, was arrested again on August 8 by Chinese authorities on “suspicion of gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Since Guo’s arrest, his lawyers had been unlawfully prohibited from seeing him on eight occasions—unlawful according to China’s own legal code.  During Guo’s previous incarceration he was severely tortured, which makes the family suspect that he is being tortured now as well, or that he may even be dead.   

On the phone Ms. Zhang Qing was crying.  She had called me in desperation, thinking that the connections I’ve made over the years with many of the world’s democratic governments would enable me to rally international support for Guo.

I was hoping to do just that. But right now the international situation regarding China and human rights is in a particularly Kafkaesque moment. China, the world’s most notorious human rights abuser, is vying to become a member of the UN’s Human Rights Council, the organization charged with protecting human rights around the world.  The UN General Assembly vote is Tuesday, and it’s not looking good for believers in human rights, or human decency.

I cannot help asking the question: What would these democratic governments, including that of the U.S., say to the Guo family if they do vote to place the world’s leading human rights abuser on the body charged with protecting human rights?  What level of shame will they feel knowing that more than 13,000 Chinese, Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians have had the courage to sign their real names to a petition urging a “no” vote, thus putting themselves, ordinary, defenseless citizens, squarely in harm’s way?

These governments know that China’s human rights record has been and continues to be, simply abominable, outside the norms of civilized nations. They know that China has failed in the recent UN universal periodic review of its human rights situation to demonstrate any commitment to addressing its dismal record.

Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄)

Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄)

One argument for including China on the Human Rights Council is that membership may pressure it to bring its record more into line with acceptable international norms of moral behavior. But China was on the Council before, from 2009 to 2012, and did not for a moment ameliorate its policies of brutality and suppression. China is the only country today incarcerating a Nobel laureate (Peace Prize winner Liu Xioabo). China’s failed ethnic policies have ignited large scale deadly incidents in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. In recent years there have been more than 130 Tibetan self-immolations. Rights activists such as Guo Feixiong commonly find themselves imprisoned and their families hounded. China’s past Council memberships did not stop it for a single day from perpetrating widespread suffering through its policies of forced abortion, forced sterilization, forced eviction, land grabbing, illegal disappearances, black jails, and torture.

Should any government still feel persuaded to ensconce China on the Human Rights Council, I propose the following thought experiment.  Assuming that the barest of minimum criteria for any government to be on the council would be that it allow the distribution of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights in its country.

Now, 1:  Imagine you are a citizen of China.

2. Imagine you travel to the Czech Republic, Japan, or Canada.

3. Imagine that you go to a public place in the capitals of these countries and distribute copies of the Declaration of Human Rights, thus exercising your rights under articles 18, 19, and 20 of the Declaration pertaining to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

4.  Imagine the reaction of the authorities in those countries.

5.  Now imagine going to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, your own capital, and doing the same thing.

6.  Now imagine where you will be the next day, and very likely for the next X number of years.

Imagine these things, then imagine the scope of the travesty of naming the Peoples Republic of China as one of the world’s protectors of basic human rights.

It is important to note nowadays nobody can even walk through Tiananmen Square without fear. It is more so today since it is being even more heavily secured for the on-going Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  Just like for the Party’s 18th Congress a year ago, indeed for any important event in the Party’s life, the ruling Party’s monstrous stability maintaining system is now treating people as enemies and placing many dissidents, rights defenders and petitioners under even tighter control. In the PRC, people, as potential enemies of the State, no longer share a common political life with the Communist Party and in effect PRC stands for the Party Representatives of China.  Democracies’ allowing a seat for such a PRC on the UNHRC is truly farcical.


Related reading:

Denied Meetings, Lawyers Fear for Advocate Guo Feixiong