UN Review of Human Rights in China Shows Divergent Views

Canada leads the charge
October 24, 2013 Updated: October 23, 2013

The Universal Periodic Review of human rights in China played out on Tuesday at the U.N. in Geneva with a stark contrast between how countries appraised China’s success or failure to honour human rights. 

Canada was the most forceful advocate for human rights improvements in the country.

Developing nations and countries that accepted significant aid or aid in the form of investment from China offered benign or even laudatory reviews. African countries, where China has made a great effort to extend soft power through investment, were particularly forgiving.

Tanzania went as far as suggesting China keep helping other southern countries alleviate poverty. South Africa similarly praised its trade relationship with China. Many simply recommended China keep up its efforts to alleviate poverty, or improve access to education or the Internet.

Developed countries, however, were more focused on ongoing abuses under the Chinese regime.

Australia numbered off a detailed and specific list of expected recommendations, such as protecting ethnic rights, something Austria also raised, alongside the freedom of expression and religious freedom. 

Canada spoke more directly than any other country, going beyond calling for general improvements to naming specific groups the regime has targeted.

Speaking for Canada, Anne Tamara Lorre recommended China “take steps to ensure lawyers and individuals working to advance human rights can practice their profession clearly.”

She called on China to immediately investigate allegations of threats or intimidation against such people.

“Stop the prosecution and persecution of people for the practice of their religion or belief including Catholics, other Christians, Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong,” she said.

Lorre also called on the regime to release all those imprisoned for political reasons, including reporters, religious adherents, artists, dissidents, and people working to advance human rights.

“And eliminate extrajudicial measures like forced disappearances,” she said.

She called for a fair judicial system, and protection for North Korean citizens who fled to China as well. 

The United Kingdom was mildly laudatory, noting legal revisions, but raised concerns about crackdowns on civil society and social media use. 

No other country spoke as pointedly about human rights in China, though the United States raised many similar issues with force. 

Many countries fell in between the two extremes, in a pattern that reflected their own economic strength or adherence to universal human rights norms. Countries like Poland and Estonia, for example, fell within the middle range in terms of force of comments.

China vigorously defended its human rights record in a report given prior to the review.