Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

UN experts alarmed by reprisals against activists linked to China’s international human rights review

China / Reprisals against activists

16 October 2013

GENEVA (16 October 2013) – A group of United Nations independent rights experts has expressed serious concern at reports that Chinese human rights defenders have suffered reprisals for seeking to participate in a major UN human rights assessment of China.

Activists have been reportedly threatened, arrested or banned from taking part in demonstrations or stopped from leaving China in the run-up to this month’s second review of its human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council through its universal periodic review mechanism (UPR)*. The review will take place on 22 October 2013 in Geneva.

“Intimidating civil society members who seek to contribute to such an important international dialogue is completely unacceptable,” the experts said. “Ensuring the free participation of civil society actors, including human rights defenders, and other national stakeholders, in this process is crucial.”

The experts stated: “These cases seem part of a pattern of increased harassment by China of those calling for greater accountability of public officials, transparency and political and legal reforms.”

The experts received information that right defenders Cao Shunli and Chen Jianfang were allegedly prevented from boarding flights to Geneva where they were due to participate in activities organized on the margins of September’s Human Rights Council session.

Reportedly, Chen Jianfang was told that she was barred from travelling abroad for life, while Cao Shunli was detained by Chinese security authorities on 14 September. Cao Shunli’s family has allegedly not received any formal notification of her detention.

It was also reported that Chinese civil society activists, who have been demonstrating since June to defend their right to participate and receive information on China’s report to the UPR, have been threatened by local authorities on various occasions.

“These reports suggest there have been acts of reprisals against people who seek to cooperate with the UN,” said Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya. “Defenders play a key role in holding States to account for the implementation of their human rights obligations, including at the international level. Their legitimate work should be fully respected.”

China accepted recommendations made during its first review in 2009 to strengthen its engagement with civil society to promote and protect human rights.

The Chinese Government informed the UN experts that non-governmental organizations were consulted ahead of the UPR session and that the draft of the national report was available on its official website for comments.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, said that even if some organizations had participated in the UPR preparations, “nothing can justify excluding legitimate voices through intimidation”.

“Access to information and an open space for the free exchange of opinions and ideas are essential to ensure a proper review of the human rights record of any country,” Mr. La Rue stressed.

“Impeding people, who are demanding to participate in the UPR, from peacefully demonstrating constitutes a breach of China’s international obligations to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, one of the core rights to be enjoyed in a democracy,” said Maina Kai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

“As made clear by the Human Rights Council in its latest resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, this obligation includes facilitating peaceful protests by providing protestors with access to public space, and protecting them, where necessary, against any threats,” he explained.

Commenting on the situation of Cao Shunli, the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances noted that “accurate information on the detention of any person, including the reasons and place of detention, shall be made promptly available to their family members and their counsel”.

The UN independent experts have asked the Chinese authorities for further information regarding these allegations. They have also called for the immediate release of all those detained after peacefully protesting for more civil society participation in the UPR process and advocating for human rights and good governance.

“These serious allegations must be investigated thoroughly and impartially by the Chinese authorities,” the experts concluded.

(*) The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. With the UN Human Rights Council’s support, the UPR provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. It also provides the opportunity for civil society organisations to engage in the process, which aims at reminding States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. Learn more, visit:

UN Human Rights – China:

For more information log on to:
Human rights defenders:
Freedom of expression:
Peaceful assembly:
Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances:

Human Rights Council - Resolution 22/10:

For more information and media requests, please contact Guillaume Pfeifflé (Tel: +41 22 917 9384 / [email protected]) or Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:

Watch “20 years of human rights - the road ahead”: