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China Cites “State Secrets” in Rejecting Civil Society Participation in Universal Periodic Review

China Cites “State Secrets” in Rejecting Civil Society Participation in Universal Periodic Review

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 2, 2013) – The Chinese government must stop harassing and persecuting activists for requesting to participate in the Universal Periodic Review of the country’s human rights record, and instead allow members of civil society to play an important role in the process. Government officials have stated in a document obtained by CHRD that its drafting and dissemination of materials related to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) are “state secrets.” Since 2008, when China was coming up for its first UPR in February 2009, authorities have repeatedly denied requests from Chinese citizens for information concerning the drafting and implementation of the government’s “National Human Rights Report” for UPR as well as its “National Human Rights Action Plan.” At least one activist remains incarcerated for organizing efforts to press the government to disclose UPR-related information.

“China treats UPR as a foreign affair, handled through backroom dealings among diplomats in Geneva,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “By blocking citizens’ participation back home, the government has made UPR largely a pointless exercise in China. The population has been kept in the dark, and very few meaningful improvements have been made based on recommendations that have emerged from the 2009 UPR.”

The Chinese government has shrouded in secrecy information about its “National Human Rights Report” being prepared for the country’s second UPR, which will take place on October 22, 2013. In a rare response after requests of information by hundreds of Chinese citizens in the past four years about the upcoming UPR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated in an official document in November 2012 that such materials constituted “state secrets” and could not be disclosed. (See MFA reply in Chinese and English.)

However, CHRD contends that the requested information by the activists in no way involve “state secrets.” In fact, the citizens have mainly sought to contribute to the drafting and preparation of China’s human rights report, meet with Chinese officials to discuss government failures in addressing rights abuses and seeking solutions, and submit information about rights conditions that could be considered for the report. They have also requested to learn more about the “working group” that was said to have put together China’s report for its 2009 UPR, as well as about government agencies involved in drafting the report for the coming UPR and NGOs that have supposedly been consulted. (See below for Chinese-language applications that activists have submitted to the MFA.)

CHRD has documented abuses against Chinese activists who have led the efforts to request the government to both disclose materials about its UPR and permit civil society participation in the reviews. Since such a request was first submitted in December 2008, some of the leading activists have been intimidated, put under house arrest or detained. Beijing petitioner and rights defender Cao Shunli (曹顺利), who has strongly advocated for including the views of petitioners in deliberating China’s human rights plans, has been detained several times since 2008. For example, Cao and fellow activist Zhang Ming (张明) were seized by Beijing police in February 2009 after trying to submit an application at the State Council Information Office about assisting to draft the first “National Human Rights Action Plan.” At the time, CHRD expressed alarm about this troubling incident, especially in light of the emphasis placed by China at the UN on “broad consultation” with the public in drafting the plan prior to China’s first UPR. CHRD reported in April 2009 that, though China’s first plan claimed “broad participation by the relevant government departments and all social sectors,” the organizations involved in the drafting were all government-organized NGOs (GONGOs), and academics who participated were hand-picked by authorities from state-run research institutions.

On December 9, 2011—the eve of UN Human Rights Day—Cao Shunli and another activist, Hu Guang (胡光), were briefly taken into custody by police in Beijing after preparing to submit an application to help draft China’s “Human Rights Action Plan for 2012-2015.” And on August 13, 2012, Beijing police seized more than a dozen activists on their way to the State Council Information Office, where they hoped to submit an application for public disclosure about the Action Plan’s drafting process. At the time, State Council representatives simply cited “instructions from above” in refusing to accept the activists’ appeals.

While most citizens seized have been held only temporarily, Peng Lanlan (彭兰岚), an activist from Hunan Province, still remains in police custody after being detained in August 2012 on a charge of “obstructing official business.”Peng, who has reportedly been tortured in detention, had surveyed petitioners and collected signatures to support an application for information disclosure on the drafting process of China’s second “Human Rights Action Plan.”

“Without free and open public consultation in the UPR process at the national level in China, this year’s second Universal Periodic Review on China is sure to become only another display of China’s diplomatic muscle, making a mockery of UN efforts at meaningful scrutiny of governments’ rights records,” said Renee Xia.

CHRD urges the Chinese government to allow independent investigation of violations that have occurred against Chinese citizens who have sought to take part in and obtain information about China’s UPR, and also unconditionally release Peng Lanlan from detention. CHRD also asks the Chinese government to respect the principles and guidelines of UPR pertaining to civil society participation and the open process of public consultation. CHRD further requests the President of the UN Human Rights Council inquire about allegations of harassment and intimidation against Chinese citizens and Chinese authorities’ sealing of UPR-related information as “state secrets.”

Related documents :

Application to participate in National Human Rights Action Plan, December 10, 2008 (CH)

PRC MFA reply to 2008 application, December 18, 2008 (CH)

Application to participate in National Human Rights Action Plan, December 10, 2011 (CH)


Media contacts

Renee Xia, International Director, +1 240 374 8937,

Victor Clemens, Researcher, +852 8192 7875,


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