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’s demands 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.
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