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UN Expert Body Wraps Up Dialogue with China on Anti-Discrimination Efforts

August 10, 2009

On Monday, August 10, in Geneva, a United Nations expert body concluded its dialogue with a Chinese delegation on China’s progress in implementing its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the “Convention”).

In two review and dialogue sessions characterized as constructive, open, and frank by both the Chinese delegation and the expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the “Committee”), the Chinese government emphasized a “comprehensive” system of law and constitutional provisions that protect the rights of ethnic minorities, and recited numerous statistics regarding economic development in the ethnic regions.

The Committee raised many issues concerning the processes in place for protecting the rights of China’s ethnic minority groups, as well as key systemic problems that impede the protection of these rights. Among the systemic issues raised by the Committee were:

  1. The disparity between the formal system of law, regulations, and policies and the situation on the ground;
  2. Unequal development between the Western regions and the coastal areas in the East, and between ethnic minority groups and Han Chinese;
  3. The role of the legal profession and the difficulties faced by lawyers; and
  4. The role of civil society in preparing the government report to the Committee, as well as the situation of civil society generally.

Some specific questions raised by the Committee included:

  1. Whether the hukou system – the system of household registration dividing the population into urban and rural categories – constitutes descent-based discrimination;
  2. Whether there are any statistics and information on the number of complaints, trials, and sentences concerning instances of racial discrimination (noting that a low number of complaints is not necessarily a positive indicator, as it may suggest low rights awareness, fear of social reprisal, difficulty in establishing evidence of discrimination, or a lack of trust in the judicial system);
  3. Whether the one-country, two-system policy that applies in Hong Kong and Macao could be applied to Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and, if not and if there were no appropriate explanation, whether the different treatment might constitute racial discrimination under the Convention; and
  4. What measures, if any, the Chinese government is planning in order to promote national unity and ethnic harmony in XUAR after the protests and violence of July 2009.

“The Chinese government has become increasingly sophisticated with the processes and more fluent in the language of the UN human rights system,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “It has to demonstrate that it is implementing protection of rights, and provide relevant and accurate information documenting genuine progress and impact.”

The Committee will issue a final country report on China by the end of August. The Committee is a body of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring implementation by State parties to the Convention. As a party to the Convention, China is required to report regularly to the Committee on its efforts to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.

For more information on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination review of China, see: