China Seminar | 8 December 2011

China’s Engagement in the UN Human Rights System: A Catalyst for Change?

Carole J. Petersen Carole J. Petersen

As recently as the 1980s, the People’s Republic of China rejected international efforts to monitor human rights as unwarranted interference in domestic affairs. However, in the past three decades, Beijing has ratified six of the nine “core” human rights treaties, which means that it now regularly reports to UN treaty-monitoring committees. Beijing’s interactions with these committees are often strained and the government has angrily rejected many of their recommendations. Despite this tension, China recently took its engagement in the system to a new level, by actively helping to draft and promote the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. China’s first report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities indicates that Beijing hopes to gain a positive assessment from this committee. China provides a fascinating case study of the efficacy of the international reporting process; if the system is effective then we should be able to document concrete improvements in human rights following treaty ratification.

Carole J. Petersen is a Professor and Director of the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also teaches international law and international human rights in the William S. Richardson School of Law and is a member of the Center for Chinese Studies. She taught in the University of Hong Kong from 1991-2006 and was Director of its Centre for Comparative and Public Law from 2001-2004. Petersen’s publications include: Human Rights in Asia (co-edited with Randall Peerenboom and Albert Chen, 2006); Academic Freedom in Hong Kong (co-authored with Jan Currie and Ka Ho Mok, 2006); and National Security and Fundamental Freedoms: Hong Kong’s Article 23 Under Scrutiny (co-edited with Fu Hualing and Simon N.M. Young).