China’s official positions on reprisals: when cooperation with the UN is a ‘criminal act’

This new ISHR report presents the evolution of China’s public stance on reprisals in dialogues at the UN, and summarises the way in which it has portrayed civil society’s cooperation with the UN as a ‘criminal act’.

In 2021, the UN Human Rights Council adopted its annual resolution on reprisals, recommending the annual report prepared by the UN Secretary-General to be discussed not only at the UN Human Rights Council, but also at the UN General Assembly. While this resolution enjoyed a collective support and was adopted by consensus – without a vote –, China ‘dissociated’ itself from the resolution. It went further to assert that the process was being used ‘to cover up criminal behaviour’ and not ‘respecting the legitimacy of States punishing criminal acts according to law.’

China stands out as a top perpetrator of reprisals in the UN Secretary General’s annual report, subjecting human rights defenders to various forms of threats and retaliation for cooperating – or merely trying to cooperate – with the UN. Cao Shunli was one of them, and her death in custody before flying to Geneva still awaits justice. 

-- Raphaël Viana David, Acting Asia Programme Manager

These acts have been justified in the name of national security and law enforcement. In the UN Secretary-General’s 2020 report, China was listed among the 11 countries cited for engaging in ‘patterns of reprisals’. The forms of reprisals related to engagement with the UN ranged from harassment, physical assaults, intimidation, travel bans, police investigation, to torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. 

This report highlights the body of information provided by the UN on China’s patterns and practices of reprisals. Through analysis of China’s engagement in negotiations during annual resolutions on reprisals, and public dialogues with UN officials on the topic, it illustrates how the Chinese government has evolved towards an openly denialist, confrontational and uncompromising position. 

The report also makes recommendations to the Chinese government, UN bodies and governments, with a view to ensure that everyone can access and communicate with the UN safely and effectively, without the fear of reprisals. 


For further information about the report, please contact ISHR’s Raphaël Viana David at [email protected]