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Engaging China on Human Rights: The UN Labyrinth

October 29, 2010
* The views expressed in this interview represent personal views and do not represent the official positions of the UN Committee Against Torture or the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

An American expert on human rights and UN veteran discusses the challenges posed by China at the UN.

HRIC: Throughout your rich career, you have taken on a broad range of roles in advancing human rights. Can you begin with an introduction and description of this work?

Felice Gaer: I’ve worked on human rights for all of my professional life. I’ve tried to balance an interest in principles and norms with action. You have to engage others, real people, and other players. I’ve worked with and served on boards of NGOs. And I’ve taught and instructed students about human rights and the United Nations. I’m the first and so far the only American who has served on the UN Committee Against Torture, which is a treaty body of ten independent experts who are nominated and elected by states.1 I’ve also engaged in other public activism through the U.S. government commission I serve on. I had some experience in the 1990s with intergovernmental negotiations as a Public Member of government delegations. So I’ve seen human rights engagement in different diplomatic contexts and nondiplomatic contexts.

HRIC: And you haven’t lost your sense of humor throughout all of this!

Felice Gaer: This is an area where you can easily lose your sense of humor because the stakes are high, the opponents are very serious, very skilled, and they work to defeat you. If their arguments don’t work, they’re prepared to outlast you in any way. So you have to view engagement on human rights as a marathon.


HRIC: This is particularly true of engagement with China. How would you describe engagement as a process? Or in the context of criticisms that NGOs are not “engaged,” that they are simply critical? Does engagement work, particularly with respect to these debates?

Felice Gaer: You can’t change things if you’re just talking to yourself. This is basic to the concept of engagement. How do you establish international norms? How do you bring about compliance with international norms? You have to interact with those who can implement them: other people, legal bodies, institutions, and leaders, as well as with the ideas themselves. The question with regard to engagement on China’s human rights has been brought into the policy arena (in terms of the language and agenda that we use) in part because China has had periods of isolation, including the self-imposed isolation of the Cultural Revolution, for example. But of course there are many other examples.

One of the interesting developments regarding engagement is that China has signed and ratified quite a number of human rights treaties. China once stated that human rights are all Western-imposed standards that it didn’t accept. But now China itself has engaged with the norms, treaties, and their monitoring institutions. I don’t know what brought this change. But, I guess once the People’s Republic of China was given the China seat in the Security Council [in 1971, replacing Taiwan], the UN became a place where China could engage. After Tiananmen the UN became somewhere China had to engage, particularly if officials wanted to block action or criticism, whether it was in the Commission on Human Rights or any other specialized committee.

A key question is whether engagement is always friendly. Those who criticize engagement tend to see it as too friendly. There is even a fear that if you engage, you tend to absorb some of the positions of the others you engage with, and maybe even too many of their ideas! But in many ways that is a false perception or characterization of what engagement is about. Engagement may involve rationally trying to educate others about the logic of your position on an issue. But it can be more: engagement is often designed to gain leverage for some issues when negotiating in a broader context. It’s often aimed at linking certain key issues to other more difficult ones and creating movement and improvement. It’s not about being accommodationist. I think that people also fear that by engaging, weak people will accept things that they wouldn’t otherwise accept.

How China Engages the United Nations

Felice Gaer: In the UN, while China has accepted many human rights norms, it has often worked to make the instrumentalities that monitor them toothless— to render them into almost powerless entities, for example, creating a committee that cannot speak out, a procedure that cannot name names, or instruments that can’t promote compliance. If a representative is critical of China, the response from China is often retaliatory tactics that have been described as bullying tactics. The charge is that the individual or country is being “confrontational” when it should instead be “cooperative.” I can recall threats to NGO representatives who were present at human rights meetings who were “engaged” by China with warnings, hostile photo-taking, and public denunciations, solely because they were present and concerned about human rights in China. Sometimes the response is to shrink back, give in, or become silent. But hostility doesn’t have to be met with accommodationist responses. In a political forum it’s appropriate and even effective to respond to a challenge by standing your ground, particularly if you’re sure of your information, your facts, the law, and know what you’re talking about. One of the results of successful engagement at the UN, for example, is that a more robust exchange can take place.

What I have found has been that in these exchanges, procedure sometimes becomes as important, or even more important, than substance. If one side wins on procedure, it can constrain the information, the debate, and even block the discussion permanently. Quarrels arise over the meeting room, the size of the podium, the number of persons who can attend, who is positioned where—these issues come up and can consume more energy than imagined. Indeed, when those things are finished, other participants may become exhausted. If you really wanted to engage, then you shouldn’t use tactics that get you nowhere.

China’s Bullying Tactics

HRIC: These bullying tactics are directed at a wide range of actors, beyond NGOs.

Felice Gaer: Absolutely. Threats are directed against NGOs, and particularly ethnically-Chinese NGOs, but bullying tactics have been known to be directed against governments too. For example, in the UN, if a diplomat says the wrong thing, his or her career, and chance of ever becoming a chairman of a committee or a Special Envoy, could be ruined. A famous example of this was Denmark in the 1990s regarding the introduction of a resolution on China at the Commission on Human Rights. You’ll remember that initially the U.S. didn’t put forward a resolution, while Australia and other countries did. Apparently the U.S. had decided that it wouldn’t introduce a resolution critical of China, and may have promised as much to the PRC government. So finding another country to bring it forward became very important. EU countries agreed to do so but several disagreed, breaking the unity it sought. Denmark then stepped forward to introduce the resolution alone. After that, the U.S. and a variety of countries rallied behind and voted in favor of it. Afterwards, poor Denmark was threatened by China with a trade embargo and more to the point—Denmark had to step back the next year because it was alone and being punished. After that, the U.S. finally stepped up to introduce the resolutions. China threatened the U.S. diplomats, claiming that they would be isolated and defeated. But, for a number of years, the U.S. continued to introduce a resolution focused on China’s human rights record, because, as one U.S. diplomat told me, “We don’t care about being alone, and they know it.”

Universal Periodic Review
If a representative is critical of China, the response from China is often retaliatory tactics that have been described as bullying tactics. . . . But hostility doesn’t have to be met with accommodationist responses. In a political forum it’s appropriate and even effective to respond to a challenge by standing your ground.

Felice Gaer: As recently as February 2009, when the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China took place,2 UPR was supposed to be a “cooperative” mechanism, applied to all 192 UN member states, with discussion in public sessions. I received reports that China’s ambassador visited delegations before the review to emphasize that any issue that was of concern should be raised privately on a bilateral basis, but not in the public UPR forum, even though that is what the review of each country normally consists of. This was a classic example of bilateralizing the universal. Ironically, the value of the UPR examination of compliance with norms resides in the mechanism’s special capacity to examine universal norms in a universal body. Reciprocal deals between parties not to speak out undermine this core purpose. Beyond that, these deals pose the threat of descending beyond the lower limits of what the standards prescribe.

When China engages with the international community, it does so with a whole range of purposes. For example, recently we have observed that China engages in the UPR reviews of these countries at the Human Rights Council; China asks these countries under review lots of questions. The questions are almost always about economic and social rights, women’s rights, or children’s rights. Now and then China raises some other topic. For example, it challenged Finland as to whether it had found a way to really involve independent NGOs in the national preparation of its human rights UPR report. Most of the time, China has not offered formal recommendations as part of the UPR process, but China has raised many questions probing the human rights principles and practices of the countries under review. A question can be as minimalist as, ‘‘Oh, I see that you’ve promised to ratify a treaty. What are you doing about it?” Questions come in all shapes and sizes. The value of the UPR process will depend on the quality of the questions asked. So far, the official UN documentation on which to base questions has been quite good. But other states have needed still more information and thus be empowered to ask serious questions of a country like China. Because they are government representatives standing up and asking the questions, they also have to have approval from their home governments. This requires a lot of advance planning.

HRIC: Can you comment on the U.S. administration’s shifting position on engagement at the UN? For example, as you pointed out, the U.S. ultimately did not even sign up to speak as an observer state during the UPR review of China.

Felice Gaer: This is a little bit complicated because it relates to the entire U.S. approach to the UN’s human rights bodies. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan decided in 2005 to seek a new human rights body, the Human Rights Council, to replace the Human Rights Commission, which he criticized as lacking credibility and professionalism. The U.S. did not join the new Human Rights Council. Some argued the new Council was not capable of taking actions to condemn the egregious violations and was biased against Israel, which is true. The critique may be correct, but for a policy maker the question becomes how do you change it. The Bush administration decided that you change it by criticizing it and staying away. Others felt that you have to participate and engage in order to bring your complaints forward and fight for the vindication of universal norms.

The U.S. participation in the UPR process was hampered by the shifting policies at the end of one administration and the beginning of another. After the Human Rights Council was created, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said the U.S. was not going to be a member but would engage on issues it cares about. U.S. officials later claimed that its diplomatic personnel in Geneva were doing too much engagement with the Council. So they limited what could be done. At the end of the Bush administration, orders were given to U.S. diplomats not to engage on any issue unless specifically instructed to.

When the Obama administration came in, one of the first international human rights events was a UPR session in early February 2009 that examined policies in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and about half a dozen other countries. The U.S. Mission staff in Geneva was ready with specific questions to be raised in public during the UPR, which was created precisely to review every single country in the world. Yet, the new U.S. administration instructed the Mission’s personnel not to raise any questions in public during the session until U.S. policy on the Human Rights Council was worked out. This was changed not long afterwards, but an important opportunity was missed to publicly address human rights in some of the most important countries.

To its discredit, the UN Commission said nothing about the depredations of the Cultural Revolution in China and the pattern of rights violations.

Let me explain the importance of the U.S. voice in the UN human rights bodies. The U.S. asks some of the most direct questions—for example, the U.S. is one of a few countries that raised specific names and cases of human rights violations in the UPR process instead of generic questions about laws and general practices. The annual U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports contain details on cases, people, and specific abuses, and have been a substantial resource for the U.S. in this effort.3 The opportunity to raise such issues face-to-face, in public, particularly at a formal session of the UN Human Rights Council, comes very rarely. Frankly, the opportunity to raise substantive issues about China’s human rights performance had not come about in all those years in the UN Commission on Human Rights when resolutions were presented annually. So here was an opportunity to do so and it was missed. It was one of the most regretful human rights decisions of the early transition period of the Obama administration.

Major Shifts within the UN

HRIC: Can you map the relationship between the UN and China, both from the perspective of China’s engagement in the UN and the way the UN, as a body, has engaged China? Can you also comment on some of the structural and internal shifts within the UN over the past few decades?

Felice Gaer: In the early years of the UN, the focus was simply on defining rights. The UN Charter mentions human rights five times, but it never tells you what they are. It calls for universal respect for and observation of human rights.4 It did mention non-discrimination on four grounds: race, religion, sex, and language. For years, the UN Commission on Human Rights discussed and debated what are these human rights and fundamental freedoms, but never mentioned the names of any countries. In fact, they explicitly adopted a resolution saying the UN had no power to address individual cases or situations or countries. This changed in the 1970s and 1980s, substantially, and the human rights bodies began to establish rapporteurs and working groups—investigators, and teams of experts—who began to look into specific cases of forced disappearances, summary and arbitrary executions, religious intolerance, and a few specific countries as well. Mainland China of course did not have a UN seat until 1971 and only joined the Commission on Human Rights in the early 1980s. To its discredit, the UN Commission said nothing about the depredations of the Cultural Revolution in China and the pattern of rights violations.

After the Chinese government violently cracked down on the 1989 Democracy Movement, there began a specific effort to adopt a country-specific resolution critical of China’s human rights crackdown. Many governments spent countless days and hours drafting agreed language for a resolution to be introduced every year. They never succeeded in getting one adopted. When these resolutions were introduced, another country (and then eventually I believe it was China itself), would introduce a “no-action” motion calling for the draft substantive resolution to be set aside. Usually those no-action motions succeeded and there would be no formal vote on the substantive resolution. If you were a small country that was concerned with trade with China, then the easiest thing for you would be to support a “no-action” procedural motion and avoid being forced to vote on the substantive issue of whether China pursued human rights abuses.

Until 1995, the procedural no-action motions on proposed China resolutions succeeded. However, in 1995, a no-action motion was defeated and the substantive resolution actually came to the floor for a vote. However, Russia changed its vote and the motion to cite China’s human rights violations was defeated. Introducing these resolutions on human rights in China became a rallying point for human rights defenders. The government of China went to great lengths to prevent the introduction of these resolutions to make sure that there would be no rallying point for the human rights movement in China or abroad regarding the human rights situation in China. The irony was that consideration of almost all other countries’ situations would go through the UN Commission relatively quickly. But the resolutions dealing with human rights in China would go through a procedural round and never got to the substantive consideration except for once.

“Confrontation” versus “Cooperation” in the Human Rights Council: The China Factor

HRIC: The debates that shaped the formation of the Human Rights Council also reflected this history—especially arguments that the new council should move away from devoting that much time on these country resolutions that name and condemn particular countries.

Felice Gaer: The debates about how to structure the Human Rights Council seemed interminable. They examined then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recommendation to create a more credible human rights body through two different lenses. Some wanted it to be effective in bringing country-specific compliance with human rights norms and others wanted to go back to establish a weaker body concentrating on generalities as in the early years. One of the countries leading the efforts to move away from country-specific scrutiny was China. It used all the arguments that had been used before—urging all actions be universal, that there should be an end to “confrontation,” and that “cooperation” should bring equal treatment of all states. But how do you address human rights equally if it is violated severely in some places, and not in others?

China was particularly vocal in negotiations, with Chinese leadership aimed at limiting the new body’s scrutiny to a cooperative mechanism. The word “cooperation” took on a real political meaning in these discussions. It was raised as an alternative way to engage in country-specific scrutiny. Scrutiny of a country concerned would be solely on a voluntary basis. This was contrasted explicitly with what was a “confrontational” style of operation. The U.S. and other countries were accused of taking a “confrontational” approach to other countries at the Commission on Human Rights. A variety of countries that had been under scrutiny also condemned the “confrontational” approach and stated that they now wished to “rationalize” the UN machinery. The call for “rationalization” became a code word— a way to cut back investigations and to assure that the special procedures and special rapporteurs didn’t identify actual problems. There were many who felt the UPR mechanism would be the key to going from the “confrontational” to the “cooperative” mechanism.

But cooperation has to include some level of scrutiny of compliance. Compliance requires a country to take action to prevent abuses. That’s the whole purpose of these bodies—not just to show up and talk about vague generalities, but to bring about universal respect for human rights, as the UN Charter states, in a way that will affect real people. But instead the idea that cooperation alone was what mattered was advanced in the debates.

HRIC: This rejection of more critical scrutiny really does undercut compliance and the requirement of independent assessment and mechanisms. For example, when China resisted requests for visits by special rapporteurs by saying that it only consents to visits by special rapporteurs if the visit is a “friendly” visit. But if the mandate of the rapporteur states that requests for visits should be made if there is credible evidence of pervasive or widespread abuses, then that seems to undercut the whole mandate when a government declares that it will only host “friendly” visits.

Felice Gaer: You’re right. Being able to say “I accept” or “I reject” UPR recommendations at the Human Rights Council by the country under review, is a way to reject scrutiny. Some members figured out that when a country actively rejects a recommendation, it is also taking an action—a clear indication of its approach to human rights compliance. This can also be used to demonstrate a country’s cooperative approach. What has to be studied in the years ahead is what things have been rejected and why. And if protecting a guaranteed right has been systematically rejected, what does that tell us about “cooperation”?

HRIC: It was also revealing and surprising that our organization’s analysis of the UPR recommendations that were either accepted or rejected did not generate more reactions. The systematic rejection of basic recommendations aimed at ensuring independence of the judiciary or protection of human rights defenders should have raised more of a red flag.5 From the Chinese government’s perspective, from our reading of the delegation’s apparently relaxed and pleased demeanor afterwards, it seems they felt the review went really well; they actually seemed very relieved and happy.

Felice Gaer: You’ve said what needs to be said.

One of the countries leading the efforts to move away from country-specific scrutiny was China. It used all the arguments that had been used before—urging all actions be universal, that there should be an end to “confrontation,” and that “cooperation” should bring equal treatment of all states. But how do you address human rights equally if it is violated severely in some places, and not in others?
International Human Rights Progress?

HRIC: If these mechanisms often seem like a totally stacked deck of cards with a China bully holding them all—is there progress within the international human rights system that we can look at?

Felice Gaer: We’ve seen dramatic changes from earlier years when the UN was powerless to look into any cases and able to talk only in generalities. Now there are ten treaty bodies of independent experts who examine compliance. We have 39 special procedures, with special rapporteurs and independent experts. While some of the topics covered are not ones found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we do have strong mechanisms dealing with torture, the judiciary, freedom of expression, etc. A lot of major human rights issues are being monitored annually, and thoroughly. The UN is reporting about rights issues more than ever.

The question is what difference does this make for the countries concerned? To begin with, we’re getting the facts out there so no one can say they are hidden. Secondly, we’re getting focused recommendations that should be a guide for action; in fact, each of these mechanisms annually recommends what can be done. Many countries respond to those recommendations. In the case of China, we’ve moved from seeing China reject international law to finding them ratifying the treaties and reporting to the treaty bodies. Unfortunately, the times are dangerous and an interest in weakening the bodies that review compliance seems to be in the ascendant. There have also been changes in laws in China, which is not at all insignificant. Indeed, in the long term, people want to ensure the rule of law, and not rule by law. And in terms of basic principles underlying how law protects and empowers people, we have seen some progress here. Of course, the real test is compliance in actions to protect rights in accordance with the law.

At the same time, when there is pushback and some want to destroy what we’ve built and the progress we’ve gained in empowering people and advancing humanity, there’s a question of whether to simply acquiesce. In the case of China, when there’s pushback, it seems to me incumbent on those responsible for upholding the norms also to push back themselves and not to respond in a way that appears accomodationist, but rather to engage in a focused way to continue to bring about genuine progress in compliance.

In the UN, you’re often engaging with other diplomats. It’s been interesting in the Committee Against Torture that there have also been former Chinese diplomats who have been members. Both have been primarily engaged with Europe: one was an ambassador to Denmark, one was in charge of EU-China cooperation programs. But sometimes the membership of an official delegation is expanded. For example, for a treaty body review, China will bring people from various other ministries into the picture. There must have been 25 or 30 people in the delegation to the Committee Against Torture. Many of them are not normally on the diplomatic circuit. Some of them have different perspectives; they may benefit from the engagement.

Similarly, when UN special rapporteurs travel inside a country, they may have an opportunity to interact with domestic officials with a variety of different responsibilities. Change sometimes results from different perspectives. What’s the purpose of engagement? To bring about compliance and universal respect for human rights. There are different things you can accomplish. The UN human rights offices have established a series of technical assistance programs and bilateral ones as well. Has engagement in these programs brought about any significant changes? Working on the area of torture, we have always noted the fact that breaking the silence is a first and important step. Discussing these issues in the Chinese press and the legal literature is also important in raising awareness. So too are efforts to establish instructions and change laws, to instruct local officials about what is and isn’t permissible. This is where and how to recognize what needs to be changed. We’ve got a long way to go in engaging in these issues, but we’re not at zero. And you do have to take a long-term perspective on some of these topics. On torture, however, you want to take a short-term perspective and make sure that any abusive practices are stopped right away because the government has the power—and the obligation—to do that.

China’s International Clout

HRIC: That’s a good balance of long-term and short-term assessments, as well as an objective look at critical problems. So while there has been progress, why do you think China has been so successful in manipulating the UN processes? Is it because they are particularly skillful in exploiting the weakness in the structure? Or does it come down to the size of the Chinese market?

Felice Gaer: The UN has a variety of bodies. While it is committed in its charter to the equality of nations, both large and small, the permanent members of the Security Council have a, shall we say, special influence within the UN. This has given China more clout in a lot of places. China has used its status as a permanent member of the Security Council in many ways. Also, China understands that engaging in international institutions requires personnel and persistence. There’s an old rule of cybernetics that if you have a football team with 12 members on it and you want to counter that team, what do you do? You put 12 people on the other side of the field. What I mean is that the Chinese have recognized the fact that if they have an ample number of people in enough places in the UN, they can cover the issues better.

Contrast a small country that has come to the UN, whether it’s to a commission or a treaty body. I remember a woman who came to report on treaty compliance from a Latin American country and said to us, “I’m the only person in our country who deals with human rights.” I actually felt sorry for her. There were ten of us, one of her. I can remember individuals serving on the Commission on Human Rights saying the same thing: “I’m here solo.” They’d be sent to cover the myriad of issues—115 resolutions on countries, new standards, and more. And it becomes nearly impossible. Countries like China have been quite good about putting a good team on the field. That is to say, a large number of people who are well-educated, speak English, cover the issues, and are ready to answer criticism.

With 50 people staked out in the room all watching what’s happening in that body, those 50 people can obviously give certain advantages to your team. China has done this numerous times. They have been reported to use a somewhat aggressive style—challenging, threatening, warning, linking issues, and leveraging their very presence—in their “engagement” at the UN. So China uses a combination of having a position on the Security Council, being there, being vocal, linking rights to other policy areas, warning states about the consequences, and trying to minimize the presence of NGOs and validity of outside information. This has been seen to have an impact in convincing a number of countries that it is just easier not to engage on the difficult issues: it’s easier to drop scrutiny of China and move to another situation that is less complicated for them. This is more than just a question of the size of the country or its economy—it’s seen as using “smart” power.

There is also the issue of winning friends and influencing government votes. Remarking on how skilled China is in influencing other countries, a colleague used to say that more roads than one could count were built in third-world countries that happened to be members of the Commission on Human Rights, because of the introduction of the annual China resolution. He called the annual China resolution a “development plan for the third world.” In the run up to the resolution each year, there was also hostage politique—one or two people released, other things traded or promised behind the scenes. There was always a give and take, and diplomatic visits were quite common.

Working for Change from Inside and Outside China

HRIC: In current funding, policy, and program discussions, you can often hear a number of assumptions about working “inside,” usually positioned against working from the “outside.” That is, it is better to work inside a country to effect change, where you may have access to better information and a more immediate impact on local conditions. But the trade-off is often a need to tone down your rhetoric to preserve access, or for the sake of other concerns. Working on the outside you may have the freedom to be more objective and critical, but not the same access to immediate information and contacts that you have on the ground. Can you comment on this insider-outsider paradigm?

Felice Gaer: I mentioned earlier that there’s been some progress and there are some programs—UN, private, and bilateral—working in-country that are focused on technical assistance, human rights, training, improving protections, or enforcing prohibitions on impermissible conduct. If you’re an outsider, you more or less can write or do anything you want regarding country X. But if you establish an in-country presence, you’re vulnerable in a way. When you’re in a country, the authorities have the power to throw you out. When you’re inside the country, you may have better access to information to help bring about change and to carry out needed technical assistance. But, you may not be as independent as when you were abroad. One doesn’t have to be advancing human rights to see this. We can see the way humanitarian aid workers are treated all over the world and note the decline in the decibel level that comes from these groups once they’re inside the country. If you look at human rights groups, it’s probably even clearer that if you have your own people at risk, your own office that can be shut down, etc., and you may moderate your rhetoric and tone because you want to preserve your presence. The same argument works in terms of access more generally. Access sometimes depends on acquiescence. You can see a difference in the way organizations and actors respond in those instances. I’ve heard reports that the Chinese have played that card very effectively with foreign organizations that have wanted to establish offices. I think we’ve all seen this in one form or another in terms of how the rhetoric has changed. So engagement can change the kind of information that is obtained but also diminish what is communicated publicly. It can change the decibel level as well.

HRIC: What about the Internet’s effects on this insider-outsider paradigm? There are over 400 million netizens6 in China, and more than 800 million cell phones,7 of which half are smart phones able to access the Internet. Is it still true that you can get more information when you’re in China, especially in light of information censorship? Certainly for HRIC as an organization, and individuals who have participated in human rights activities, being outside also has real costs, especially for ethnic Chinese or those with families back in China. The Internet seems to add another level of complexity to these tensions.

Felice Gaer: This is a tricky issue. It raises empowerment and control issues. Suddenly anyone with computer and Internet access is empowered. Consider how the UN has changed with the Internet. Thirty or 40 years ago, if individuals were arrested, tortured, or expelled, it would commonly take a few months before the information was out in any form. You wouldn’t have names or much precision, either.

Today, if something happens, you may get information or an e-mail the same day, verifying that it happened, naming names, and see a response or statement from a UN special rapporteur to government officials on the very same day. There’s huge protective value in that kind of use of information. Maybe I’m belaboring the obvious, but the human rights infrastructure that has been built up both inside and outside a country today can really bring about change and have a huge impact. The risks are great as well in terms of control, in terms of accuracy, and in terms of will. We have to put all these pieces of the human rights universe together and make them work to better protect real people from abuses as best we can. And we must try to assure that the corporations that are building the Internet aren’t building other control mechanisms for the Internet and aren’t reporting information that can harm people unwittingly.

HRIC: Thank you for sharing your insights with us.


1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Committee Against Torture – Membership,” ^

2. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Universal Periodic Review – China,” ^

3. U.S. Department of State, “Human Rights Reports,” ^

4. United Nations, Charter of the United Nations (1945), ^

5. See Human Rights in China, “China’s UN Human Rights Review: New Process, Old Politics, Weak Implementation Prospects,” February 9, 2009,; Human Rights in China, “China Rejects UN Recommendations for Substantive Reform to Advance Human Rights; HRIC Summary,” February 11, 2009, ^

6. China Internet Network Information Center, “Internet Fundamental Data,” ^

7. “China – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts,”, ^

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