China’s poverty alleviation must be accompanied by accountability – UN rights expert

23 August 2016

China has made huge progress in poverty alleviation, but needs meaningful accountability mechanisms that citizens can use when their rights are violated in the context of development-related activities, a United Nations human rights expert said today


“China’s achievements in alleviating extreme poverty in recent years, and in meeting highly ambitious targets for improving social well-being, have been extraordinary,” said the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said in a news release as he wrapped up his fact-finding trip to the country.

He noted that China’s President, Xi Jinping, has promised to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020, so that no one should be left behind. This meant lifting 55.75 million rural people out of ‘extreme poverty,’ defined by reference to an income-based standard of $2.30 per day or 2,800 yuan per year.

However, an important part of the human rights dimension of the challenge has so far been neglected, Mr. Alston pointed out.

“China has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and has consistently emphasized its commitment to guaranteeing those rights,” he said.

For these rights to be treated like human rights, rather than broad development goals, three essential steps need to be taken, he said. First, the recognition of the rights in legislative or other form, second, the creation of institutions to promote their realization, and third the provision of accountability mechanisms to ensure redress for violations, he noted.

Most of the rights are not specifically recognized in legislation, and no institutions exist that promote these rights as human rights. But the biggest challenge relates to mechanisms for redress and accountability, which are an indispensable component of a human rights approach, he said.

“China has much to be proud of in the field of poverty alleviation. However, if it is to effectively ensure the implementation of its economic and social rights obligations, it needs to adopt more robust mechanisms for citizen involvement and for governmental accountability,” he noted.

During his nine-day visit to China, the human rights expert met and engaged with the central government and with local governments, non-governmental organizations, representatives of international organizations, and academic experts in Beijing and in Yunnan province.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with his full findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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