UN Special Rapporteur condemns China's targeting of human rights lawyers in letter to the government
24 april 2024

UN Special Rapporteur condemns China’s targeting of human rights lawyers in letter to the government


The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, issued a detailed letter on February 14, 2024, addressing the People’s Republic of China about severe restrictions on human rights lawyers. Recently made public, this letter exposes systemic issues that severely impact the legal profession within China. 

Satterthwaite’s letter articulates deep concerns regarding the amendments to the Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers and the Measures on the Administration of Law Firms, revised in 2016 and 2018, respectively. These measures impose stringent restrictions on the actions of lawyers, demanding loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and adherence to the socialist rule of law, thus constraining lawyers’ ability to operate independently. 

The letter emphasizes the problematic nature of China’s annual inspection system for lawyers, which potentially compromises judicial independence by monitoring and sometimes sanctioning lawyers engaged with politically sensitive cases. It details a pattern of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances (using Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location), arbitrary detentions, and closed-door trials. 

Furthermore, Satterthwaite raises specific instances of abuse where legal and administrative mechanisms have been used to impose national security charges, and systematically harass family members of targeted lawyers. She calls for an immediate review of these laws and regulations to ensure they align with international human rights standards, stressing the need to protect lawyers’ freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. 

The Special Rapporteur underscores the obligations of China under international human rights laws, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. She highlights the need for legal reforms that ensure lawyers can conduct their professional duties without fear of intimidation or interference. 

The concerns and specific cases mentioned in Satterthwaite’s letter were also reflected in a Universal Periodic Review report submitted by Lawyers for Lawyers in July 2023. This submission to the UPR underscores the ongoing international concern over the treatment of human rights lawyers in China. 

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