domestic human rights practices in China

Congress, China and the WTO - Wright State University

China and the WTO Prepare for fireworks ..

It may be noted that both the HRC and the European Court have found on the facts presented in particular cases that single States are not responsible for the actions of international organizations themselves. However, a State still violates its human rights obligations when it takes measures to comply with a WTO rule if that implementation breaches human rights (a situation analogous to the case of ), and perhaps in regard to its own actions in voting within an international institution for a rights violating rule or in enforcing an international rule that harms human rights against another State. The latter example brings up the issue of a State’s human rights responsibility for its extraterritorial actions and the extraterritorial impacts of its actions or omissions. That issue is discussed in Chapter .

The US State Department’s latest report on human rights in China can be read here.


Pauwelyn concedes that a WTO panel cannot enforce another treaty obligation: human rights obligations in his view can only be used as a shield rather than a sword. The Appellate Body confirmed in that it is not able to determine rights and duties under other international treaties.

It is true that China’s human rights record is not the worst among the WTO members

Some treaties explicitly address potential conflicts with other treaties. The UN Charter expressly prevails over other international law obligations under Article 103. As noted above, human rights promotion is an explicit purpose in Article 1(3) of the UN, and provides for some broad if vague human rights obligations for Member States in Articles 55 and 56. The Charter does not, in contrast, explicitly refer to the promotion of trade between nations. Given the placement of human rights at the core of the Charter, Adam McBeth has argued that human rights should be recognized as having a pre-eminent status in international law. Furthermore, it has been persuasively argued that the UDHR represents an authoritative interpretation of human rights for the purposes of the Charter, thus endowing its norms with the primacy of the Charter.

The U.S.-China WTO Agreement Will Help Promote Reform, Accountability, and Openness in China

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International human rights law generally embraces universality rather than relativism, though some right limitations based on culture are permissible. That does not mean that human rights law dictates cultural homogeneity. In fact, cultural practices are protected under human rights law under provisions such as Article 27 of the ICCPR, Article 15 of the ICESCR, and the requirement regarding the right to food in Article 11 of the ICESCR that food must be culturally appropriate. Indeed, human rights law provides a buffer against the dangers of the erosion of vulnerable minority cultures posed by certain economic development projects. However, human rights law also imposes minimum standards under which certain practices which are claimed to be based in a local culture, such as female genital mutilation, prohibitions on apostasy, and persecution of gays and lesbians, are simply unacceptable.

International Labor Rights Forum

Is there an applicable hierarchy in international law between international human rights law and WTO law? In the case of contradictory obligations, does one of these areas of law prevail over the other? This question gives rise to the issue of fragmentation, the subject of a 2006 report by a Study Group of the International Law Commission. ‘Fragmentation’ refers to the phenomenon of States being subjected to specialist systems of international law, such as trade law and human rights law, which have developed largely in isolation from each other.

International Edition | South China Morning Post

At this point, it is appropriate to mention the related challenges of cultural and economic relativism to international human rights law, and their relevance to the WTO/human rights debate. Cultural relativist arguments postulate that the application of human rights varies according to the different cultures of States. Such arguments generally emanate from non-Western States, which is perhaps unsurprising given the oft-accepted Western philosophical origin of human rights, particularly civil and political rights. For example, Colonel Ignatius Acheampong, former Head of State in Ghana, stated that ‘one man, one vote’ was ‘meaningless unless accompanied by the principle of one man, one bread’.

China - Trade - European Commission

Finally, as argued in Chapters 5 to 7, the basic premise that WTO rules in fact facilitate economic growth and ‘a bigger pie’ is challengeable in the case of many developing States. In fact, WTO rules may restrict the capacities of some States to develop their economies and cater for the adjustment costs of the losers from free trade. WTO rules may be diminishing the economic capacities of some States, which impacts on their abilities to discharge their human rights obligations.