As we mark Human Rights Day on 10 December 2020, and head towards the new year, we think about how to recover better in 2021. This year the UN is calling on everyone to ensure that human rights are central to recovery efforts in a post-Covid world. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, points out that the “contribution of civil society to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital”.

We, at The Rights Practice, also believe that building capacity for civil society is central to advancing human rights. We have been working on our organisational strategy and focus for the upcoming years. This includes how we can best work towards our mission of helping to build a world in which everyone can live in dignity. The capacity of Chinese civil society to overcome complex political and development challenges is more important than ever.

This year saw the chilling effects of a new National Security Law in Hong Kong, mass detentions in Xinjiang and reports of Uyghur forced labour across China, and continued efforts by the Chinese government to undermine the work of the UN. Citizen journalists reporting at the beginning of the pandemic, in Wuhan, have been detained. NGO workers, Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong were tried between 31 August and 4 September 2020 on the charge of ‘subversion of state power’ for their work advocating for the rights of marginalised groups and the rights of the most vulnerable people in society. Their lawyers and families have not received any information about the verdict. In November, we wrote an open letter, along with three other organisations to Chinese officials raising concerns about their status.

This week, lawyer Tang Jitian has been detained, and human rights lawyers Xie Yanyi, Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang have reportedly been placed under house arrest. This is likely an effort to stop them marking Human Rights Day.

But since early 2020, other human rights defenders and lawyers in China have been creatively overcoming the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how to stay resilient and productive. They’ve been increasingly focusing on mental health, for those facing the death penalty, lawyers facing detention, to individuals trying to live in a society of mass surveillance. We can all learn from this optimism and the desire to build a better world.

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