Hikvision: In China, We Obey PRC Human Rights LawBy: IPVM Team, Published on May 28, 2019
Hikvision defended its activities in Xinjiang, where the PRC is accused of mass human rights abuses, by stating that human rights have a “varied interpretation” across the world and that it uses China’s interpretation within the PRC, in a call with international investors earlier this month.
Hikvision Human Rights Position
In the May 10, 2019 call, Hikvision responded to a question about their extensive Xinjiang projects, a region where the PRC is accused of grave human rights abuses by building a highly intrusive surveillance state/shipping untold masses of Muslims off to ‘re-education’ camps.
The human rights issue itself is also complicated. China is a member of the [UN] Human Rights Council but the U.S. is not. Although there's an International Bill of Human Rights, different regions have varied interpretations of human rights. For Hikvision, as a company that comes from a different value system and different culture, sometimes we feel uncomfortable, especially when some western media fail to report objectively and misinterpret things intentionally. We need to obey laws and regulations in Eastern countries like China and respect their views on human rights, and also as a global company, we need to obey laws and regulations in other countries, especially those in Western countries and respect their views on human rights. [emphasis added]
中国是全球人权理事会的成员之一，美国不是。虽然有《 国际人权宪章》，但对于人权的理解， 不同区域还是存在较大的差异。作为海康这样一家处于不同价值观、 不同文化体系的企业来说，有时候觉得自己有点难受， 特别是某些西方媒体没有客观公正报道，并且蓄意带来误解。 我们既要遵守中国这样东方国家的相关的法律法规， 以及他们对人权的看法， 同时作为全球化的公司也要遵从所在国家的法律法规， 特别是西方国家的法律法规，以及他们对人权的看法。 作为一家年轻的中国企业，我们在成长过程中， 在某些方面也许做的不够好，我们也在反思，怎么来更好的适应、 满足所在国家的要求，如何跟所在国家进行沟通。 我们也采取了一些措施。新疆的事情，对于海康而言， 作为一个产品供应商，我们没有觉得自己做错了什么。 除了中国的公司在新疆销售产品， 其实美国的有些公司也在提供相关的产品。我们也在思考学习， 怎么来面对这样的问题，面对这样复杂多变的国际环境。 美国政府如果对海康有更多的要求，可以提出来， 我们可以调整自己的业务策略。我们相信美国是一个法治社会。 我们也在跟美国政府的有关机构进行沟通， 聘请了美国的人权律师来帮助海康做人权合规体系， 也邀请他们到杭州、北京、新疆了解真实的情况， 这是海康目前在做的。关于人权的问题，不仅仅是在中国， 不仅是针对新疆，海康会对全球市场制定自己的行为规范， 会坚持开放、透明、说真话原则。谢谢。
(Note: the May 10th call took place before the May 22nd reports that the US government was considering sanctioning Hikvision over its human rights record but after the September 2018 initial sanctions consideration report.)
PRC Human Rights Law Exceptions
Hikvision’s statement that it obeys PRC human rights laws within China makes sense, given that while the PRC’s constitution does grant basic human rights such as freedom of press, speech, assembly, and religion, along with banning ethnic discrimination and unlawful detention, these clauses have substantial exceptions for the purposes of domestic security:
- Religion: "No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the State. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination." (article 36)
- Arbitrary detention: “The State maintains public order and suppresses treasonable and other criminal activities that endanger State security; it penalizes criminal activities that endanger public security and disrupt the socialist economy as well as other criminal activities; and it punishes and reforms criminals.” (article 28)
- Minorities: "It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the unification of the country and the unity of all its nationalities." (article 52).
- Press/Speech: "The personal dignity of citizens of the People’s Republic of China is inviolable. Insult, libel, false accusation or false incrimination directed against citizens by any means is prohibited." (article 38)
"Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics"
The PRC view of human rights is summed up by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, a pro-government organization often promoted by Chinese state media and chaired by Communist Party official/former governor of Tibet Qiangba Puncog.
A text published on the organization's website titled "On the View on Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics" paints human rights as a concept imported from the West and explicitly states:
To better protect human rights in China, we should adhere to the leadership of the Party as always
The right to [economic] development underlies all the other human rights
We should not forget that the US has [...] been supporting separatist forces in Tibet and Xinjiang [emphasis added]
Comparison to International Law
These security caveats found in the PRC constitution are substantially different from foundational human rights legislation in the UN, which has no such exceptions:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile;
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race;
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Hikvision's Criticism of US
Hikvision's comment that "China is a member of the Human Rights Council but the U.S. is not" is a reference to the Trump administration's controversial decision to leave the UN's Human Rights Council over the UN's alleged political bias against Israel.
However, while Hikvision's comment may make it seem that China upholds international human rights laws while the US does not, this is not the case. The HRC is an intergovernmental body with only 47 temporary members (out of 193 UN countries total); countries like France, on the UN Security Council, for example, are not currently HRC members, but this has nothing to do with its adherence to UN human rights treaties.
In fact, the PRC has refused to sign any of the legally binding human rights treaties in the International Bill of Human Rights, unlike the US, which has signed the two major ones.
Comparison to US/EU Law
Similar to the UN, human rights texts in the USA and EU do not have such security exceptions:
- no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation;
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances;
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
- Any discrimination based on any ground such as… race… religion or belief… shall be prohibited;
- Everyone has the right to freedom of expression;
While it is clear that the PRC version of 'human rights' conflicts with the UN, US, and EU's human rights rules, the question remains whether Hikvision (or any company) can legally obey one set of rules in one country and another elsewhere.
The answer is yes. The UN's Declaration of Human Rights "is not legally binding but carries moral weight", as summed up by the Australian government's official human rights commission. The UN's International Bill of Human Rights, which includes the (non-legally binding) UNDHR, does have several legally-binding human rights "covenants" (treaties). However, the PRC has not ratified any of these covenants, therefore is not subject to them - as stated in a UN factsheet:
the Covenants, by their nature as multilateral conventions, are legally binding only on those States which have accepted them by ratification or accession
All this means the PRC is not subject to the major international legally-binding human rights laws.
Hikvision Contradicts Itself
In this little-noticed Chinese-language investor call, Hikvision stated it follows China's human rights laws, but in an English document intended for more widespread distribution, it claims to follow international human rights standards.
Hikvision's Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Report, its first ESG report ever, states that it respects international human rights law:
Hikvision respects the human rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of HumanRights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in commercial practice. Meanwhile, we will incorporate these provisions into our business procedures and policies in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Framework to enhance the value of our business activities.
Hikvision's Human Rights Stance Echoes Chinese Government
Despite the ESG report, Hikvision's comments in its investor relations call clearly show that the firm is taking a similar line to the PRC government when it comes to human rights law.
The PRC repeatedly ranks near the bottom on international human rights indices, from press freedom (177th out of 180) to basic adherence to the UNDHR (where it got the worst possible score in the Freedom in the World Index). In response, the PRC typically states that it has its own definition of human rights.
"No country shall dictate the definition of democracy and human rights", a Chinese official recently said about UN criticism of PRC rights abuses in Xinjiang, which is just a more direct way of saying "different regions have varied interpretations of human rights" as Hikvision did.