Hikvision: In China, We Obey PRC Human Rights Law

Published May 28, 2019 12:11 PM
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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.

human rights hikvision china UN_3

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.

Hikvision responded:

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]


(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:

UN Declaration of Human Rights

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:

US Bill of Rights

  • 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;

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

  • 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.

Comments (4)
John Honovich
May 28, 2019

This further raises the question of who Hikvison will 'obey' in any conflict of morals or laws between the PRC and the free world. When you are dealing with networked security systems, trust is critical, as it relates to cybersecurity and abusing human rights. It is difficult to see how Hikvision can be loyal to their government owner and consistent with free world rights simultaneously.

Undisclosed #1
May 28, 2019

China and human rights, what a joke ! The Same country that killed and starved 60 million people under Mao, the crushing of protesters during Tienanmen square, the country the kills prisoners and harvests their organs for profit, the country that has instituted a point systems that ranks how good a communist you are and on that basis allows you credit,housing and basic needs.....oh that China with those wonderful human rights.

Anton Miller
May 29, 2019
Shaked Projects

"Human rights in China" sounds like "vegan-friendly slaughter-house"

Zachary S.
Feb 17, 2020
Gen IV Technology

Leaked data shows China's Uighurs detained due to religion

Turns out obeying the PRC's human rights law isn't all that hard to do...