As states become parties to international human rights treaties, they
undertake the obligation to provide periodic state reports to UN human
rights treaty bodies. Officially, state reports are paramount vehicles of
factual information of a given state’s human rights situation. Unofficially
their status may be contested and their data reduced to state propaganda.
This article examines this transformation through the submission of
China’s first state report to the Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights. The article shows how human rights documents of diverse
genres join together in a continual ceremony of dialogue. It connects
minute details of treaty body proceedings to more general developments in
the international human rights field, and argues that beneath the veneer of
diplomatic conduct accompanying human rights dialogue lays an intense
struggle for representation and legitimacy. It further discusses how this
struggle reflects the recent rise of Kantian theories of international law.
These theories seek to re-evaluate the foundational concept of international
law, namely ‘sovereign equality’, and, thus continue the mission civilisatrice
that has characterized elements of international collaboration for centuries.