Contested Representations

Exploring China’s State Report

in Journal of Legal Anthropology

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.

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