China: End Enforced Disappearances & Provide Redress to VictimsComments Off on China: End Enforced Disappearances & Provide Redress to Victims
(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders—August 29, 2016) – Since President Xi Jinping took power in 2013, Chinese authorities have stepped up the abusive practice of subjecting human rights lawyers and other rights defenders to enforced disappearance, often by leveraging draconian domestic laws. Such laws grant police unbridled power to hold detainees in secret locations for indefinite periods of time.
For the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, which the United Nations observes every August 30, CHRD urges the Chinese government to end the use of enforced disappearance to persecute those they want to silence. We call for the release of all human rights lawyers and other rights advocates who have been detained incommunicado, and whose whereabouts remain unknown even after they have been granted “bail” or sentenced to suspended prison time. CHRD presses the government to provide fair and adequate reparations to both victims and their families. China must honor its Human Rights Council membership pledge to uphold the highest international human rights standards by signing and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The international community should hold the Chinese government accountable for escalating violations of human rights committed through enforced disappearance as well as arbitrary detention and torture.
In refusing to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED), China has only indicated it “will carry out the study on the possibility of acceding to the CPED in due time.” The Convention considers an “enforced disappearance” to be:
“the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Enforced or involuntary disappearance constitutes a “crime” under the CPED and is considered a “crime against humanity” under the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the Rome Statute of the International Court (Article 7). Victims of enforced disappearance are at high risk of torture and other kinds of ill-treatment. Under the CPED, governments have an obligation to ensure that victims have the right to “obtain reparation and prompt, fair and adequate compensation” (Article 24 (4)). In addition, their family members are also regarded as “victims,” since they would have “suffered harm as the direct result of an enforced disappearance” (CPED, Article 24 (1)).
Enforced disappearances of student protesters and other participants in the 1989 pro-democracy movement followed the bloody military suppression. Chinese officials have said that the Tiananmen period is a “closed” chapter in history, however, thereby shutting the door on disclosing information on the fates of such individuals. Authorities also detained activists en masse in secret locations following online calls for “Jasmine Rallies” in 2011. Police subjected at least 25 individuals to enforced disappearance in the months-long crackdown that drew worldwide criticism, including from UN human rights experts. Under several international instruments, citizens have the right to know the truth about enforced disappearances or missing persons. In its December 2015 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) called on China to guarantee that family members of detainees are notified of their whereabouts.
The Xi Jinping regime has taken the abhorrent practice of enforced disappearance to a new level, attempting to justify it on the basis of flawed domestic law. In 2012, China amended its Criminal Procedure Law to include “residential surveillance at a police-designated location” (Article 73), effectively “legalizing” a de facto form of enforced disappearance. Since then, Chinese authorities have often turned to this provision to deprive the liberty of citizens while relying on a pretext of legality.
Under Article 73, police can hold an individual for up to six months in a secret location with no access to their family or lawyer if they are suspected of, among other offenses, “endangering national security” crimes, which are vaguely defined. Police have regularly used the provision to disappear lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” that began in July 2015. In December 2015, CAT urged China to repeal Article 73 as a “matter of urgency.” China’s systemic problem with torture in detention—and the overreliance on admittance of criminal wrongdoing to convict detainees—raises concerns that some individuals held in secret are mistreated in order to coerce confessions.
Some current and recent cases of police enforced disappearance include:
- During the “709” crackdown, CHRD has documented 26 cases of individuals forcibly disappeared at some point, including 16 known to have been held under “residential surveillance” at a police-designated location. The families of Li Chunfu (李春富), Li Heping (李和平), and Wang Fang (王芳)—three individuals taken into police custody last summer—did not receive any notification of their loved ones’ status until January 2016. In addition, activists Xing Qingxian (幸清贤) and Tang Zhishun (唐志顺) went missing in Myanmar last October and were secretly held in China for seven months before authorities informed their families that the pair had been arrested. Currently, 12 individuals from the “709” crackdown are still being held incommunicado.
- Authorities claim they have released 20 individuals from the crackdown either on bail or with suspended prison sentences; all of them had previously been arrested, criminally detained, put under “residential surveillance,” or forcibly disappeared. However, the whereabouts of several of these individuals remain unknown, and most continue to be out of contact. Several are believed to be under close watch by police and essentially still in a state of enforced disappearance, including: Bao Longjun (包龙军), Gou Hongguo (沟洪国), Ren Quanniu (任全牛), Wang Yu (王宇), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Zhao Wei (赵威), and Zhang Kai (张凯).
- Three Beijing-based employees of Wujie News (无界新闻), also known as “Watching News,” disappeared in mid-March 2016 following the publication of an anonymous letter on Wujie’s website calling on President Xi Jinping to resign. Executive director Ouyang Hongliang (欧阳洪亮) and staff members Cheng Shengzhong (程圣中) and Huang Zhijie (黄志杰) remain missing after over five months. Ouyang Hongliang’s wife released an open letter on June 24 pleading for information on her husband’s whereabouts.
- Zhao Suli (赵素利) and her husband, the political dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏), went missing on January 9, 2015. After Zhao and Qin were seized in Wuhan, Hubei Province, police refused to respond to inquiries about their whereabouts from the couple’s family members and lawyers. In June 2016, authorities finally acknowledged Qin Yongmin’s detention status and allowed the first visit with his lawyer at Wuhan City No. 2 Detention Center, where he is being held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” However, Zhao’s whereabouts remain unknown.
- Guizhou-based human rights activist Mi Chongbiao (糜崇标) and his wife, Li Kezhen (李克珍), have been forcibly disappeared since May 2012. Authorities have held the couple in several “black jails,” makeshift facilities often used to hold human rights defenders, and repeatedly tortured them. In the latest reported incident, the elderly couple suffered broken bones in July 2016 from a violent attack by plainclothes officers and guards. The couple’s sons have occasionally been allowed brief meetings with their parents but at different locations, such as restaurants.