Cao Shunli (曹顺利)

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“Our impact may be large, may be small, and may be nothing. But we must try. It is our duty to the dispossessed and it is the right of civil society.”
– Cao Shunli, 1961-2014

Cao Shunli was a Chinese human rights defender who unwaveringly pursued her goal to make use of international human rights mechanisms to improve rights conditions in China. Chinese police detained her in September 2013 at Beijing Capital International Airport to prevent her from traveling to Geneva. Cao was disappeared for five weeks until Beijing police confirmed she had been criminally detained. She was subsequently denied adequate medical treatment and release on medical bail despite her worsening health, which culminated in her death in police custody in March 2014. This site brings together materials on her life, activism, the reaction to her death, and ongoing efforts for accountability.

 

Background on Cao Shunli & her Activism

 

Photo of Cao Shunli outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing in August 2013, in what might be the last photo taken of her before she was seized. Source: VOA

Portrait of a Defender – Cao Shunli & Her Legacy, April 21, 2014, CHRD

Cao Shunli’s drafted joint civil society submission for China’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review, March 1, 2013 (Chinese)

Chinese language interview with Cao Shunli in Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, “China’s Nonviolent Resistance – Exclusive Interview with Cao Shunli” (中国的非暴力抗争—专访外交部前的坚守者曹顺利), July 26, 2013

China Cites “State Secrets” in Rejecting Civil Society Participation in Universal Periodic Review, April 2, 2013, CHRD

The Chinese Government Must End Reprisals Against Activists Demanding Participation in UPR, July 4, 2013, CHRD

China Must Stop Excluding Civil Society From UN Human Rights Review, October 7, 2013, CHRD

 

Enforced Disappearance, Detention, and Denial of Medical Care

 

Photo of Cao Shunli taken in March 2013 for an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC. Source: Pablo Diez

Chinese Authorities Block Two Activists From Attending Training on UN Human Rights Mechanisms, Disappear One, September 17, 2013, CHRD

Activist Cao Shunli Still Missing Since 9/14, When Authorities Blocked Her From Going to Human Rights Training in Geneva, China Human Rights Briefing September 20-25, 2013, CHRD

Activist Cao Shunli Reportedly Under Criminal Detention on Order of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China Human Rights Briefing September 26-October 2, 2013, CHRD

China Must Stop Excluding Civil Society From UN Human Rights Review, October 7, 2013, CHRD

Plight of Activist Cao Shunli Remains Murky, China Human Rights Briefing October 10–16, 2013, CHRD

UN experts alarmed by reprisals against Chinese human rights activists, October 16, 2013, United Nations Press Office

More Activists Arrested in Crackdown, Cao Shunli’s Detention Confirmed, China Human Rights Briefing October 17–23, 2013, CHRD

Lawyer Met Cao Shunli, Confirmed Arrest and Serious Illness, China Human Rights Briefing October 24 –31, 2013, CHRD

Chinese Government Lacks the Qualifications for Membership on the UN Human Rights Council, November 7, 2013, CHRD

Detained Activist Cao Shunli Deprived Treatment for Serious Illnesses, China Human Rights Briefing December 19, 2013–January 2, 2014, CHRD

Detained Activist Cao Shunli’s Health Deteriorates, Fellow Activist Peng Lanlan Subjected to Torture, China Human Rights Briefing February 7-13, 2014, CHRD

Detained Activist Cao Shunli in Intensive Care After Authorities Repeatedly Deny Treatment, February 20, 2014, CHRD

Activists Detained Outside Hospital Where Cao Shunli Is in Critical Condition, China Human Rights Briefing February 21-27, 2014, CHRD

Cao Shunli in Critical Condition After Emergency Medical Treatment, China Human Rights Briefing February 27-March 6, 2014, CHRD

 

Reaction to her Death

 

Memorial held on March 14, 2013 by human rights defenders in Changsha.

Chinese Government Must be Held Accountable for Death of Activist Cao Shunli, March 14, 2014, CHRD

CHRD声明:必须让中国政府承担迫害曹顺利致死的一切后果, March 14, 2014

Cao Shunli’s Body “Disappeared” From Hospital, Supporter Liu Xiaofang’s Detention Confirmed, China Human Rights Briefing March 21-27, 2014, CHRD

Rebuttal to Chinese Authorities’ Claims About Death of Cao Shunli, March 20, 2014, CHRD

China interrupts moment of silence for Cao Shunli at the UN Human Rights Council, March 20, 2014, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Family Seeks Independent Autopsy of Activist Who Died in Detention, March 28, 2014, The New York Times

Cao Shunli (曹顺利) Nominated for Martin Ennals Award 2014, April 23, 2014

Watch List of Detainees and Prisoners of Conscience in Need of Medical Attention

 

Statements from International Community

 

Vigil held for Cao Shunli on March 18, 2014 outside Chinese Embassy in Dublin. Source: Front Line Defenders

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, UK saddened at death of Chinese activist Cao Shunli, March 14, 2014

Canada Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada Saddened by Reported Death of Chinese Human Rights Activist, March 15, 2014

US State Department, Death of Chinese Activist Cao Shunli, March 15, 2014

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN High Commissioner’s Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, quoted in AFP News “Detained China activist dies after critical illness” March 15, 2014

German Federal Foreign Office, Human Rights Commissioner Strässer on the death of Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli, March 17, 2014

UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, Deadly reprisals: UN experts deplore the events leading to the death of Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli, and ask for full investigation, March 18, 2014 (from Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and expression, health, human rights defenders, torture, and the Working Groups on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances)

UN Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Deeply Concerned Over Detention Of Deceased Human Rights Defender, March 19, 2014

European Union External Action, Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton regarding the death of Chinese Human Rights defender, Ms Cao Shunli, March 21, 2014

 

Cao Shunli’s Case at the United Nations

 

Moment of silence held by international NGOs at the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council during the adoption of China’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review report on March 20, 2014.

Submission to the UN on Cao Shunli, September 19, 2013, CHRD

Communication sent on July 17, 2013 from mandates: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Working Group on Enforced Disappearances; SR on Freedom of Expression; SR on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association; SR on Human Rights Defenders; SR on Torture, CHN 6/2013, Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Response from the Chinese Government dated September 23, 2013

Communication sent October 1, 2013 from mandates: Working Group on Disappearances; SR on Freedom of Expression; SR on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; Human Rights Defenders, CHN 11/2013, Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Communication sent November 14, 2013 from mandates: SR on Freedom of Expression; SR on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; SR on Health; SR on Human Rights Defenders; SR on Torture, CHN 13/2013, Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Response from the Chinese Government dated January 7, 2014

Response from the Chinese Government dated January 24, 2014

Communication sent March 3, 2014 from mandates: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; SR on Freedom of Expression; SR on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; SR on Health; SR on Human Rights Defenders; SR on Torture, CHN 2/2014, Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Joint Civil Society Report Submitted to UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – September 2014

Joint Civil Society Report Submitted to UN Committee against Torture – October 2015

UN Committee Against Torture, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of China, CAT/C/CHN/CO/5, December 2015, para. 24

UN Secretary-General’s Reprisals Report, August 27, 2014

UN Secretary-General’s Reprisals Report, August 17, 2015

UN Secretary-General’s Reprisal Report, August 16, 2016

UN Secretary-General’s Reprisals Report, August 13, 2018

 

Cao Shunli Memorial Award

 

Memorial monument to Cao Shunli created by artist Guo Gai.

Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders

NGOs in China Launch Cao Shunli Memorial Award, China Human Rights Briefing September 19–October 1, 2014, CHRD

Activist Zhou Weilin Named First Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2015, CHRD

Jia Lingmin Named 2016 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award, March 14, 2016, CHRD

Su Changlan Named 2017 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2017, CHRD

Chen Jianfang & Li Xiaoling Named 2018 Recipients of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2018, CHRD

Ji Sizun Named 2019 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2019, CHRD

 

Reprisals Against her Supporters & Lawyer

 

Cao Shunli’s lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) was targeted in a massive crackdown on human rights lawyers lauched in 2015.

Anniversary of Cao Shunli’s Death; Previously Unreported Detentions of Her Supporters, China Human Rights Briefing March 13-19, 2015, CHRD

China: Halt Police Operations Targeting Human Rights Lawyers as “National Security” Threat, July 13, 2015, CHRD

Portrait of a Defender – Wang Yu 王宇, July 23, 2015 CHRD

 

Efforts for Accountability

 

CHRD, Justice for Cao Shunli: Sanctions Sought to Hold Chinese Officials Accountable for Torture, September 13, 2017

Executive Order Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption, December 21, 2017, U.S. White House

United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe, December 21, 2017, U.S. Department of Treasury

Small Step Toward Accountability: US Sanctions Chinese Official Over Death of Cao Shunli, December 22, 2017, CHRD (中文版本)

 

Films about Cao Shunli

 

Film paying tribute to Cao Shunli produced for Martin Ennals Award Ceremony – October 2014

Cao Shunli: Life & Legacy – Documentary produced by CHRD – March 2016

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