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17.02.17
Urgent Interventions

Joint Letter to the Human Rights Council calling for a sustaining attention to human rights violations in China

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Geneva, 16 February 2017

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and ObserverStates of the UN Human Rights Council

RE: Sustaining attention to human rights violations inChina

Excellency,

After another year marked by enforced disappearances, denialof due process, and continued efforts to suppress human rights, we call on yourdelegation to join with other States to take collective, coordinated action atthe 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council to hold Chinaaccountable for its human rights record.

One year ago today, the High Commissioner released astatement[1]calling on China to address a wide range of human rights violations. Theconcerns he raised were echoed by many States at the March 2016 Human RightsCouncil, including through a strong cross-regional statement delivered onbehalf of twelve States. These Statesreiterated the High Commissioner’s call for China to uphold its own laws andinternational commitments, and urged China to release lawyers and other humanrights defenders detained for their human rights work.

Human rights defenders, their families, and otheractivists were encouraged by the strong message of international solidaritysent by the joint statement. The Chinese Government, however, seems to haveignored it entirely. In March 2016,States at the Council raised concerns about the following trends; a year later,the reality on the ground remains unchanged, and in some cases has worsened.

· Arbitrary arrests and ongoing detentions:After more than 18 months, the lawyers and other human rights defendersdetained in the ‘709 crackdown’ remain the focus of significant pressure.According to recent counts, eight of them remain in jail awaiting trial.Twenty-six have been released on bail and most of them, despite their apparent release,are unable to continue working and are subject to surveillance, threats and‘soft detention’.

· Enforced disappearance and refusal of access to counsel: On 21 November, the Chinese authorities abducted human rightslawyer Jiang Tianyong who, though disbarred in 2009 for his work, had continuedhis work as an active figure within the legal community. His family wasinformed of his detention nearly one month later, and despite swift action bythe Special Procedures, Jiang remains in ‘residential surveillance in adesignated location’. The UN Committee against Torture in its 2015 review ofChina called for the Government to repeal provisions of the Criminal Lawallowing residential surveillance, calling it ‘de facto incommunicado’ detention.

· Extraterritorial actions: Gui Minhai, aSwedish national targeted in a roundup of Hong Kong booksellers, was kidnappedby state security authorities in Thailand in October 2015 and remains in prisonin China. His family does not know his location, have little if any access tohim, and have not received clarification on any legal proceedings. On 27January 2017, businessman Xiao Jianhua , a Canadian national, was reportedmissing from Hong Kong; although media have said he is on the mainland, hisprecise whereabouts are unknown.

· Hong Kong: Hong Kong citizens advocatingfor democratic institutions and respect for human rights work in anincreasingly challenging environment. Beijing continues to interfere in HongKong’s various institutions, including the courts, and according to mediareports delayed the submission of a follow-up report by the Hong Kong authoritiesto the Committee against Torture.

· The right to a fair trial: The familyand legal representatives of detained human rights defenders remain, in thevast majority of cases, blocked from visits and information on nationalsecurity grounds. Televised ‘confessions’ continued to be aired. This includeda ‘confession’ by lawyer Wang Yu that sought to smear the work of Zhou Shifeng,head of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm who was sentenced to seven years in prisonin August 2016.

· Freedom of expression: Advocates for peaceful expressionand association, online and off, as well as researchers, writers andjournalists, have come under particular pressure. Non-governmental organizationsestimate that in 2016, police arrested over 100 individuals for exercisingtheir right to freedom of expression. This included figures well-known fordocumenting and disseminating information on human rights violations, such asveteran activists Huang Qi and Liu Feiyue. Their websites, and others includingone aimed at facilitating peaceful dialogue within China’s diverse Muslimcommunity, have been effectively shut down. Uyghurscholar Ilham Tohti continues to serve a life sentence, and Tibetan activistTashi Wangchuk has been detained for over a year for requesting Tibetanlanguage classes in local schools.

These actions demonstrate that the Chinese Governmenthas failed to make progress on almost every point raised at the Human RightsCouncil. The facts also stand in marked contrast to China’s rhetoric, which hasemphasized renewed commitment to the multilateral system, including through itsre-election to the Human Rights Council.

We urge your delegation to join with others to takecollective, coordinated action at the upcoming Council session, through asecond joint statement and individual statements, to make clear that systemichuman rights violations in China will not go unnoticed and unchecked.

In addition tohighlighting the inaction on key points from last year’s statement, delegationsshould:

· Insist that China uphold its obligationsto prevent, punish and remedy torture and other cruel, inhumane or degradingtreatment or punishment, including by ordering prompt, impartial, independentinvestigations into reports of torture of detained lawyers and human rightsdefenders, including Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Xie Yang.

· Urge China to amend or repealthe Overseas NGO Management Law; any efforts to implement the law in itscurrent form will – by definition – run counter to international human rights standardsand undermine the independence of civil society.

· Call for the repeal or revisionof the Counter-Terrorism Law, and speak out against the increasing use ofnational security legislation and draft ‘regulations on religious affairs’ tocriminalise and harass those exercising freedom of thought, conscience andreligion and freedom of expression, recognizing the disproportionate impact thishas on Uyghur and Tibetan communities, as well as religious minorities.

· Denounce the continuing forcedevictions and other violations of human rights, including cultural rights, ofmonks and laypersons at Larung Gar, a major site of Tibetan Buddhist teachingand worship.

· Call for China to respect theright of everyone to freedom of movement and residence, and the right ofeveryone to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to hisor her own country; and in this regard to remove all travel bans and otherrestrictive measures that have been imposed on individuals for their activitiesto promote and protect human rights, and to cease the arbitrary confiscation ofpassports, in particular of Tibetans and Uyghurs.

In the past, the Chinese Government has openlyexpressed its displeasure with critical scrutiny of its human rights record. Suchreactions demonstrate that China is sensitive to international attention. Public recognition at the Human RightsCouncil that China should be bound by its international human rights obligationswill again give hope to thousands of defenders, lawyers, petitioners and otherswho seek to promote human rights in the country.

At a time when human rights are increasingly underthreat, the Human Rights Council should ensure that all its members, includingChina, ‘uphold the highest standards’ of human rights and ‘fully cooperate’with the Council and its mechanisms, as required by UN General AssemblyResolution 60/251. In so doing, the Council will continue to act in accordancewith its founding principles, and in defence of universal human rightseverywhere.

Please be assured, Excellency, of our highest consideration.

Amnesty International

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation

FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders

Freedom House

Frontline Defenders

Human Rights in China

Human Rights Watch

Independent Chinese PEN Center

International Campaign for Tibet

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights

International Tibet Network

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada

PEN America Center

Students for a Free Tibet

Tibet Justice Center

World Organisation Against Torture, in the framework of theObservatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders

World Uyghur Congress

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17050

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