On December 23, outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama signed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act into law, allowing U.S. authorities to impose financial and travel restrictions on foreign individuals implicated in human rights violations. While doubts have flourished about the new Trump administration’s commitment to human rights both in China and more broadly, it has indicated willingness to use these powers. On Wednesday, a group of rights organizations wrote to Secretaries of State and the Treasury, Rex Tillerson and Steven Mnuchin, making the case for sanctions against individuals from 15 countries, including China. The coalition includes Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and the China Human Rights Accountability Center. The letter argues:
“Global Magnitsky” is a potentially revolutionary tool. It allows the United States the ability to sanction the world’s worst human rights violators and corrupt actors wherever they may be, putting them on notice that accountability knows no borders. Robust implementation of the Act has the potential to deter would-be kleptocrats and those that would use violence to silence dissent and maintain their grip on power, forcing these actors to think twice before committing their crimes. In short, the law positions the United States to take a leading role in the international community in combating impunity and protecting human rights defenders worldwide.
Global Magnitsky’s promise will only be realized, however, if the U.S. government acts. With this knowledge in mind, we, the undersigned organizations, have come together in a coordinated effort to document cases from around the world that we believe satisfy the Act’s stringent requirements and are deserving of rigorous investigation by the U.S. government. We have been pleased to provide your staff at the Departments of State and Treasury with case files as summarized in the appended annex.
[…] As evidenced by the President’s April 20, 2017 initial report to Congress on Global Magnitsky’s implementation, testimony provided by Secretary Tillerson during his January 11, 2017 confirmation hearing, and our formal and informal conversations with representatives of your departments and the Department of Justice, it is our understanding that the Trump administration is committed to implementing the Act robustly. We believe that the materials we have provided will assist the administration in carrying out its stated goal. We look forward to working with you on this worthy endeavor. [Source]
The listed Chinese officials are both targeted for their involvement in the death of detained activist Cao Shunli. They include Fu Zhenghua, the flamboyant public security official who has acted as Xi Jinping’s “go-to man” in campaigns against corrupt officials, social media celebrities, “malicious” stock market trading, and former security chief Zhou Yongkang. More recently his political fortunes have appeared relatively uncertain, as analyst Liang Jing discussed in an essay prompted by rogue billionaire Guo Wengui’s accusations against Fu, and translated by CDT.
From the materials accompanying the rights groups’ letter:
3. China – Fu Zhenghua, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Public Security
Tao Jing, Deputy Head, Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau
Case Type: GVHR via command responsibility (denial of medical care leading to death)
Fu Zhenghua was the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Chief from 2010 to March 2015 and is now the Deputy Minister of Public Security in China. Tao Jing was the Chaoyang District Public Security Sub-Bureau Chief from 2010 to 2014, and is now the Deputy Head of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Fu and Tao are each responsible, under the principle of command responsibility, for the torture and March 2014 death of human rights activist Cao Shunli. The victim was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport on September 14, 2013 on her way to Geneva, Switzerland to attend human rights advocacy training and the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). For years, Cao had advocated that the Chinese government allow civil society to participate in the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process. She was forcibly disappeared and rendered unable to contact a lawyer for five weeks after her arrest. Cao’s lawyer applied for, and was denied, medical bail for Cao following their first meeting. Over the course of the next five months in detention, Cao contracted tuberculosis, and her previously manageable liver condition worsened as authorities at the Chaoyang District Detention Center denied her medication and adequate treatment. She lapsed into a coma in February 2014, and passed away on March 14, 2014. On the principle of command responsibility, Fu and Tao were each responsible for the human rights violations that led to Cao’s death, and for failure to punish any of the police officers involved in her death. Neither could have been unaware of both her arbitrary detention and her worsening medical condition, as representatives of the UN, foreign governments including the United States, NGOs, and the victim’s lawyer and international media raised Cao’s treatment and condition with the Chinese government on multiple occasions. [Source]
Reuters’ Michael Kahn and Warren Strobel provide an overview of the other included cases. Human Rights Watch detailed Cao’s case and other interference in the U.N.’s human rights activities in a recent report.
“The Global Magnitsky Act is the most innovative, far-reaching tool ever created to deter human rights violations and corruption,” said Human Rights First’s Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski. “This law allows the U.S. government to deny financial resources and travel to some of the worst criminals on the planet. NGOs, activists, and victims have assembled and handed to the government compelling evidence of crimes like rape, torture, and widespread fraud. Now the Trump Administration needs to act.”
[…] “If used to its full potential, the Global Magnitsky Act will give pause to those that use violence to silence whistleblowers and dissent, sustain those persecuted for their defense of fundamental freedoms, and potentially deter crimes before they’re committed,” added Berschinski, who coordinated the efforts of the consortium of NGOs. “This law puts the United States in the driver’s seat concerning international efforts to protect human rights defenders and combat impunity—but only if it’s used.” [Source]
From Human Rights Watch’s:
“The Global Magnitsky Act is a powerful tool that allows the US to hold human rights abusers to account when their own governments fail to do so,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Would-be rights violators and kleptocrats around the world should now think twice before committing serious abuses and corruption.”
[…] “President Trump should act on his apparent willingness to make use of the Global Magnitsky Act to hold abusers abroad to account,” Prasow said. “Visa bans and asset freezes can be a strong deterrent for some officials, especially if other countries adopt similar laws.” [Source]
And from Chinese Human Rights Defenders’:
US President Trump should make use of the Act and designate for sanctions torturers and abusers of human rights, including those responsible for the death of Cao Shunli brought about by deprived medical treatment in police custody. The failure of the US administration to sanction individuals responsible for gross violations of rights around the globe will send a message to the world that the United States has no interest in protecting and promoting human rights.
The UN Human Rights Council, where China occupies a seat, now in its 36th session, provides an opportunity for Member States to express concerns, under Item 4, about the lack of accountability in China for persecuting Cao Shunli to death in reprisal for her participation in UN human rights activities. States must speak out also because of the increasing number of deaths of Chinese prisoners of conscience due to medical deprivation or neglect in China’s incarceration facilities. These cases include the July 13 death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo in police custody, which has been shrouded in questions over the murky circumstances of the timing of the diagnosis of Liu’s advanced cancer, the authorities’ disclosure about Liu’s health to his family, and the quality of medical treatment. Following a similar pattern seen in Cao Shunli’s case—namely, the intimidation and silencing of family members and supporters—there has been no indication that the Chinese government will conduct or allow any independent investigation into the death of Liu Xiaobo. [Source]
Human Rights Watch also posted a Q&A explaining the Global Magnitsky Act and its origins:
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian accountant who, in 2009, was tortured, denied medical attention, and found dead in his Moscow jail cell. Russian authorities had targeted him for his role in exposing a giant tax fraud scheme allegedly involving high-level government officials.
In 2012, the US Congress passed a law in his name that imposed sanctions on a list of Russian officials believed to be responsible for serious human rights violations, freezing any US assets they hold and banning them from entry into the United States.
In an important step for global accountability, Congress built on the original Russia-focused Magnitsky law in 2016 and enacted the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or gross corruption. The act received widespread bipartisan support.
[…] Sanctions deny individuals entry into the US, allow the seizure of any of their property held in the country, and effectively prevent them from entering into transactions with large numbers of banks and companies. Both American firms and international firms with American subsidiaries run the risk of violating US sanctions if they do business with sanctioned people. […][Source]
This is just the latest call for the act’s application to Chinese rights abusers. The China Human Rights Accountability Center, one of the groups behind the letter, was founded in January by activists including Yaxue Cao, Chen Guangcheng, Hu Jia, Teng Biao, and Zhou Fengsuo. The group promised to “push the U.S. government to enforce the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, to ensure that specific and effective sanctions are taken against human rights violators,” and to “promote the establishment of similar human rights accountability legislation in other democratic countries.” In a July op-ed at The Washington Post following the death of imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, Chen encouraged Washington to use the act against officials involved, adding that “given Liu’s high profile, the perpetrators are likely in the highest levels of the Communist Party.” Recent congressional testimony by wives of detained Chinese lawyers and activists, as well as Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che, who was tried this week, was also part of a drive to promote sanctions under the act.