Experts Renew Call for Probe Into Death of Cao Shunli

Experts Renew Call for Probe Into Death of Cao Shunli

On March 14, 2014, lawyer and rights activist Cao Shunli died after being denied medical treatment while in detention for participating in a sit-in outside of the Foreign Ministry in Beijing to call for public participation in a U.N. human rights review. She had initially been detained on September 14, 2013 at the Beijing airport while attempting to travel to Geneva for training ahead of China’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and was formally arrested a month later for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Her lawyers made repeated requests for her release and medical treatment, as she was suffering from several life-threatening diseases. Beijing later was criticized in Geneva for her death.

Five years after the death of Cao Shunli, U.N. experts have renewed a call for Beijing to launch an independent investigation into the case. At Radio Free Asia, Lin Ping reports:

“Cao Shunli’s case is emblematic of the struggle that many human rights defenders in China face,” the experts said in a statement on Thursday.

They said Cao, who was detained as she set out for Switzerland to take part in a U.N. Human Rights Council review in September 2013, had “paid the ultimate price” for her activism.

[…] “Today, on the fifth anniversary of her death, we renew our call for an independent, impartial, and comprehensive investigation into her death, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice,” the U.N. experts said. […] [Source]

“The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders’ website relays further details from experts’ renewed call.

The renewal comes as Beijing is facing increased pressure in Geneva following its third UPR late last year. China initially rejected 62 of 346 UPR recommendations as “politically biased,” and has since been facing increased pressure in Geneva to address the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, were an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held in a series of internment camps.

Ahead of the March 15 debate session and adoption of the UPR report, Chinese Human Rights Defenders recalled the many other prisoners of conscience who have died due to medical deprivation and torture in recent years. On the fifth death anniversary of Cao yesterday, March 14, Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ Frances Eve published a memorial essay, in which she called on U.N. member states to stand up to Beijing and also reminded readers of Beijing’s many other recent and ongoing rights abuses. From The Guardian:

This week is an opportunity to pay tribute to Cao Shunli, but also importantly, for the international community to speak up and remind the Chinese government of its obligations to safeguard human rights. On March 15, the UNHRC will be meeting to adopt a final report on recommendations made in November during China’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a peer review process of a country’s human rights record that happens every four years. While it can be political, all states must submit themselves equally to scrutiny by fellow governments.

[…] States can use Friday’s meeting to speak out and pay tribute to Cao Shunli and all those who have died under Chinese police custody, reject China’s denials made during the UPR over its rights abuses in Xinjiang, and build momentum towards passing a resolution on the human rights situation in China.

[…] The Chinese government under Xi Jinping has so far faced no meaningful repercussions internationally for the deaths in custody of prisoners of conscience. Domestically, state agents have enjoyed total impunity while family members, lawyers, friends, and supporters have been threatened, disappeared, detained, or tortured.

In fact, after Cao’s death, the UN general assembly re-elected China to the UN human rights council in 2016 by a greater number of votes than in 2013. Chinese Communist party mouthpiece the People’s Daily proudly heralded it as proof that China’s human rights progress had “received widespread approval from the international community”.

[…] Cao Shunli said before her death: “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.” States should remember her spirit and not be afraid to speak truth to power. [Source]

On Twitter the International Service for Human Rights’ Sarah Brooks similarly called on rights council members to remember Cao’s case:

At the UPR adoption, Human Rights Watch successfully called for a moment of silence for Cao, a move that was celebrated by rights defenders, and condemned by China’s deputy minister of foreign affairs during the session:

The U.N. Human Rights Council today adopted the UPR outcome, and China offered its official response. Despite a surplus of critique from experts and rights organizations in the report, the parallel commendation of Beijing’s progress from several council members and from China’s own foreign ministry vice minister offered low-hanging fruit for China’s external propaganda machine. Several rights organizations this week noted the continued damage that Chinese influence operations are having  on the work of the U.N. Human Rights Council.


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