Cao Shunli died five years ago – how many more before there is a change?

March 14, 2019

On 14 March 

Veteran Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in 2014 in a Beijing hospital.

Veteran Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in 2014 in a Beijing hospital. Photograph: Front Line Defenders

Five years ago today, Chinese activist Cao Shunli died in a Beijing hospital surrounded by police. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/12/cao-shunli-a-profile-and-new-award-in-her-name/]

...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). ……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……..Since the council’s creation in 2006, there has not been a single country-specific resolution directed at China despite a worsening rights situation. It’s time for the UNHRC to end its double standards and mandate an international fact-finding mission to look into the credible reports of internment camps in Xinjiang.

Many human rights defenders, like Cao, and ethnic and religious minorities have died in Chinese custody due to torture or deprivation of medical treatment. China’s only Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Uighur scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim, and Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche all died in police custody in recent years.

Others, like detained citizen journalist Huang Qi, await such a fate without urgent intervention. Police have denied Huang, who has kidney and heart diseases, medical treatment and have repeatedly beaten him in custody. His condition has deteriorated to the point where supporters fear he may become “another Cao Shunli” and UN independent experts recently expressed concern he might die in detention.

Ten other Chinese activists, journalists, scholars, and lawyers are on a medical watchlist of political prisoners, launched after Cao’s death to draw attention to China’s practice of torture by withholding medical treatment…………..

It’s no coincidence that following a weak response internationally to the deaths of prominent human rights defenders and a widespread crackdown on civil society that the Xi government felt confident enough to establish a system of mass internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and Muslims and turn the Xinjiang region into a “no-rights zone”.

Human rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities in China face real risks for standing up to the Chinese government. They don’t pay with lost trade deals but with their lives. The risks of speaking out in defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms in China include losing your job, your home, your family, or being disappeared, arbitrarily detained, tortured, or even killed.

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.

Note that on 14 March a group of UN experts have renewed their call for a comprehensive and independent investigation into her death by Chinese authorities (https://www.protecting-defenders.org/en/news/china-un-experts-renew-calls-probe-death-cao-shunli).

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/14/cao-shunli-died-five-years-ago-she-stood-up-to-china-on-human-rights-and-so-must-we

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