A key goal of The Dui Hua Foundation is the promotion of dialogue between China and the United States on issues related to human rights, transparency, and the rule of law. To this end, Dui Hua has been looking for opportunities for exchanges on topics of concern to both countries. In 2006 and 2007, Dui Hua hosted Chinese human rights experts on visits to the San Francisco Bay Area and arranged visits to a variety of local detention facilities, court proceedings, and other activities. These exchanges have highlighted positive aspects of the American criminal justice system, such as the openness of criminal trials, as well as some more problematic aspects, such as the terrible overcrowding in the prison system.

In 2007, Dui Hua attempted to pursue exchange even further by accepting an invitation to give a series of lectures to Chinese audiences in exchange for unprecedented access to Chinese prisons and detention facilities. The experience showed that many Chinese officials and scholars are eager to exchange ideas with foreign visitors on matters related to criminal justice and rule of law, but serious barriers remain in place to making such dialogues truly two-way.

Off to Hubei Province

In November 2007, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm and Research and Program Manager Joshua Rosenzweig traveled to Hubei Province, in central China. There, they participated in three days of programs in the cities of Wuhan and Yichang, events arranged by Professor Dan Wei, a high-ranking official from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate who had participated in a Dui Hua-sponsored exchange on criminal justice that took place in March 2007 (see Dialogue 27 PDF).

The first stop was at the Wuhan University School of Law, where Rosenzweig presented a lecture reviewing the controversy over the lethal injection execution procedure, which is currently the subject of a case before the US Supreme Court. The lecture, part of an ongoing series organized by Professors Ma Kechang and Mo Hongxian exploring legal and moral aspects of the death penalty, was attended by a large group of university students and faculty. Delivering his talk in Chinese, Rosenzweig summarized the legal arguments challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection and pointed to a mounting body of evidence suggesting that procedural flaws pose a serious risk of inflicting undue pain on the condemned (see Dialogue 29).

The response to Rosenzweig’s lecture was overwhelmingly positive, even though there were many audience members who clearly supported the death penalty and China’s efforts to increase the use of lethal injection. This spirit of openness could also be seen in the positive response given to Kamm’s remarks introducing Dui Hua’s work on behalf of political prisoners. Despite the potential political sensitivity of the subject, Kamm received an enthusiastic welcome. Overall, the atmosphere was what one would expect at any university—receptivity to differing viewpoints and lively, respectful debate.

Unprecedented Talk on Citizen Oversight of Police

The main event in Yichang was a three-hour presentation by Kamm on the subject of citizen oversight of police in the United States. More than 100 prosecutors and other officials from locations throughout Yichang gathered in the main hall of the Bailong Hotel to hear Kamm’s speech, which was reportedly the first-ever address to Chinese law enforcement officials on the subject. In addition, Kamm’s remarks were recorded for broadcast by closed-circuit television broadcast to local procuratorates throughout the region.

In his lecture, Kamm contrasted the three principal models of citizen oversight employed in different US communities and explored their respective strengths and weaknesses in considerable detail. To illustrate, he drew on the findings of first-hand research into the workings of police oversight bodies in San Francisco and San Jose, California. Mirroring international trends towards greater citizen oversight of police forces, more than 70 of the 100 largest cities in the United States have established oversight bodies. Police resistance to citizen oversight remains strong; oversight bodies sustain only 10 percent of complaints made to them by citizens, whereas 90 percent of internal complaints that originate within police departments are sustained.

Program Detour

Kamm and Rosenzweig went to Hubei expecting to be allowed to tour local courts, prisons, and detention facilities, access to all of which had been a feature of the previous visits Dui Hua had arranged to the United States for Chinese experts. However, shortly after arrival in Yichang, they were informed that provincial authorities had denied the necessary permissions and that no such visits would be possible. Deeply disappointed, the Dui Hua team conveyed their sense of frustration with the outcome but expressed thanks to their local Yichang hosts for their efforts to secure approvals.

The original program scrapped, Dui Hua’s hosts scrambled to arrange other meaningful events. After returning to Wuhan, Kamm and Rosenzweig were received by prosecutors from the Wuchang District People’s Procuratorate. There, Kamm gave an impromptu summary of his presentation on police oversight and pressed officials to provide general information about the provincial prison system. A tour of the procuratorate building included a view of the facilities used to question suspects in public corruption cases that had recently been fitted out with audiovisual equipment used to record the interrogation process, reflecting recent efforts to improve the protection of detainee rights. Later, on a visit to the Jianghan District People’s Court, the Dui Hua team held discussions with court officials on the subjects of access to court documents and attendance at trials by foreign observers.

Exchange Shows Progress and Future Promise

Despite being unable to gain access to detention facilities or raise individual cases during the trip to Hubei, Dui Hua came away from the program feeling a measure of success and optimism. Though things that had been more common in the past—visits to prisons and submission of prisoner lists—appear more difficult to accomplish in the current climate, there nevertheless seems to be an opening in China through which the exchange of information and opinions on legal issues can take place. By continuing to engage in such exchanges, Dui Hua hopes not only to provide Chinese partners with information helpful to China’s efforts to modernize its legal institutions, but also to impart the importance of a more open and transparent criminal justice system.