From October 6 to November 6, 2014, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm circled the globe, visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Geneva, Berne, The Hague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Bergen, and Oslo. This issue of Digest will cover the European portion of the trip. Information on the Chinese portion is included in the November Digest.

Palace of Nations. Image credit: UN Geneva

Geneva and Berne

Kamm flew to Geneva from Beijing on October 18. There he attended the 59th Session of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Dui Hua made a submission on the treatment of women in prison in China. He briefed CEDAW Chairperson Nicole Ameline on his discussion with Vice Chairman Wang Shengming of the National People’s Congress Committee for Internal and Judicial Affairs on the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) in Beijing.

Dui Hua, which is the only independent non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on human rights in China to enjoy special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, has forged close relations with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). On this visit, Kamm held a meeting with Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri. Pansieri began her UN career in Beijing in the early 1980s and speaks fluent Chinese. The Deputy High Commissioner solicited Kamm’s opinions on the planned visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to China in the first quarter of 2015. Kamm stressed the importance of the High Commissioner recognizing progress in such areas as the reduction in the number of executions, while as pressing for improvements in respect for political rights. China has issued an invitation to the High Commissioner, though the exact dates, itinerary, and agenda have yet to be fixed. The High Commissioner has made known his wish to visit the restive autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

In addition to Deputy High Commissioner Pansieri, Kamm held separate meetings with Hanny Megally, head of the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and North Africa branch of the OHCHR, and Rory Mungoven, the head of its Asia region. Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on Hong Kong’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were a focus of their talks. The committee urged the Hong Kong government to comply with Article 25(b) of the covenant by respecting both the right to vote and the right to be elected. Geneva, being the site of the Human Rights Council, the OHCHR, and the latter’s special procedures and treaty bodies, attracts the best and brightest of diplomats specializing in human rights. On this visit Kamm was hosted to a luncheon organized by the American and Norwegian missions. In attendance were diplomats from Australia, Canada, the Council of Europe, the Czech Republic, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and Uruguay.

Kamm met separately with China’s newly appointed representative to the Human Rights Council, Minister Counselor Ren Yisheng, who has 20 years of experience in conducting human rights diplomacy.

Switzerland enjoys one of the few remaining bilateral human rights dialogues with China. Kamm made a day trip to Berne, the Swiss capital, on October 23 to discuss prospects for the next dialogue, expected to take place in early 2015, at a working lunch with Swiss Human Rights Ambassador Nicole Wyrsch.

The Hague and Scandinavia

The Netherlands is a key grantor of Dui Hua’s women in prison initiative, supporting the foundation’s research and international symposium. This European trip marked Kamm’s first visit to The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government. Discussions were held with the Netherlands’ newly appointed Human Rights Ambassador Kees van Baar. Afterward, Kamm gave a public lecture on Dui Hua’s work, titled “The Quality of Mercy,” at a downtown venue.

From The Hague Kamm headed north to Scandinavia. In Stockholm he held meetings with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director Magnus Stuxberg of the Department of East Asia and the Pacific and Director Mans Molander of the Human Rights Section. A working luncheon was held with Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) Program Manager Michael Otto. SIDA become a principal supporter of Dui Hua’s work in late 2012.

Executive Director Kamm (center left) meets with Danish business community. Image credit: Danish-Chinese Busines Forum

Kamm then headed to Copenhagen for two full days of activities. In addition to meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kamm was hosted to a dinner attended by Denmark’s leading Sinologists. The increasingly difficult operating environment for foreign NGOs in China was discussed. The next day Kamm addressed the Danish Chinese Business Forum on corporate social responsibility in China and met with Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture. A topic of conversation was Dui Hua’s latest estimate for the number of executions in China in 2013.

The final stop on this trip was Norway. Kamm attended the ceremony honoring the Rafto Prize Laureate in Bergen on November 2. The prize is second only to the Nobel Peace Prize in prestige for human rights defenders. The next day, Kamm flew to Oslo where he met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Section for East Asia and Oceania and was hosted to separate luncheons by the leadership of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights and Professor Geir Lundestad, Director of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Lundestad will retire at the end of 2014 after serving 25 years at the committee’s helm. As he has done on several occasions, Kamm was given the honor of briefing the Norwegian parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. The current parlous state of Sino-Norwegian relations was the main topic of discussion.

The final meeting of Kamm’s month long trip was with Vidar Helgesen, Minister and Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister. The session took place on November 5, immediately after the results of America’s midterm election were made public. The two men explored the implications of the Republican Party’s stunning victory for President Barack Obama’s last two years in office. Kamm returned to San Francisco on November 6, exhausted from the grueling regimen, but well pleased with the results.


Sentence Reductions

In October, Dui Hua received a government response on three individuals who were sentenced in Henan in 2009 for printing and selling banned booksMa Fuxiang (马富祥) and Hao Qinglin (郝清林) were released early in February 2013 after each of them received two sentence reductions totaling 23 months. Their business partner Zhang Zhimin (张志民)also received a sentence reduction in February 2013, but he remains in Xinxiang Prison serving out his eight-year sentence, the longest sentence of the three men. “Illegal business activity” can result in prison sentences of five years or more if cases are deemed serious. In this particular case the severity of the crime was not based on political intent, which was not mentioned in the verdict, but on the amount of revenue generated and the number of books sold.

Thabkey Gyatso stands trial in 2009. Image credit: Gannan Prefecture TV

Following Sangye Kyab’s nine-month sentence reduction reported in the November Digest, Tibetan prisoner Thabkey Gyatso was granted a 12-month sentence reduction by different Gansu court. Thabkey Gyatso participated in the Tibetan riots five months before the Beijing Olympics commenced, resulting in a 15-year sentence for inciting splittism in May 2009. Unofficial news media reported that Thabkey Gyatso carried and distributed Tibetan flags and shouted pro-independence slogans in Gansu’s Xiahe County and provided information to overseas “separatist” forces. Tibetan author Woeser said that his family was not allowed to visit him in detention or attend the trial, and that his confession was extracted through torture. Tried in the same case, Tsultrim Gyatso was sentenced to life in prison for splittism. He is not known to have received any sentence reductions to date.

Communist Fervor Forgives Crimes

Grounds for receiving clemency in China include confession, remorse, and meritorious service, but sometimes being a good communist will suffice. In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2009, then Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xiali granted sentence reductions to prisoners if they successfully took part in cultural activities that promoted communist revolutionary ideals. These activities included reading books and singing songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” “The People’s Army is Loyal to the Party,” and “The Party Is Our Loving Mother.”

Prisoners sing “red songs” to visiting officials in Sichuan’s Yibin Prison. Image credit:

Believing that “red culture” could “purify prisoners’ souls,” the Ministry of Justice invited prison bureau cadres from Shaanxi, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing, and Sichuan to convene a red culture rehabilitation symposium in Chongqing on March 27, 2011. The red culture rehabilitation phenomenon then spread to prisons in a number of other provinces. Based on online verdicts published by Nanping Intermediate People’s Court in Fujian Province, seven prisoners serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, and robbery received credits for sentence reductions up to 24 months in September 2011, due in part to their excellent performance in singing “red songs.”

After leading proponent Bo Xilai was deposed following the Wang Lijun incident in February 2012, some prisons continued to carry out red culture rehabilitation. Verdicts issued by the Nanping Intermediate People’s Court show that at least four prisoners received credits for sentence reductions after November 2012 because they won red song competitions. Among those who benefited was Wang Jicheng (王集成), who was sentenced to eight years in prison for inciting splittism and inciting subversion in December 2009.


In November, media including Reuters and The Diplomat continued to cite Dui Hua’s estimate of the number people China executed in 2013 in their coverage of death penalty reforms currently under consideration in China. In the last week of the month, The New York Times cited the estimate in two separate articles: one about China’s request to have the United States and other countries extradite fugitive officials fleeing corruption charges, and the other about a British TV drama exploring capital punishment in China.


Featured Article: Deciding Death: How Chinese Judges Review Capital Punishment Cases (November 18)

In the eastern part of Beijing, not far from the city’s main railway station, sits an unmarked, multi-story office building whose importance can only be discerned by the presence of armed police guards. This is where the fates of China’s death-row defendants are ultimately determined. Summarizing a recent feature in Southern Weekly, we describe how these life-and-death decisions are made.

Converting Cult Work: From 610 to Social Service (November 25)
Last month’s DigestNovember 2014


To celebrate 15 years of human rights advocacy, we’ll be highlighting a key moment from this month in Dui Hua history.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage presents Executive Director Kamm with the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights on December 13, 2001.

On December 13, 2001, Executive Director John Kamm received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights for his and Dui Hua’s work in helping prisoners of conscience through dialogue with China. Established in 1998 by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright under the direction of President Bill Clinton, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award is given to Americans who have an outstanding record of promoting human rights domestically or internationally. Before presenting the award at the US Department of State, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Kamm, who had left the business field to become a full-time human rights advocate, for showing that “business people can not only open markets to American products they can touch hearts with their pursuit of American values.”

Dui Hua was less than two years old at the time of the award. Now in our 15th year, Dui Hua continues to advocate for at-risk prisoners and human rights advancements by engaging in dialogue with the Chinese government and with human rights advocates worldwide. In addition to our focus on political prisoners, Dui Hua has expanded its mission to advocate for the rights of juvenile offenders and women at odds with the law.

For the original transcript of the 2001 award ceremony, please click here.