Dui Hua Attends 41st Meeting of the Human Rights Council
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm and Senior Manager for Programs & Publications Lili Cole attended the first week of the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council [HRC] in Geneva from June 24 to June 30, 2019. They met with officials of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and diplomats of the Chinese Mission, the United States Mission, the Swedish Mission, the Swiss Mission, the Dutch Mission, and the Finnish Mission. Kamm and Cole were received by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer. Kamm’s friendship with Mr. Maurer dates back 15 years.
A principal focus of Dui Hua’s meetings in Geneva was the foundation’s April 2020 Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law, to be held in Hong Kong in April 2020. Dui Hua attended two events relevant to the Symposium. The first was the 41st Meeting of the Human Rights Council (HRC), at which the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice presented its global report on women in detention, to which Dui Hua had submitted testimony in September 2018. The second was a side event at which a report on children deprived of liberty, “Counting Children to Make Them Count: Filling the Data Gap,” led by Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, was presented. A separate meeting was held with Manfred Nowak. Professor Nowak will make a presentation at the Symposium on his global study as it relates to the treatment of girls in the criminal justice systems of more than 100 countries.
Following on the attention paid to human rights in China at the 40th Session of the HRC in March 2019, the situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang continued to attract attention at the 41st Session. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye, in the presentation of his global report, emphasized the use of artificial intelligence to limit freedom of opinion and expression in Xinjiang. Apparently in response to rising concern about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Aierken Tuniyazi, Vice Governor of the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, made a presentation to attendees on the second day of the session. He presented the now-familiar defense of the “vocational training” centers: they are voluntary, “trainees” are allowed to go home on the weekends, and people in the camps are happily engaged in singing and dancing as well as learning how to cook and cut hair. The centers are credited by the Chinese government with having sharply reduced the number of terrorist incidents in Xinjiang.
There was also a side event devoted to rights abuses in China, with a special emphasis on developments in Xinjiang, the protests in Hong Kong, and the crackdown on lawyers. It was organized by Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity International, and the International Service for Human Rights, with a video address by Arthur Moses SC, president of the Law Council of Australia. It was well attended, including by diplomats from foreign missions. A representative from the Chinese Mission attended and was invited to address the attendees. He congratulated the presenters on telling lie after lie, and slammed them for never having visited Xinjiang or Hong Kong. In general, developments in Hong Kong did not attract a lot of attention at the 41st Session, even though millions of people there had taken to the streets to protest a proposed extradition law in the two weeks prior to the opening of the session.
The absence of the United States from the deliberations of the Council was much in evidence. This reflects a strategic decision by Washington to address human rights issues in the General Assembly’s Third Committee in New York City instead. The United States views the Human Rights Committee as a body dominated by human rights abusers that is biased against Israel and the United States.
PUBLICATIONS ROUND UP
Featured: Human Rights Journal: July 24, 2019: From Hu to Xi: China’s Grip on Environmental Activism: II of II. Environmental Activism from Above and Below
The concept of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) was entirely foreign to China until, in the nation’s first bid for the Olympic Games in 1993, its delegation was asked by the International Olympic Committee whether China had ENGOs. A year later, China’s first ENGO, Friends of Nature, formerly known as The Academy for Green Culture, was formally incorporated. Both grassroots and foreign-funded ENGOs thereafter emerged, and provided help for victims stricken by environmental disasters. The most famous of these were the deadly floods along the Yangtze River in 1998, caused by deforestation, and the Nu River hydropower project, which would have flooded a natural UNESCO site on the lower reaches of the river in Yunnan, had then-prime minister Wen Jiabo not put a dam-building moratorium on the river due to ecological concerns.
An early criminal case involving six villagers, all surnamed Ye, who joined an environmental non-profit organization, did not garner the attention it deserves. The leading members were sentenced in 2010 to 6-18 years’ imprisonment for multiple violent offenses, including organizing/leading an organization of a gangland nature. The case took place in Guangdong’s Huangshawei Township, not far from another township well-known for ceramics, where a clay quarry began operation in 2008. Southern Farmer’s Daily reported that half of the quarry sites were illegal and over 300 haul trucks without mechanical covers passed through Huangshawei Township every day, causing both safety hazards and considerable dust pollution. As government officials refused to take measures to protect the villagers, the villagers set up The Huangshawei Education Foundation in July 2009 to defend their environmental rights. The foundation used its funds to provide subsidies to affected villagers and hired armed road guards to intercept haul trucks. Within two months of its founding, the foundation successfully pressed the local government and quarry operation for compensation over pollution. In October 2009, a verbal argument turned into a group brawl after the foundation members intercepted a haul trucker who refused to use a mechanical cover. The foundation was then labelled a “gangland” organization and the compensation it had received from the government was cited as evidence of extortion. In 2017, a Chinese government response provided to Dui Hua confirmed that one of the foundation members, Ye Bailian (叶百练), received three sentence reductions, 32 months in total, between 2013 and 2017. Ye is now scheduled for release on May 6, 2025.
According to Southern Farmer’s Daily, similar environmental rights groups had emerged in four nearby villages after The Huangshawei Foundation was founded in 2009. While it is unclear whether they all suffered the same fate, the fact that all of them targeted the same clay mining operations reflected a growing trend in grassroots environmental consciousness. Over the two decades since 1994, there was an exponential growth in ENGOs nationwide. The number had grown from just nine in 1994 to 8,000 in 2017, according to Gulf News, citing the French Embassy in Beijing. ENGOs were said to have enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom – many, in fact, were co-funded by local governments to evaluate the environmental impact of factories and even to critique public policy.
Nonetheless, Xi has tightened his grip on environmental activism, particularly since the Foreign NGO Law came into effect in 2017. The law requires all foreign NGOs to abide by strict requirements related to funding sources and registration procedures, which has sharply limited their ability to support or collaborate with Chinese NGOs, including ENGOs…
In Part I of this featured research, Dui Hua analysed a decade of environmental activism, both mass protests and individual actions, and the price paid by those trying to protect the environment.
In case you missed it: June 27, 2019: Annual Report 2018 A summary of The Dui Hua Foundation’s activities and achievements for 2018.
JOHN KAMM REMEMBERS
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.
A Teaching Prison
I flew to Beijing from Hong Kong on February 26, 2003 to make final preparations for a visit to Lhasa to see Ngawang Sangdrol, a young Tibetan nun who had been incarcerated in Drapchi Prison as a counterrevolutionary. I was the guest of the Ministry of Justice, but the visit to Lhasa had also been approved by senior leaders of the State Council, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Communist Party.
Before going to Lhasa to meet Ngawang Sangdrol, I was invited to tour a Chinese prison in the vicinity of Beijing, Yancheng Prison in Yanjiao Township, Hebei Province, about an hour’s drive from Beijing. The visit was to take place on February 27, a cold and dreary day. I was picked up at my hotel at 9 AM, arriving at the prison before 10 AM. The visit lasted two hours.
Yancheng Prison is the only prison in China under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice. All other prisons in China are under the control of provincial prison bureaus, with the exception of Qincheng Prison in Beijing, which is under the control of the Ministry of Public Security. Yancheng was opened in October 2002, less than six months before my visit. I was told that I was the second foreigner to visit the prison. The first foreign visitor was the Minister of Justice of Zimbabwe. I thanked the Vice Minister of Justice who accompanied me on the visit for this high honor.
A High Honor
At the time of my visit, the first phase of construction had been completed and the first batch of 100 prisoners had been admitted. Eventually, 1,000 prisoners would be housed in the half-square-kilometer facility until the second phase of construction was completed at the end of 2004, at which time the facility would house 1,600 prisoners.
At full capacity, the prison would hold as many as 400 foreign prisoners. I was told that many of the foreign prisoners would have been convicted by courts in other parts of China but would be held in Yancheng for the convenience of family members who wished to make monthly visits, standard practice in the Beijing Hebei region. Guards speaking foreign languages would supervise the foreign prisoners.
Yancheng Prison was described as a “teaching prison,” a facility where wardens and guards from around the country would learn the most advanced techniques for running prisons. The plan was for there to be a prisoner to guard ratio of 4:1. Prisoners would be organized into groups of 100, each group representing a specific crime (e.g. assault, theft). The administration would experiment with different reform techniques to ascertain which ones are most effective for which crimes.
The prison (known, for its distinctive architecture, as the “White House”) was originally meant to house inmates from Beijing and Hebei serving sentences of 5-10 years, but as time went by it was used to house prisoners who had committed crimes in other parts of China, as well as prisoners serving longer sentences. Such prisoners were often senior government and party officials, including family members, many of whom had been convicted of corruption.
They lived a privileged life. Chinese social media was ablaze with indignant tales of profligate living, including free internet, banquets, heavy drinking, and hosting of sex workers in the former officials’ palatial cells.
One of the most famous prisoners sent to Yancheng was Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, former Chongqing party chief and member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. Bo was in line to join the Standing Committee of the Politburo when he was removed from his posts in 2012. He was convicted of corruption in 2013. He was one of the first “big tigers” felled by General Secretary Xi Jinping. Bo is serving his life sentence in Qincheng Prison.
In August 2012, Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood and given a suspended death sentence, later commuted in late December 2015 to life in prison. She is incarcerated in Yancheng’s female prisoner wing. Unlike almost all other prisons in China, Yancheng has cell blocks for both male and female prisoners.
Other notorious tigers serving long sentences in Yancheng are Nan Yong and Yang Yimin, former vice chairmen of the China Football Association (sentenced to 10 and ½ years for corruption) and Zhang Shuguang, a senior official of the Ministry of Railways (life in prison for taking bribes).
On February 27, 2003, the date of my visit, I was taken to the warden’s office where I was given a brief introduction, including on how the sentence reduction and parole system worked.
I then toured a cell block, the well-equipped infirmary, work spaces, classrooms, and the kitchen offering bountiful dishes, including ethnic food. Each cell held up to eight prisoners. The prisoners slept on bunk beds made of wood with no sharp edges, to prevent suicides. I was also shown the solitary confinement cells. They had yet to be used, I was told. The prison was situated in well-tended grounds with flowers and trees. I was told that soccer pitches and a gym would be provided.
Appeal for a Transfer
Not long after my visit I sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Judicial Assistance and Foreign Affairs, thanking it for the visit. I had been asked by the family to help a foreign prisoner who had been convicted of an economic crime and was incarcerated in a Beijing prison. In my letter to the ministry I asked that he be transferred to Yancheng Prison. My request was eventually granted.
After several sentence reductions, the man was released from Yancheng several years early, around five years after my visit to the prison.
He thanked me for my efforts on his behalf. He knew I had visited Yancheng, but he remarked that the inmates hated visits by foreign dignitaries. “They make us do lots of work to make the prison spic and span.” he remarked. “We are given toothbrushes to clean the stairs and if any dirt remains we are punished.”
After my visit, I returned to Beijing. The following day I flew to Lhasa via Chengdu to see Ngawang Sangdrol.
Yancheng’s reputation as a luxury prison for high level corrupt officials finally caught up to it. A widely-viewed WeChat posting of life at the prison in 2016 — replete with pictures of abundant food, manicured gardens, and soccer pitches — fueled widespread indignation. The photos appeared shortly before Minister of Justice Wu Aiying was toppled for corruption in early 2017.
In December 2018, a high-level inspection team made up of central party and government officials reported on their investigation into what was going on in Yancheng Prison. It concluded that prison management lacked “in depth study and implementation of Xi Jinping’s socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics.”
The prison also came under fire for lacking an “unswerving spirit to implement the instructions of central leading comrades, including General Secretary Xi Jinping,” and for “serious violations of law and discipline by guards.” It is not known if the findings of the MOJ inspection impacted inmates serving sentences at Yancheng. At least one prisoner who had refused to admit guilt and who was serving a long sentence was transferred to another prison with far worse conditions.