Photo: Wiki Commons
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm spent the last week of October in Switzerland. He met with officials of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), diplomats from a dozen countries with permanent missions to the United Nations in Geneva, and senior officials of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in Berne. The day before his arrival in the Swiss capital, Switzerland was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, a good point of departure for discussions on human rights in China.
Kamm found the OHCHR in a state of disarray, beset by two separate but related crises: one moral, and one financial. The moral crisis stems from the botched handling of an investigative report detailing the sexual abuse of children by French troops assigned to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). Senior OHCHR officials did not take action for months after they received the report, in part because of the financial crisis enveloping the organization. Then, in the summer of 2014, Director Anders Kompass of the Field Operations and Technical Divisions gave the internal report to the French police via the French Permanent Mission, an act that led to his suspension. A Board of Inquiry empaneled by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon overturned the suspension, but at the time of Kamm’s visit to Geneva, Kompass remained under investigation and unable to meet visitors.
The OHCHR’s financial crisis results from years of spending beyond revenues from donor countries. The office has responded to the crisis by cutting staff and not filling key positions once they become vacant. Staff morale is low. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has put together an ambitious restructuring plan that would shift resources to field offices and merge divisions in Geneva. The plan is encountering resistance both internally and by permanent members of the Security Council in New York.
During his October trip, Kamm was unable to meet with high-level OHCHR staff that he had met with as recently as last year. Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri took early retirement, ostensibly for health reasons, but more likely as a result of the CAR scandal. Director Kompass was under investigation. Chief Hanny Megally of the Asia Pacific Middle East and North Africa Branch had retired, and Chief Rory Mungoven of the Asia Pacific Division was on sabbatical studying in Australia.
Productive sessions were held, however, with officers of the Special Procedures Division and the China team of the Asia Pacific Division. In September the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted principles and guidelines on the right to judicial review (habeas corpus). Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council created a post for a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy.
The Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights visited China in July, and more special procedures experts are expected to visit in the coming months. High Commissioner Zeid remains keen to visit China in 2016, and talks are underway with the Chinese Mission to realize this goal. Kamm was able to review preparations for the upcoming session of the Committee on Torture, which will review China’s report. The one-month session commences on November 9.
In his discussions in Geneva and Berne, Kamm took a balanced approach to assessing human rights in China. He decried the increased use of various forms of arbitrary detention, the ongoing police campaign against human rights lawyers and activists, the imminent passage of the law on managing foreign non-governmental organizations, and the handling of ethnic tensions. Meanwhile, he pointed to notable achievements including the continued reduction in the annual number of executions; the rise in non-custodial sentences for juvenile offenders; the increased use of suspended sentences for women offenders; and the abolition of the one-child policy, which was announced by Beijing while Kamm was in Switzerland.
On November 1, Kamm departed Geneva for Oslo, where he began a 12-day trip in Scandinavia. Results of his meetings in Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen will be covered in the next issue of Digest.
On August 9, 2015, Lai Yiwa (赖亦瓦), member of quasi-Christian group Almighty God, received a six-month sentence reduction. Dui Hua first intervened on behalf of Lai in 2013. His sentence reduction is the first known act of clemency received by an Almighty God member convicted in Guangdong Province since the nationwide clampdown on the outlawed group began in December 2012. Almighty God members disseminated information saying that the apocalypse would arrive on December 21, 2012. Lai is scheduled for release from a Beijing prison on June 15, 2019.
An official document Dui Hua obtained in October revealed the name of an individual convicted for involvement in the New Era Communist Party of China. Founded by Dong Zhanyi and active in Henan, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Shandong, the underground party allegedly raised funds through the establishment of a supermarket management company. Like Dong, Yang Changlin (杨长林) was found guilty of subversion and contract fraud for his party activities. Yang was sentenced to 16 years in prison and three years’ deprivation of political rights in 2012. He is currently serving his sentence in Henan No.1 Prison and applied for a sentence reduction earlier this year.
In the first 10 months of the year, Dui Hua was mentioned in 235 media reports. In September, the Congressional Research Service issued a report on human rights in China and US policy. As in previous years, Dui Hua publications and analysis featured prominently in the report. Dui Hua’s reputation for providing authoritative estimates on the number of executions in China was reflected in international coverage from Vietnam to the United Kingdom and in a recent article in Foreign Policy. Attention to the death penalty was fueled in part by the release of a documentary on PBS examining claims that Chinese authorities harvest organs from prisoners of conscience.
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
For two and a half years, Hong Kong-based American businessman John Kamm focused exclusively on prisoners of conscience. Then, in the summer of 1992, Kamm received a request to intervene on behalf of Hong Kong businessman Chong Kwee-sung. Chong, an American green card holder, was taken into custody at the border crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China in August 1991 and immediately transported to Zhengzhou, Henan Province. Three months later he was formally arrested on suspicion of fraud.
Chong was representing an American bicycle importer who was embroiled in a commercial dispute with Zhengzhou-based Central China International Economic and Trading Corporation. For 30 months, from August 1991 to February 1994, Chong was held in a Zhengzhou detention center. He was allowed to keep his cell phone, which he used to call colleagues and family to arrange the payment of bribes to guards, who in turn afforded him better treatment, including a choice spot near a window in his 40-man cell.
Kamm quickly made the Chong Kwee-sung case a priority, raising it on every trip he made to Beijing from the second half of 1992 until Chong’s release. In meetings with Kamm, China’s Ministry of Public Security, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, State Council Information Office, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs all heard about Chong.
A breakthrough in the case came in early 1994 when an increasingly desperate Chong wrote a letter to his family in which he said he wanted to commit suicide by refusing to eat or drink. A guard smuggled the letter out of the detention center. Chong’s daughter immediately brought the letter to Kamm. While she told Kamm that he could use the letter to help win her father’s release, she asked that he not give the letter to the Chinese authorities in order to protect the guard and her father from reprisal.
Kamm set up a meeting with one of China’s most famous police officers: Zhu Entao (pictured below, credit: Tsinghua), head of the Ministry of Public Security’s International Division, and known in some circles as “China’s 007.” Zhu was China’s senior representative on Interpol and among the most senior Chinese officials who decided which prisoners to release. He was a dapper, sophisticated man who first met Kamm in the mid-1970s, while managing the Guangzhou Trade Fair’s Liaison Office for westerners.
The pair met in Zhu’s office at the Ministry of Public Security. While holding the letter in plain view, Kamm pleaded for Chong’s freedom. Weeks later, Chong was released and allowed to return to Hong Kong.
After his release, Chong came to see Kamm. The two men repaired to a nearby restaurant, where Chong provided a detailed account of his time in detention. He revealed that detainees worked long hours making plastic flowers for export to the United States and brought with him a box that named the Los Angeles-based importer. He also spoke of witnessing the beatings of detainees whose families were too poor to make pay-offs. Most shocking was Chong’s account of the practice of executing young, healthy men so that a hospital, which had a business relationship with the detention center, could harvest their organs.
Young men were executed in batches of 14. The executions were scheduled when the hospital had filled all of its beds with patients, mostly from Southeast Asian countries, desperate for life-saving transplants. The day before they were to be executed, the detainees were informed of their fates, provided with a farewell meal, and given an injection to reduce the trauma a body suffers when a bullet is taken in the back of the head. The prisoners’ organs were harvested in specially designed vehicles parked at the site of the executions. Chong told Kamm that he was aware of more than 20 such “batch executions” during his time in the center.
China has since banned the use of prisoner organs for transplants and prohibits the export to the United States of goods made in prisons or detention centers. Chong’s revelations were among the first detailed reports about these practices, and they contributed to their eventual abolition.