Dui Hua Attends China’s Third Universal Periodic Review in Geneva
China’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was held in Geneva November 6-9, 2018. UPRs are held under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council. All member states of the United Nations (UN) are obligated to submit to a review of their human rights records every four to five years. This was the 31st round of UPRs and it was the third time China’s human rights record was scrutinized by member states of the UN.
UPRs are managed by a troika of UN members. The troika for China’s third UPR was made up of Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Hungary, all countries that enjoy good relations with China.
Dui Hua, which made a submission to the UPR on judicial transparency in March, sent three staff to Geneva: Executive Director John Kamm, Programs and Development Manager Yin Yu, and Programs and Publications Officer Xandra Xiao. They sat through the interactive dialogue on November 6. During the interactive dialogue more than 150 countries made interventions; each intervention was limited to 45 seconds.
China’s delegation to its UPR was led by Vice Minister Le Yucheng and was made up of 56 delegates representing the State Council, the Supreme People’s Court, the Ministry Justice, and the State Administration of Religious Affairs, among others. Officials representing the Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions took part as members of China’s delegation.
The United States, which had quit the Human Rights Council in June, took part in China’s UPR. It was the only country to raise the names of political prisoners who, it said, should be released or accounted for. After the United States quit the council, China issued a statement of regret. At China’s third UPR, Vice Minister Le welcomed the Americans back to the council chambers. It is not certain however whether the United States will involve itself in future council activities, including UPRs. Some officials in the American government would prefer to see the country’s participation in China’s UPR as a “one-off,” in line with the maximum pressure on China policy articulated by Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Hudson Institute on October 4.
Focus on Xinjiang
Twenty-three countries used their interventions to criticize China’s policies in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are alleged to be interned in political education camps, referred to by the Chinese government as “vocational training centers.” These countries called for the immediate release of all those interned in the camps, the closure of all camps, and an end to discrimination against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
Although a minority of states participating in the UPR, the 23 countries who criticized China make up China’s largest trade and investment partners. They also account for the bulk of tourists visiting China.
China countered the criticisms by claiming that the vocational training centers taught much needed skills and Mandarin language fluency. The Chinese delegation said that internees signed an agreement upon entry, implying that their presence in the camps was voluntary, and asserted that the legal basis for the camps was the Counterterrorism Law and the recently amended Xinjiang regulations on de-extremification which authorized counties to establish vocational training centers. Vice Minister Le credited the centers with having brought security and stability to the region. He claimed that there had not been a single serious act of terrorism in Xinjiang in 22 months. It was also claimed that 132 million tourists visited Xinjiang from other parts of China and foreign countries in the first nine months of 2018.
Reflecting intense Chinese lobbying and financial assistance, not a single country with a majority Muslim population mentioned Xinjiang by name. Turkey, whose population is ethnically close to Uyghurs, referenced concern over China’s use of administrative measures to repress religious practices. Kazakhstan, which borders Xinjiang, similarly voiced concern (many Chinese Kazakhs are said to be in the camps) but said that the issue is being addressed through diplomatic channels.
Both critics and friends recommended that China ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — Beijing signed the covenant in 1997 — and establish a National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. Several countries asked China to release statistics on the number of executions carried out every year.
The Chinese delegation revealed that the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had been invited to China. It also said that the special rapporteurs on the right to development, the rights of the elderly, and the rights of the disabled would be invited to visit the country. It was also revealed that 427 foreign NGOs had registered in China since the law on foreign NGOs came into effect on January 1, 2017 (according to the Ministry of Public Security around a quarter of registered foreign NGOs are from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan). Before the law came into effect there were more than several thousand foreign NGOs operating in China.
In October, Dui Hua received a response from an official source on twelve prisoners in Guangdong province. The responses revealed that Zhang Junwei (张珺玮) is due to complete his five-year sentence for subversion on August 26, 2021. Zhang is one of the individuals who was sentenced for joining the “People’s Election Party” in Guangdong with the alleged intention of overthrowing the party in a violent revolution. Other individuals known to be sentenced in the same case include Xiang Fengxuan (项逢选), Ma Ji (马骥), and Yang Wanben (杨万本).
The same response also confirmed that seven Guangdong prisoners serving lengthy sentences for endangering state security have received sentence reductions ranging from five to seven months. ESS prisoners are subject to strict handling when it comes to applications for sentence reductions and parole; the length of reductions received is often shorter than prisoners sentenced to petty crimes or economic offenses such as theft, bribery, and fraud. Dui Hua uncovered the names of these prisoners from court websites. Available judgments did not provide information about the circumstances of the cases.
Unofficial news sources reported that former June Fourth student leader Zhou Yongjun (周勇军) was re-arrested in September, this time for “organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law”. Zhou was found to have Falun Gong materials in his possession and was detained on August 20 in Fangchenggang, Guangxi. Prior to his arrest, Zhou completed his nine-year sentence for fraud in December 2015 following at least two sentence reductions granted to him.
The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), known as Bingtuan (兵团) in Chinese, is a quasi-military and business conglomerate located in Xinjiang that governs a population of 2.6 million people of whom more than 200,000 are Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups. Founded in 1954 as a conglomerate of state-owned agricultural and stock-raising farms, the original XPCC settlers were comprised of decommissioned soldiers, captive Nationalist armed forces, and “rusticated youth,” who were inspired by Mao’s revolutionary dream of converting the Westernmost desert areas into arable land. In the last six decades, XPCC has grown from a population of 170,000 to a population of 2.6 million. The conglomerate now controls an area close to the size of Taiwan within the restive province of Xinjiang.
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.
1999: Dui Hua Begins its Work
When Senator Orrin Hatch visited China in 1997, he was accompanied by a leading scholar of contemporary China Michel Oksenberg, and a former senior staff member of Senator Hatch who had recently joined a private foundation, based on the East Coast, that supported both domestic and international projects with grants. A few months after the senator’s visit, I was contacted by the foundation to see if I’d be interested in applying for a grant.
With Dui Hua established and our first grant in hand, I headed for Hong Kong. I hired a couple of research assistants and together we went to the University Services Centre (USC) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the world’s premier repositories of materials on contemporary China. The USC has three floors of newspapers, journals, and books. The newspapers were held in the basement, in stacks arranged by province. I started by looking at newspapers published around the time of the Spring 1989 protests that culminated in the killings in Tiananmen Square. I focused on the newspapers of cities most affected by what the Chinese government referred to as a “counterrevolutionary uprising” – Beijing, Changsha, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
After four hours of eye-straining research, I had turned up virtually nothing. Not a single story, even those that reported on the protests, yielded the name of a detainee. Maybe the critics were right – the Chinese government didn’t publish such information. Maybe the Jilin newspaper report was a fluke. Discouraged, I took the elevator to the eighth floor.
The eighth floor is where books are held in open stacks. I headed for the section that held judicial books. There I found several hundred yearbooks and records (multi-year collections) put out by public security bureaus, courts, procuratorates, and prisons. I had struck gold. In four hours of work I unearthed more than a hundred names of individuals detained for political crimes.
Two of my most important finds were found in publications put out by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.
The December 1997 issue of Shanghai Public Security Journal revealed details of the case of Jiang Cunde. Jiang was a worker at a tool repair factory who plotted with other workers to set up an organization – “China Human Rights Committee” – modeled on Poland’s Solidarity Trade Union. Their activities took place in 1985 and 1986, and they were arrested and charged with counterrevolution in 1987. Jiang was sentenced to life in prison.
After discovering Jiang’s name, I began putting him on prisoner lists submitted to the Chinese government and have continued doing so up to the present day. I have been told that Jiang was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1993 and released on medical parole. He returned to political activities and was put back in prison in 1999. In 2004 his sentence was commuted to 20 years. Despite being awarded several citations for good behavior, Jiang has yet to receive another sentence reduction. He is imprisoned in Tilanqiao Prison and is said to suffer from severe mental illness characterized by psychotic episodes. He is due for release in 2024, by which time he will have served 31 years in prison.
The other case I found on my first foray into the holdings at USC was that of a disaffected young man by the name of Yu Rong. According to the 1990 Shanghai Public Security Yearbook and the popular magazine China Police, Yu Rong was responsible for printing and distributing 1,450 reactionary leaflets in Shanghai over a four-month period beginning in June 1989, not long after the suppression of the democracy protests in Beijing. Then-Mayor Zhu Rongji declared Yu’s action the biggest case of counterrevolutionary incitement in the history of Shanghai. He ordered the mobilization of hundreds of police officers to catch the culprit.
Most of Yu’s leaflets were dropped from tall buildings in Shanghai. By the time the leaflets reached the ground and had been collected and read, Yu had left the top of the buildings from where he had dropped the leaflets. After Yu was finally captured, the police accused him of committing 20 acts of arson and of dropping bricks from tall buildings, causing serious injuries and three deaths.
Since discovering Yu’s name in 1999, I have put him on 14 prisoner lists, but I have only received one written response. In April 2006 I was told that Yu was in a psychiatric detention center, also known as Ankang. If he is alive he is likely to still be there.
As China’s influence in Hong Kong has grown, the usefulness of the University Services Centre’s holdings has diminished. Recent publications with information on sensitive political crimes are rarely found on the centre’s shelves. The centre has been “harmonized.” For several years however the centre was an unrivaled source of the names of mostly unknown political prisoners about whom Dui Hua submits inquiries to the Chinese government. The USC’s role as a resource for our work has largely been taken over by Internet research, including surveying judgments in criminal cases posted on the Supreme People’s Court judgment websites.