August 30, 2019
August 30 is set aside each year as the International Day of the Disappeared to raise awareness of the victims of enforced disappearances and to end the terrifying state practice.
The practice involves authorities taking someone using agents of the state, or those acting on their behalf, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that person’s fate or whereabouts. For those who are taken, the risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is high.
In a report presented at the September session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances highlighted that from February to May alone, it had responded to 20 new cases of enforced disappearances in China. Recently, the group had had sent other forms of communications to the Chinese government, including a joint letter last August on the use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), following a submission from Safeguard Defenders, which I am a co-founder of, along with the International Service for Human Rights, Network for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and the Rights Practice.
RSDL empowers police to take and hold someone in secret for up to six months. But seldom are they released after six months. Although the law ostensibly provides for the right to legal counsel or the notification of family members, exceptions in the law that have become the rule permit for the denial of procedural safeguards, important for preventing enforced disappearances and torture. Safeguard Defenders and others have extensively documented cases of abuse in RSDL.
Responding to the Working Group three months later, China claimed that disappearances under RSDL do not exist, which is an abject falsehood. This echoed China’s denial of extrajudicial “black jails” following the UN’s 2009 Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council. Although a few years later, China acknowledged the existence of “black jails” and claimed that they were abolished. This happened conspicuously around the time that RSDL came into law.
China continues to mask its human rights abuses behind the rhetoric of the rule of law.
Land of disappearances
As I argued in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, China has institutionalised arbitrary and secret detention, from extrajudicial to formalised criminal procedures.
China must abolish those sections of domestic law that permit secret detention. It must pass new legislation that defines and criminalizes enforced disappearances, and ensures the effective right to prompt access to legal counsel, requires all detainees’ real names be recorded in registers that include the date, time, location and all interrogation records, and other measures in line with international norms to end enforced disappearances. It must also protect the rights of victims and family members to seek remedy and know the truth.
Int’l Day of the Disappeared: China must put a halt to secret detention and all forms of enforced disappearances
– Began legal career in 2002, specializing in human rights cases regarding freedom of religion, criminal defense, land rights, petitioners’ rights, administrative and civil litigation
– Represented 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang who has been detained for three years
– License invalidated in 2018
– Published open letter recommending amendments to the Chinese constitution on 18 January 2018, taken away the next day by the police, and formally arrested on 19 April 2018
– Has been a victim of enforced disappearance since, having been denied his right to meet with his defense lawyers and his family
– Put on a trial in secret on 9 May
(China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group / 中國維權律師關注組 Facebook, 30/08/19)
(Human Rights in China Facebook, 30/08/19)