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HRIC in Action: January-March 2009

April 1, 2009
Promoting China’s Implementation of Its International Human Rights Obligations

UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the People's Republic of China
Geneva, Switzerland (February 9)

Executive Director Sharon Hom participated in a press conference organized by Congressman Chris Smith, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, and Congressmen Frank Wolf and Joe Pitts, following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to China. During the visit, Secretary Clinton made remarks on human rights that suggested that U.S. concerns about human rights abuses in China must not interfere with cooperation on the financial crisis, global warming, and other issues. In addition to the Congressmen, speakers at the conference included former Chinese political prisoners Wei Jingsheng, Harry Wu, Bob Fu, and Rebiya Kadeer, as well as other Chinese human rights activists.

On February 9, China underwent a comprehensive review of its human rights practices by the UN Human Rights Council.

In preparation for the review session, HRIC submitted its NGO parallel report to the Human Rights Council in September 2008. In January 2009, HRIC staff undertook extensive lobbying and other preparatory work, including preparing issue backgrounders in advance of meetings with government representatives, and preparing a summary chart of human rights-related recommendations previously made by UN treaty bodies.

In Geneva, before the review session, Executive Director Sharon Hom and Communications and Media Director Mi Ling Tsui met with representatives of member states to discuss the issues that HRIC urged them to raise at the review session. Both Ms. Hom and Ms. Tsui attended the February 9 review session, where around 60 member states presented their comments. Some states commended China on its human rights record, while others raised questions, concerns, and recommendations, such as reform the state secrets system, ensure the independence of the judiciary, stop attacks on rights defense lawyers, and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Ms. Hom also engaged in several interviews with the press before and after the review session. (For a description of HRIC’s advocacy efforts in Geneva, see Carole Vann, “China Faces Its Contradictions in Geneva,” InfoSud, February 9, 2009 [in English translation].)

On February 11, the UPR Working Group released a draft report that included responses from China’s delegation to questions and recommendations raised by member states. While accepting some recommendations on the promotion of human rights in general, China rejected many that urge specific measures and reforms to advance genuine human rights in China. The rejected recommendations include: provide freedom of information and expression; ensure the independence of the judiciary and lawyers; safeguard detainees’ access to counsel; protect lawyers from attacks and harassment; and grant freedom of religion and movement to ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs. Sending a disturbing signal, China not only rejected recommendations to protect human rights defenders, but in fact accepted a recommendation to “avoid the impunity for people who are qualifying themselves as human rights defenders with the objective of attacking the interests of [the] state and the people of China.”

HRIC prepared four summary charts detailing the recommendations that were “accepted,” “rejected,” “already being implemented” and “to be examined” by China. HRIC has made these charts available to the press, government contacts, and other NGOs. (For more information about the Universal Periodic Review of China and related HRIC work, see Human Rights Council under HRIC International Advocacy.)

United Nations Working Group of Arbitrary Detention (February & March)

HRIC submitted two cases to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), an independent international body of human rights experts, to bring attention to the arbitrary detention of individuals in violation of their human rights. HRIC builds on decisions by the WGAD to push for the release of individuals and raises their cases with governments that participate in human rights dialogues with China, including the European Union (EU), EU member state governments, and the United States government.

United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (February)

HRIC submitted one case to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), which receives and examines reports of disappearances submitted by relatives of disappeared persons or human rights organizations acting on their behalf. After determining whether those reports comply with a number of criteria, the WGEID transmits individual cases to the governments concerned, requesting them to carry out investigations and to inform the WGEID of the results.

Congressional Press Conference: “Alarm Sets in over Secretary Clinton’s Abandonment of China Human Rights”
Washington, D.C. (February 26)

Executive Director Sharon Hom participated in a press conference organized by Congressman Chris Smith, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, and Congressmen Frank Wolf and Joe Pitts, following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to China. During the visit, Secretary Clinton made remarks on human rights that suggested that U.S. concerns about human rights abuses in China must not interfere with cooperation on the financial crisis, global warming, and other issues. In addition to the Congressmen, speakers at the conference included former Chinese political prisoners Wei Jingsheng, Harry Wu, Bob Fu, and Rebiya Kadeer, as well as other Chinese human rights activists.

True, in the book Wasserstrom correctly points to 1989 as a turning point for China and notes that China’s June Fourth massacre stunned the world. But unfortunately, Wasserstrom was unable to give a thorough account and analysis of the nature and impact of the June Fourth incident. This is a major shortcoming of the book. In my view, June Fourth is the key to understanding contemporary China. Almost all of the various phenomena of contemporary China are related to the June Fourth incident.

Advancing Corporate Social Responsibility

Consultative Meeting with NGOs Convened by Professor John Ruggie, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights
New York City (March 5)

Executive Director Sharon Hom attended this discussion with civil society organizations regarding the implementation of Professor Ruggie’s proposed business and human rights framework.

Congressional Briefing on the Global Network Initiative
Washington, D.C. (February 26)

Executive Director Sharon Hom participated in a briefing of Congressional members, their staff, and companies’ representatives by members of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a collaborative initiative to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. GNI speakers, including representatives of NGOs and ICT companies, introduced GNI’s approach to Internet censorship, privacy, and freedom of expression issues, and the challenges GNI faces. The briefing was organized by Congressmen Howard Berman, Christopher Smith, and Richard Durbin.

Meeting of the Global Network Initiative
New York City (February 25)

HRIC participated in a group meeting of the Global Network Initiative. More information – including the core documents detailing the Initiative’s objectives and the key commitments of the participants – can be found at the GNI website.

Reaching Broader Audiences

Annual Meeting of the Committee of Concerned Scientists
New York City (March 1)

Executive Director Sharon Hom spoke before the Committee of Concerned Scientists regarding the pre- and post-Olympics human rights situation in China. She provided an update on the status of human rights defenders and engaged in a question and answer period with the Committee.

University of Michigan Law School International Law Workshop
Ann Arbor, Michigan (March 9)

Executive Director Sharon Hom spoke on “U.S.-China Relations and International Human Rights” before an engaged audience of University of Michigan law students and faculty, including students and visiting scholars from China. She highlighted the results of the Universal Periodic Review of China in Geneva in February and the role of the United States in encouraging China to meet its international human rights obligations.

HRIC Press Work

Press Releases, Statements, Case Updates: Mid-December 2008 to March 2009

December 17, 2008: Zeng Jinyan’s Sakharov Prize Acceptance Speech on behalf of Hu Jia
HRIC published a translation of the acceptance speech of Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) on behalf of her husband, HIV/AIDS activist Hu Jia (胡佳), who was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. Following are two excerpts from her speech:

China is right now going through the most open period of its entire history; yet many of our fellow-citizens, including my husband, are still imprisoned merely because of their thoughts and words. That is the tragedy and the sorrow of our time. . . .

I think that this prize has gone to all of China’s rights defenders and their harassed family members. No matter how bad the political environment, there has always been a group of people with a conscience in China, people who have never abandoned the task of seeking justice through the judicial process and pursuing the goal of a more just society.

January 9, 2009: Chinese Authorities Continue to Suppress Charter 08; Number of Signers Exceeds 7,200
The number of signers of Charter 08 swelled to over 7,200, 80 percent of whom resided in mainland China. This support came despite official condemnation and continued harassment of the signers by authorities.

January 13, 2009: Petitioner Mao Hengfeng Has Been Detained after November Release from
Shanghai-based petitioner Mao Hengfeng (毛恒凤) was detained on January 12 for shouting slogans in public, and was held in detention for one week.

February 2, 2009: More than 500 Chinese Lawyers Sign Petition against Colleague’s Jail Sentence
HRIC reported on and published a petition signed by 511 lawyers in Shenzhen that called for the release of lawyer Liu Yao (刘尧). Liu had represented peasants whose land in Guangdong had been expropriated; after the peasants protested ongoing construction, Liu was sentenced to four years in prison for “intentional destruction of properties.”

February 2, 2009: Human Rights Lawyer in Arbitrary Detention
HRIC issued a joint statement with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International calling for information on the whereabouts and safety of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), who disappeared on January 19. Gao was previously detained and tortured in 2007.

February 7, 2009: Implementation and Protection of Human Rights in the People’s Republic of China
HRIC issued its parallel NGO report, which was submitted to the Human Rights Council in advance of its first review of the human rights practices of the People’s Republic of China.

February 8, 2009: Torture Account by Missing Rights Defense Lawyer Gao Zhisheng
HRIC published Gao Zhisheng’s (高智晟) account of the torture he endured in 2007 at the hands of the authorities.

February 9, 2009: China’s UN Human Rights Review: New Process, Old Politics, Weak Implementation Prospects
China underwent its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council. The Chinese delegation, led by Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong, dismissed concerns raised by many countries over China’s human rights practices as “politicized statements.”

February 11, 2009: China Rejects UN Recommendations for Substantive Reform to Advance Human Rights; HRIC Summary
HRIC released a summary of the Universal Periodic Review report on China, including summary charts of the UPR recommendations accepted, rejected, “already being implemented,” and “to be examined” by China.

February 13, 2009: Case Update: Elderly Activist Shuang Shuying Released; Reports Abuses in Prison
HRIC reported the release of 77-year-old evictions activist Shuang Shuying (双淑英) and published an interview in which she detailed the abuses suffered while in detention, including beatings and electric shock. Shuang had served a two-year sentence for striking an oncoming police car with her cane.

February 13, 2009: In Joint Letter, HRIC Urges Secretary of State Clinton to Make Human Rights Concerns a Priority in Trip to China
HRIC published a joint letter along with six other human rights groups—including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—to urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make human rights a priority during her February trip to the People’s Republic of China.

February 19, 2009: Beijing Law Firm Faces Six-Month Shutdown for Attorneys’ Support of Direct Bar Election
The Beijing Yitong Law Firm received a notice that it would be shut down for six months, ostensibly for allowing human rights defender Li Subin (李苏滨) to practice law without a license. Attorneys at the firm and outside observers believe the shutdown order was instead due to a number of Yitong attorneys supporting an appeal in August 2008 that called for direct election of the Beijing Bar Association. The firm could request a hearing on the decision.

February 23, 2009: Dissident Writer Interrogated for Publishing Critical Articles
Zhejiang-based writer Wu Gaoxing (吴高兴) was interrogated by public security police for “defaming the reputation of state organs.” Wu had written three articles critical of the current political situation in China.

February 26, 2009: In Open Letter, Tiananmen Mothers Urge China’s Leaders to Investigate June 4
HRIC published an open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of mothers and relatives who lost their loved ones during the government action in 1989. The letter called for an official investigation into the June Fourth military crackdown, compensations to the families of the victims, and accountability for those responsible.

March 5, 2009: Chinese Authorities Tighten Grip on Rights Defenders during NPC and CPPCC Sessions
HRIC reported on intensifying repression of human rights defenders during the meeting of the “Two Congresses,” including administrative detention of petitioning peasants, increased harassment and surveillance, and beatings.

March 6, 2009: Beijing Lawyers Association Violates Its Own Rule in Removing Independent Candidates from Election of Representatives
Five candidates for the March 4, 2009 runoff election of representatives from the Chaoyang District for the Beijing Lawyers Association were barred from the election. The candidates had met the requisite requirements for appearing on the ballot, and were likely barred due to their support of direct elections for BLA directors.

March 9, 2009: Guizhou Petitioner Ding Fayou Detained
Petitioner Ding Fayou (丁发有) had been detained since early March 2009 and beaten in detention. Ding was seeking redress for the wrongful death of his wife’s brother, Chen Jun, who was killed by a policeman who broke into Chen’s home.

March 11, 2009: Family of Missing Rights Defense Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Arrives in U.S.
The family of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) safely arrived in the United States after fleeing China. The whereabouts of Gao were still unknown.

March 12, 2009: Case Update: Beijing Intellectuals Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai Released after Eight Years in Prison
Beijing intellectuals Yang Zili (杨子) and Zhang Honghai (张宏海) were released from prison after completing their eight-year term for “subversion of state power.” The pair, along with two others, were convicted after participating in the New Youth Study Group (新青年学会), which discussed issues of political reform.

March 16, 2009: Labor Leader Yao Fuxin Is Released after Completing Seven-Year Term
Yao Fuxin (姚福信), a long-time labor activist, was released from prison after completing his seven-year term on conviction of “subversion of state power.” Yao, who has a history of fighting corruption, was charged after speaking before a peaceful demonstration of 5,000 workers who were demanding back wages and pension payments.

March 18, 2009: Beijing Law Firm Yitong Is Shut Down for Six Months; Staff Lawyers Ordered to Turn in Licenses
The Beijing Yitong Law Firm was ordered to shut down for six months, and all of its lawyers were required to give up their licenses. The decision stipulated that at the end of the six-month period, the firm must re-apply in order to resume operation, and that it can re-open only after inspection by the Haidian District Bureau of Justice.

March 31, 2009: Shandong Petitioner Sentenced to Reeducation-Through-Labor
Shandong petitioner Zhang Jinfeng (张金凤) was sentenced to one year and nine months of Reeducation-Through-Labor (RTL). Zhang was detained on March 5, 2009, while taking photos at a peaceful rally of several hundred petitioners in Quancheng Square, Jinan, Shandong Province.

HRIC Speaks

On the UN's Universal Periodic Review of China

“While Beijing defends its human rights policy at the UN on Monday, the NGO Human Rights in China has done a thorough and systematic job of revealing the facts.

“Invited to Geneva by FIDH, HRIC’s Sharon Hom and Mi Ling Tsui scoured Geneva for delegations in order to actively participate in the China review. . . .

“The two women came with a detailed, systematic plan to be heard by their government. To do this, they dissected the National Report that Beijing submitted for the UPR. . . .

“‘The West sees China’s 30 years of economic reforms as incredible progress. But we maintain that political reforms are also necessary, otherwise corruption cannot be eradicated, and the lack of transparency will smother economic progress. The global economic crisis, which began in 2008, has had a terrible impact on our country. The official statistics speak of 20 million workers who’ve lost their jobs. In reality, the number is even higher.’”

—Carole Vann, “China Faces Its Contradictions in Geneva,” InfoSud, February 9, 2009.

“‘This was a display of very low tolerance of critical comments,’ Sharon Hom, a Hong Kong-born lawyer who was a law professor in Beijing and now heads a U.S.-based monitoring group, Human Rights in China, told a news conference.”

—Robert Evans, “China Tells United Nations It Protects Human Rights,” Reuters, February 9, 2009.

“Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, noted that some countries had been able to put human rights issues onto the table during China’s review.

“But, she said, the Chinese delegates’ response, including their insistence that there was ‘no torture, no censorship, and no ethnic conflict’ in China, had raised ‘serious questions about credibility and good faith.’”

—Patrick Goodenough, “China Eases through U.N. Human Rights ‘Review,’”, February 10, 2009.

On the closing of Yitong Law Firm

“New York-based Human Rights in China said the firm may have been punished because some of its lawyers had signed an appeal in August 2008 calling for direct elections in the Beijing Lawyers Association, a government administered body.

“‘The six-month shutdown sends a chilling warning to all lawyers that the authorities will not tolerate any perceived challenges to their power,’ HRIC director Sharon Hom said in a statement.

“‘This is not the path to a rule of law,’ she said.”

“Beijing human rights law firm shut down,” Agence France Presse, March 18, 2009.

“If the judicial authorities insist on stage-managed elections to the bar, ‘it raises very troubling questions about the capacity for independent lawyers to develop in China,’ worries Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

“‘We have to ask whether it is possible to defend rights if there is no independent bar association,’ she adds.”

—Peter Ford, “China Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers,” Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 2009.

On the release of Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai after having served eight-year sentences for their activities with the New Youth Study Group

“‘The authorities destroyed the lives of young people who were simply exercising freedoms that are supposedly protected by Chinese law,’ said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, a group based in New York. For Mr. Yang and Mr. Zhang, those freedoms are now proscribed by the terms of their release. For two years, they have no right to free speech, assembly or association, and are forbidden to discuss politics.”

—Andrew Jacobs, “Two Chinese Dissidents Freed After Years in Prison,” New York Times, March 13, 2009.

On U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to China

“Sharon Hom: ‘We were disappointed with both the substance and the strategy of how human rights were raised. [. . .] The message that was clearly received by the Chinese—the authorities—was that, “human rights have been taken off the table.” That could not be the message that was intended, but I think it’s extremely important to note that Xinhua, the official press, has reported it as, “human rights issues have been thrown out of U.S. high-level talks.” They characterize Secretary Clinton’s visit as the economy now takes priority over human rights.”

“Getting to Know You: The Obama Administration and China,” KCRW Radio, To the Point, February 23, 2009.

HRIC Organizational Notes

HRIC welcomed three new staff members to the New York office:

Clara Kim, Development and Outreach Program Officer, has a technology, marketing, and law background, having worked in the private sector on product management and marketing, and in research and advisory services concerning corporate social responsibility for the natural resources sector. She holds a B.A. in Economics and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, where she participated in the International Woman’s Human Rights clinic. She is fluent in Korean and proficient in Japanese, and is admitted to the New York State Bar Association.

Garrett Traub, Program Assistant, has interned with HRIC since the fall of 2008 and is now working fulltime before starting law school in fall 2009. Garrett graduated from Princeton University in May 2008 with a B.A. in politics, concentrating in international relations. He has worked as a paralegal at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr LLP.

Michael Venezia, IT Systems Administrator, has worked in technology for over ten years, both managing projects and technological systems for the private sector as well as an independent music producer. He graduated with honors from SUNY Stony Brook with a degree in Psychology and holds multiple certifications in Computer Science.

HRIC is also hosting three interns during the spring of 2009:

Lena Kravtsoff, Law Intern, is pursuing a J.D. at New York University School of Law. She is on the board of the International Law Society and is a staff editor of the Journal of International Law and Politics. Previously she worked as a litigation paralegal and interned at the Global Justice Center. She received her B.A. in Politics from New York University, with minors in Chemistry, Business and Middle Eastern Studies.

Joey Han-Yu Lee, Law Intern, is HRIC’s New York University School of Law 2009 Robert L. Bernstein Fellow in International Human Rights. Joey will join HRIC full-time this summer. At present, Joey is interning with HRIC while he completes the Master of Laws program in international law at New York University, with a focus on human rights and dispute resolution. Joey previously practiced law as a litigation associate at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP in its Boston office. He earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Queen’s University and his J.D. from Boston University.

S.Y., Advocacy and Research Program Intern, recently completed a Masters of International and Public Affairs at the University of Hong Kong. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Oakland University (United States). Prior to studying at Hong Kong University she lived in China for four years studying Chinese and teaching English. She is interested in pursuing a career in advocacy work in China.

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