GENEVA – A group of UN experts, including Maina Kiai, today expressed their dismay concerning the death of Cao Shunli in hospital on 14 March, and extended their sincere condolences to her family and friends.
Ms. Cao was a prominent human rights activist in China who had tirelessly campaigned since 2008 for transparency and greater participation of civil society in the second universal periodic review (UPR) of China’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council.
On 14 September 2013, Ms. Cao was prevented by Chinese authorities from boarding a flight from Beijing to Geneva where she was to participate in a human rights seminar and observe China’s UPR. Ms. Cao’s whereabouts were unknown until she was charged with the crime of “creating a disturbance.” Her health deteriorated while she was in detention and she was transferred to hospital in a critical condition on 19 February 2014.
Ms. Cao’s enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, failing health and the fact that she was denied medical care were brought to the attention of the UN experts who transmitted urgent appeals to China.
A group of UN human rights experts issued public statement (“UN experts alarmed by reprisals against activists linked to China’s international human rights review”) on 16 October 2013. A formal response from the Chinese authorities indicating that she had no serious health problems and had access to medical care was questioned by the experts.
The experts urge the Chinese authorities to investigate the circumstances leading to Ms. Cao’s death promptly.
“The death of Ms. Cao is a tragic example of the results of criminalization of the activities of human defenders in China and reprisals against them. It is unacceptable that civil society activists pay the ultimate price for peaceful and legitimate interaction with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms,” the experts said.
They recalled that the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and successive presidents of the Human Rights Council have highlighted the legitimate role of civil society in defending human rights enjoyment for all and the importance of prevention and adequate response to reprisals and intimidation.
Those signing onto the statement are the UN Special Rapporteurs: on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; on the right to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; on the situation of human rights defenders; and on the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and the Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and on Arbitrary Detention.