UN expert body concerned about recent wave of enforced disappearances

GENEVA: The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed Friday serious concern at the recent wave of enforced disappearances that allegedly took place in China over the last few months.

“Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law. Even short-term secret detentions can qualify as enforced disappearances,” the UN expert body said. “There can never be an excuse to disappear people, especially when those persons are peacefully expressing their dissent with the Government of their country.”

The Working Group has received recently multiple reports of a number of persons having being subject to enforced disappearance, including lawyers Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, and Tang Jingling.

According to the allegations received, there is a pattern of enforced disappearances in China, where persons suspected of dissent are taken to secret detention facilities, and are then often tortured and intimidated, before being released or put into “soft detention” and barred from contacting the outside world.

According to the Working Group, “persons subject to enforced disappearances appear to be human rights activists, lawyers and students. These enforced disappearances represent the continuation of a disturbing trend in the suppression of dissidents”. However there are older cases that the Working Group continues to monitor, a few of which are indicated below as a representative sample.

A case going back 16 years is that concerning Gedhun Choekyi Nyima known as the 11th Panchen Lama. He disappeared in 1995 when he was six years old. While the Chinese authorities have admitted taking him, they have continually refused to divulge any information about him or his whereabouts, making his case an enforced disappearance. A number of human rights mechanisms including the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, have all called for his whereabouts to be revealed, to no avail.

Another case that the experts continue to express their concern about is that of Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer, who has been disappeared for most of the past two years and has seemingly conveyed a number of accounts of torture that he has suffered by the police. The Working Group sent an Urgent Action communication on his case to the Chinese government on 23 February 2009.

A further case concerns Mr. Feng Jiang, a Falun Gong practitioner who disappeared at the hands of the Chinese authorities at Shanghai Pudong Airport while on his way to meet his wife in Newark, New Jersey, USA on 18 February 2010.

“China has an obligation to abide by the strictest standards in the field of human rights. It also should fully cooperate with the UN special procedures and in particular with the Working Group,” they stressed.

The Working Group called on the Chinese authorities to release all those who have been disappeared, to provide full information on the fate and the whereabouts of the persons who have allegedly disappeared. “It ought to ensure that there are full investigations into these practices and should provide integral reparations to those who have suffered this heinous practice”, concluded the experts.

The Working Group was established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. In view of the Working Group's humanitarian mandate, clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person is clearly established.

The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa) and the other members are Mr. Ariel Dulitkzy (Argentina), Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Mr. Osman El-Hajjé (Lebanon) and Mr. Olivier de Frouville (France).

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