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“Red Notices” for Human Rights Abusers

“Red Notices” for Human Rights Abusers
by YANG Jianli
Interpol, the intergovernmental organization that facilitates police cooperation among member states, often issues red notices to alert its members to locate and arrest wanted persons with the aim of extradition or similar lawful action.  Interpol’s mission is guided by the principle of neutrality and Article 3 of its Constitution forbids the organization involved in any political activities.
However, authoritarian governments have increasingly used this process to target activists and journalists who are critical of the regime, and located outside the country. The governments’ aim is not only to secure their return to face trial on trumped-up charges, but also discredit and intimidate them, thereby damaging their reputation and harming their professional and possible business interests.
When Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman-turned-whistleblower, began to reveal information about corruption among China’s top leadership, Interpol, –whose current president is a Chinese official –issued a red notice alleging that Guo was a criminal who bribed a former top Chinese official.
A few years ago, at the Russian government’s request, Interpol issued a red notice for Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, who was instrumental in the passage of the Magnitsky Act of 2012, a U.S. law intending to seek justice for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in prison from police torture and other mistreatment, after he exposed corrupt acts of Russian officials.
Fortunately, Interpol’s red notice did not intimidate or deter Mr. Browder. With the help of Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), John McCain (R-AZ), Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), Browder was instrumental in the passage of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which President Obama signed it into law in 2016. The Global Magnitsky Act would allow the president to deny U.S. visas to and freeze U.S.-based assets of foreign persons acting under the color of law, who – based on credible evidence — are believed to have committed a gross violation of human rights or engaged in acts of significant corruption.
This historic law marks a paradigm shift in the development of international human rights norms. If fully and firmly implemented, I believe the Act will significantly strengthen and enhance the enforcement of international human rights laws, and provide a powerful tool for global human rights activists fighting against authoritarian regimes to hold all human rights abusers accountable.
In the past, state actors and agents, who committed war crimes and other atrocities, often hid behind the doctrine of sovereign immunity to avoid accountability. However, the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after World War II successfully challenged state actors’ impunity and established a legal precedent that any state actor, including state leaders, could be held criminally accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, this precedent has not been applied to individual human rights abusers acting under the color of law, and those who ordered or conducted gross human rights violations such as torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings, were still able to escape legal liability.
Democratic countries and human rights advocates have tried many approaches to uphold human rights standards. In the U.S., the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, required the government to link most-favored nation trade status to human rights conditions in countries with “non-market” economies. But over time the amendment became less effective, and in the end, big business’ lobbying efforts, which, in the case of China, resulted in Congress granting China permanent normal trade relations status, has de facto invalidated it.   In 2012, the Jackson-Vanik amendment was repealed when President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law.
I believe the enactment of the Global Magnitsky Act will create new momentum that will lead to the establishment of international legal norms on individual criminal accountability for gross human rights violations, ultimately ending this culture of impunity of human rights abusers once and for all.
I suggest that the U.S. not only publish the names of sanctioned human rights abusers but also circulate the information concerning their gross human rights violations in order to alert the international community like Interpol, for example.  This way the sanction will serve as a stronger deterrent, as well as an inspiration for other countries– particularly America’s allies — to adopt similar sanction measures.
Many Chinese human rights activists, including myself, are very encouraged by President Trump’s promise in his April 20, 2017 letter to relevant Senate and House Committees for a robust and thorough enforcement of the Global Magnitsky Act, since the President’s commitment has sent a strong signal to the world that a new era of human rights advocacy has arrived.
In order to assist the U.S. Government with its implementation of the Act, Chinese human rights activists have compiled and submitted evidence the State Department and Treasury Department of over a dozen of China’s worst human rights abusers and corrupt officials. Here are just a few examples:
Fu Zhenghua, deputy minister of China’s Public Security Ministry, who is one of worst human rights perpetrators in China and personally oversaw the persecution of tens of thousands of innocent people and human rights activists. In 2010, Fu ordered the torture of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. In 2011, Fu persecuted artist Ai Weiwei by fabricating a tax case against the artist, and detained Ai for months and then put him under house arrest for over 4 years. Fu also ordered human rights activist Cao Shunli ‘s detention in 2014, and later denied her medical treatment which led to her death.  Fu directed the 709 (July 9, 2015) crackdown, in which over 300 of China’s human rights lawyers were severely persecuted. Fu is also responsible for the persecution of many Falun Gong practitioners as the head of the Central 610 Office between 2015 to 2016. Witness Guo Wengui publicly states that Fu received a large sum of money from him as a bribe, and demanded millions more to be paid to a bank account overseas.
Xia Baolong, former party chief of Zhejiang Province, ordered the destruction of nearly 2,000 crosses from Christian churches in the province between 2014 and 2016. Pastors, lawyers, and believers who peacefully stood in resistance to these cross removals were arrested, detained, beaten, and forced to make confessions in front of television cameras.
Xiaolin Li, known as China’s “power queen,” is the daughter of China’s former premier Li Peng. She and her husband Zhiyuan Liu both are government officials with a moderate fixed income, but have accumulated a wealth of approximately USD $550 million through kickbacks, bribes, and other “black money.” In the 1990s, she received large amounts of kickbacks from heavy industrial equipment exporters in Europe. According to the Panama Papers released by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Li concealed these illicit payments in offshore accounts.
Tao Jing, deputy director of Public Security Bureau of Beijing Municipality, is directly responsible for the death of human rights activist Cao Shunli. He oversaw the arrest, interrogation, denial of bail, and denial of treatment of Ms. Cao Shunli. Ms. Cao was detained before boarding a flight to Geneva to attend UN Human Rights Council sessions, and later died in Chaoyang Detention Center from mistreatment.
I hope the Trump Administration will undertake thorough vetting of the human rights abusers I’ve mentioned above, and other individual human rights perpetrators, and effectively use this tool to advance human rights.  Because previous policy initiatives largely failed to induce China to become a responsible global power, we should give this tool a chance. I believe it will bring positive changes, create new dynamics and make a huge difference in upholding human rights standards in China as well as in the rest of the world.
Whether President Trump will place the Chinese human rights abusers on the U.S. sanctions list is a real test for his commitment to genuinely enforce the Global Magnitsky Act. Not to make tough choices could harm America’s leadership in championing fundamental human rights worldwide, where America’s greatness lies and is widely respected.
YANG Jianli is the founder and president of Initiatives for China/Citizen Power
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