The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was expected to adopt a Chinese government human rights report on Wednesday, five days after the death in custody of a prominent rights advocate who had pushed, unsuccessfully, for citizen input in the report.
Cao Shunli, the rights activist, had taken part in two months of low-key protests outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing starting last June, calling on the government to reveal how it compiled its rights report to the United Nations, known as the Universal Periodic Review, and to allow the public to contribute to the report.
“There are very big problems in the international human rights system,” said Teng Biao, a lawyer who said he had represented Ms. Cao. Speaking from Hong Kong, where he is a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Mr. Teng said China’s presence on the Human Rights Council reflected the “very limited” usefulness of the organization in improving rights in China.
Ms. Cao died on March 14 in the No. 309 Hospital in Beijing after being rushed to an emergency hospital on Feb. 20 from the Chaoyang Detention Center, where she was held. She had been suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments. Both the United States and European Union expressed concern at her death.
Ms. Cao was detained on Sept. 14 at Beijing’s international airport on her way to Geneva for a human rights training program. On Oct. 21, she was formally arrested on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” Mr. Teng said in a statement he plans to release on Thursday with another lawyer who has worked with Ms. Cao, Wang Yu.
On Tuesday, a group of independent human rights experts mandated to advise the United Nations in Geneva issued a statement voicing their “dismay” at her death.
They called Ms. Cao’s death “a tragic example of the results of criminalization of the activities of human rights defenders in China.” They added, “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.”
A “Petition to Condemn the Chinese Government’s Persecution of Cao Shunli,” drawn up by five Chinese activists, including Mr. Teng, is circulating online with about 3,000 signatures, many from people in China.
China was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year, drawing criticism from dissidents who said it was inappropriate given China’s poor record.
“It’s a very big problem that China with its immoral political power can join the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Teng said.
“China uses its economic and diplomatic influence to persuade other countries with poor human rights records to support China’s participation,” he said. “But China’s government cannot represent the people and shouldn’t represent the people.”
Cao Yunli, Ms. Cao’s brother, who has previously spoken about his sister’s situation, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday, and several sources said a woman who had protested with Ms. Cao, Liu Xiaofang, had been arrested, as had others. Ms. Liu has not answered her telephone for several days.
It was still unclear on Wednesday where Ms. Cao’s body was and when a funeral would be held, or whether an independent investigation would be carried out, as her lawyers have demanded.
Lawyers and family members said that while Ms. Cao was in custody, lawyers repeatedly requested that she be granted medical parole but that this was denied. Ms. Cao had underlying health problems at the time of her arrest, and her condition worsened while in custody, they said. Earlier, Ms. Liu had said that Ms. Cao was poorly treated because she had insisted on her innocence. In early March, shortly after his sister’s condition became grave, Mr. Cao said he believed his sister had not received adequate medical treatment in detention.
“A person is sick, they should treat her,” he said. “To not treat her, what kind of behavior is that?”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied on Monday that Ms. Cao was not given proper medical treatment in custody, saying she was cared for and her legal rights were protected.
Liu Weiguo, also a lawyer of Ms. Cao’s, said he had filed a request for information about his client’s medical condition and treatment with the detention center but had not heard back.
“We have the responsibility to press for an investigation if her death was abnormal,” he said. “If it’s proven, then those responsible must be held responsible.”
A man surnamed Gao at the Chaoyang Detention Center, who described himself as an “ordinary policeman,” confirmed on the telephone that Ms. Cao had been in the center, but he did not provide any further information. Calls to the Chaoyang police information department went unanswered.
Mr. Liu, the lawyer, said a man who did not identify himself telephoned him on Monday saying he was calling on behalf of “leaders,” without specifying which ones, and invited him to “talk about” the situation.
“I said, no, I want any explanation in writing,” Mr. Liu said. “We want to see the medical examination that was done when she was detained. We want to know how she was treated, who was her doctor, what were his qualifications? What was her medical condition, and how was she when she was taken to hospital?”
Mr. Liu, who said he saw his client only once, in October, after she was formally arrested, said she had health problems.
“She wasn’t entirely well, but she didn’t seem seriously ill,” he said. “I was absolutely surprised when I heard she had been rushed to hospital.”
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