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Article China; United Nations: Practice of Enforced Disappearances Criticized

(June 13, 2011) On June 8, 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) urged Chinese authorities to address the practice of “enforced disappearances” and to disclose the fate and location of those in China who have been subjected to it. Among the disappeared there are a large number of Tibetan monks. (Julia Zebley, UN Rights Body Demands China Report on Missing Persons, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (June 8, 2011); Press Release, U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), China: UN Expert Body Seriously Concerned About Tibetan Monks Reportedly Subjected to Enforced Disappearance (June 8, 2011).)

According to a U.N. press release, on April 21, 2011, more than 300 monks of Sichuan's Ngaba Kirti Monastery were allegedly arrested by Chinese authorities – including agents of the People's Armed Police, the Public Security Bureau, and the People's Liberation Army – and taken to an unknown destination. (Press Release, supra.) Although the WGEID acknowledged reports that some of the monks had been released, it called for “the authorities to undertake full investigations into the on-going practice of enforced disappearances and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and receive sentences appropriate to the gravity of the crime.” (Id.) It further stated:

Enforced disappearance is a terrible practice that must not be permitted to occur anywhere and no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify an enforced disappearance …. Family members should be promptly informed on the fate and whereabouts of people reportedly disappeared. Those who have suffered the fate of being subject to an enforced disappearance should be provided with integral reparations. (Id.)

The WGEID also reminded China of its pledge to ratify two international treaties that affected disappeared persons: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in force from Mar. 23, 1976) and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (in force from Dec. 23, 2010). (Id.; Covenant text & Convention text (both last visited June 9, 2011).) It urged Chinese authorities, moreover, “to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals, as stated in the Convention.” (Press Release, supra; see also China: UN Expert Body Concerned About Recent Wave of Enforced Disappearances, OHCHR website (Apr. 8, 2011).) The United States has not yet ratified the Convention.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights set up the WGEID, which comprises five independent experts from around the world, to help families determine the fate of disappeared relatives, by opening a channel of communication between the families and the government concerned and by ensuring the investigation of individual cases. Its aim is to clarify the persons' whereabouts, with clarification occurring “when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person is clearly established.” (Id.) The WGEID also assists in the implementation by states of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (G.A. Res. 47/133, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/133 (Dec. 18, 1992)).

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