Cao Shunli’s death a huge blow to human rights movement in China

Cao Shunli: Defiant till the end (Photo: Reuters)
Cao Shunli: Defiant till the end (Photo: Reuters)

Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli (曹顺利) died in a Chinese military hospital on 14 March 2014. Only her family was allowed to view her body. Her brother Cao Yunli said he could not take a second look at his sister’s body that showed signs of her mistreatment during approximately five and half months in detention.

The story of Cao Shunli’s arrest, torture, and death follows the same pattern as the death of Tibetans during detention. She disappeared in September 2013 and appeared in police custody in October 2013 when she was formally arrested and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Before her detention Cao Shunli was in poor health and during her detention she was denied medical care. On 20 February 2014, Cao Shunli was transferred to a military hospital in extremely critical condition. She received a medical parole on 27 February 2014 and died fifteen days later.

“Cao Shunli’s death illustrates that arbitrary detention, torture, and death in detention, are prevalent throughout the People’s Republic of China and not limited to Tibet and ethnic and religious minorities. It is also a reminder that the violations of universal human rights deserve the attention and condemnation of the international community. Those responsible for human rights abuses should be held responsible,” said Ms. Tsering Tsomo, the executive director of Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).

Cao Shunli was a citizen legal activist in the PRC. She tried to hold the PRC to its own standards by using the PRC’s laws and courts to advocate for citizen’s participation in reporting the PRC’s human rights progress to the international community. In furtherance of this goal, Cao Shunli submitted documents to the United Nations for the PRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2013. She disappeared when she was traveling to Geneva for a training session on the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

On 19 March 2014, less than one week after Cao Shunli’s death, the United Nations Human Rights Council will consider the results of the PRC’s UPR. Cao Shunli’s death is emblematic of the widespread human rights abuses in the PRC. The United Nations Human Rights Council and the international community should take the opportunity to make the PRC accountable for the human rights abuses that Cao Shunli died trying to bring to the attention of the international community.

TCHRD would like to offer heartfelt condolences to family, friends and fellow activists of Cao Shunli who had the best interests of China in her heart and remained defiant until her death despite unimaginable horrors she suffered in police detention.

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