A United Nations body set up to combat drugs and corruption is being questioned for having entered into an agreement with a Chinese extrajudicial agency known for its human rights violations.
On June 29, Madrid-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders announced a new investigation into China’s secretive detention system known as “liuzhi,” as well as the submission of its investigative findings (pdf) to the U.N. Special Procedures, which consists of special rapporteurs and expert working groups.
The rights group calls the liuzhi system a “legalized system for disappearance.”
The rights group’s concerns center around the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) choosing to work with the Chinese agency behind the liuzhi system, the National Supervision Commission (NSC). The two signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in October 2019.
Since then, the NSC has subjected at least 28,983 victims to the liuzhi system, according to estimates by the rights group. During that same time span, the Chinese regime has only confirmed to have placed 5,909 people under the system.
The rights group also estimated that a minimum average of 16 to 76 people is subjected to the liuzhi system every day.
“The NSC is responsible for widespread and systematic acts of enforced disappearance, torture, and other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health, gross human rights violations that have all been reported to the United Nations,” the rights group stated.
There are limited details of the agreement, except that the two sides would work in areas including information sharing on corruption prevention and fugitive repatriation. As a result, Safeguard Defenders stated that it has asked the UNODC to release the full contents of the MOU, but its request has been denied.
“If 28,983 people [arbitrarily] detained, disappeared and [tortured] since signing the MOU is not enough for the UNODC to realize NSC is not a suitable partner, let alone develop deeper cooperation with, [what would be]?” Safeguard Defenders asked.
The NSC, a non-judicial organ, is a supersized anti-corruption agency established by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in March 2018. It’s tasked with investigating economic crimes committed by business people, party members, and employees at state-run institutions.
The NSC holds enormous power, including the ability to issue warrants, freeze assets, summon suspects, and hold suspects for at least six months in the liuzhi system, where they’re denied access to their family or a lawyer.
Laura Harth, campaign director for Safeguard Defenders, said that U.N. agencies are all “bound to the fundamental human rights contained in the human rights treaties and conventions,” which prohibits arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, tortures, and absence of access to legal representation.
“Yet, in signing an MOU and recognizing the extrajudicial body NSC as the legitimate representative of the Chinese Government for the scope of the Convention Against Corruption, UNODC completely derogates from its obligations in this regard,” Harth said in an email to The Epoch Times.
She noted that suspects could be held under liuzhi for more than six months.
“The sole purpose for the time inside—up to six months—is to produce a confession, and a suspect will likely remain for as long as needed to secure such a confession,” Harth said.
In May 2018, less than two months after the NSC was established, the first known death in the liuzhi system was reported. Citing China’s state-run media Caixin, Safeguard Defenders reported that the dead man was Chen Yong, who was held in liuzhi for 26 days before his death. Chen was a driver for a local official who was a suspect in a corruption case.
Chen’s family saw his body, which was mangled and bruised, suggesting that he was “tortured to death,” according to the rights group (pdf).
Another known detainee under the system was Meng Hongwei, former president of Interpol. He went missing after returning to China in September 2018, before the NSC released a statement confirming his detention the following month. In January 2020, Meng was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison after he pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2 million in bribes.
The MOU that the NSC signed with UNODC isn’t the only one. According to the NSC’s website, the commission also inked similar agreements with several countries, including Argentina, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
“At least for the NSC, signing of these MOU has effectively legitimized China’s move of handing over judicial cooperation, and criminal investigations, to a non-judicial organ,” Safeguard Defenders stated.
Liuzhi isn’t the only form of forced disappearance in China. The CCP also commits “mass state-sanctioned kidnapping” of its people and foreigners under a system called “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL). This system is carried out by police officers from China’s ministries of public security and state security.
In August 2019, 27 human rights organizations, including Safeguard Defenders, World Uyghur Congress, and the International Campaign for Tibet, issued a joint statement calling on the Chinese regime to end all forms of forced disappearing, including RSDL and liuzhi.
Safeguard Defenders has asked the U.N. Special Procedures to carry out a “comprehensive analysis” of the liuzhi system and how it “stands in line with international legal and human rights obligation.”
Harth called on UNODC to release the contents of the MOU. The U.N. agency should immediately cease any cooperation with the NSC that puts the Party organ as the “legitimate representative” of the Chinese regime, she said.
UNDOC told The Epoch Times that it did not have any problems disclosing the MoU if NSC also agreed.
“As any UN-entity and being an integrated part of the UN Secretariat, UNODC is bound to apply the standards set out in the UN human rights due diligence policy in whatever it undertakes, be it technical, normative and any other related work,” UNDOC said in an email.
Cathy He contributed to the article.