Privacy is a human right recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and among many other regional and international treaties. The Declaration states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” The Chinese Government is violating this right. Chinese officials are launching vigorous investigations into the activities and finances of human rights lawyers and law firms in an attempt to discourage these organizations from making progress on behalf of individuals who have been victimized by the Government. China defends its actions by contending that it is simply following the rule of law in their country and these activists have “damaged social stability and endangered national security.” The Government has also tightened restrictions on the types of cases that these firms can take on, making it more difficult for them to defend human rights cases, which the Government terms “sensitive” cases.
Since 2015, thousands of human rights lawyers and activists have been arrested, jailed, or detained. Many of these detentions have occurred without any legal basis, causing the United Nations to step in and call for the release of these activists. One example is Su Changlan, a forty-seven year old teacher who was detained for three years after speaking out in support of women’s rights and the democratic movement in Hong Kong. Changlan was first arrested on October 24, 2014, and her lawyer claims that she was illegally detained for three years before she was formally convicted in March 2017. She was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” Upon Changlan’s release, Amnesty International released a statement celebrating her release but condemning the “cramped” and “unhygienic” conditions of her unjustified detention. A United Nations human rights panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, recently released a statement calling for the release of three human rights lawyers; Xie Yang a defender of supporters of Hong Kong’s democratic movement, Hu Shigen an advocate for religious freedom and democracy, and Zhou Shifeng, who led a large firm committed to taking on cases the government deemed “sensitive.” The panel has reason to believe that these three advocates were denied their right to due process, but they are also deeply concerned about evidence that their confessions were procured through torture.
The UN also reports a record number of other states punishing human rights activism. Twenty-nine states, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, have launched efforts to retaliate against citizens who cooperate with the United Nations. Nine of these states are members of the Human Rights Council of the UN. The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, said that individuals that have been communicating with the United Nations “have been abducted, detained, held incommunicado, or disappeared.” The increasing number of nations who are making efforts to quash the opinions of individuals advocating for human rights or aligning themselves with organizations who advocate for human rights is alarming. The number of nations engaging in these efforts while maintaining membership on the Human Rights Council is disheartening.
The road to securing human rights for citizens who fall victim to these shocking violations, especially in China, will be a long one. In March of 2016 at the UN Human Rights Council, a group of twelve governments, including the United States, signed a statement denouncing the deterioration of human rights in China. Amnesty International’s 2017 World Report describes the situation as “dire.” One of the main problems faced by those wishing to enforce punishment for human rights violations, however, is that it is difficult to hold violators accountable. Amnesty International is of the opinion that the key to stopping human rights violations is to gather as much data and research on the issues as possible in order to allow people to “get at least some semblance of justice.” Gathering data allows for a clearer picture of the situation within each country and gives lawyers insight into human rights violations by governments, which lets them better evaluate ways in which to bring justice to victims.