A UN human rights panel on Friday expressed rare public concern at a wave of reported arrests of activists and lawyers in China, warning that so-called enforced disappearances were a crime under international law.
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said they represented “the continuation of a disturbing trend in the suppression of dissidents” in China.
In a statement, it expressed “serious concern at the recent wave of enforced disappearances.”
“Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law. Even short-term secret detentions can qualify as enforced disappearances,” the five experts said.
They said such disappearances could never be excused “especially when those persons are peacefully expressing their dissent with the government of their country.”
The panel set up in 1980 acts on individual cases brought by families to help them find missing relatives by trying to establish contact with the government concerned and ensuring that cases are investigated.
It normally carries out its work on such cases confidentially.
The working group underlined a long standing “pattern of enforced disappearances in China” with dissidents held in secret detention facilities “often tortured and intimidated, before being released or put into ‘soft detention’ and barred from contacting the outside world.”
The UN working group called on Chinese authorities to release all those detained, carry out investigations into the “heinous practice” and provide reparations.
Past examples cited by the group included the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whose whereabouts have never been revealed since he disappeared in 1995 at the age of six, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, “who has been disappeared for most of the past two years.”
It did not release the names of those its currently dealing with.
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been imprisoned at an undisclosed location since 2009 while a crackdown on dissent has continued with the detention of celebrated artist Ai Weiwei on Sunday.
The official Xinhua news agency has said that Ai was being investigated for suspected economic crimes.