Ding Wenqi | Radio Free Asia
Chinese rights activists on Tuesday launched a new group that will collect data on officials who violate human rights, under a recently expanded law targeting corruption and human rights abuse globally.
The China Human Rights Accountability Center will collect data on human rights violators and corrupt officials, putting pressure on the incoming administration of Donald Trump to bring the Magnitsky Act to bear on Beijing, its founders told RFA.
“China is a violator of human rights, so you can’t expect it to take positive steps of its own accord,” U.S.-based Chinese dissident and legal scholar Chen Guangcheng told RFA.
“As people who have been on the receiving end of human rights violations in China, we believe that we should join hands to ensure that this law is able to have the maximum impact,” said Chen, who was jailed and held alongside his family under house arrest for 19 months before making a daring escape in spite of his blindness to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 2012.
“That’s why we have set up this organization.”
According to Chen, the group’s most important task will be gathering usable evidence to bring to bear in charging Chinese officials under the law.
Fellow U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said the Magnitsky legislation, which originally targeted the Russian officials responsible for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009, was the best chance activists have of actually holding human rights abusers to account.
“It is the most likely method to yield visible results,” Teng said. “This law is unlike other laws in that there is no government agency or officials responsible for implementing it.”
“It is directly implemented by the U.S. president, but of course he can’t keep track of human rights violations around the world,” Teng said.
“There is a need for nongovernment groups to supply that information … We want to help the U.S. government use this law to help the victims of human rights violations in China,” he said.
A double game
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, the only founding member who still lives in mainland China, said that while Beijing has frequently hit out at “foreign forces” interfering in its internal affairs on human rights issues, its own officials are playing a double game.
“On the one hand, Chinese official always reject the United States’ interference in the internal affairs of other countries, saying that there are also many institutional flaws in the United States,” Hu said.
“But it’s also their first choice of destination, especially among ‘naked’ officials who send their families overseas,” he said.
He said the Magnitsky Act was “second to none” as a tool to hold foreign officials to account.
But Hu said his involvement with the group could bring him further political trouble from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“But what’s the use of worrying?” Hu said. “Why bind my own hands?”
He said he was optimistic about the new group.
“From a broader perspective, this may be a relatively small step, but realistically speaking, in 2017, this is ground-breaking and important work,” Hu said.
Visas banned, assets blocked
The Magnitsky Act was passed by Congress last month as part of an annual defense-authorization bill.
Named for Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management who died in custody at the hands of Russian authorities after exposing a tax refund fraud scheme, the latest law is an expanded version of the original act.
The new version authorizes visa bans and a block on the U.S. assets of government officials anywhere in the world found violating human rights or of engaging in corruption.
Senators Ben Cardin and John McCain, who championed the act, hailed its passage as “a watershed moment” in human rights and anti-corruption work.
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