Human rights experts in the U.S. State Department had cited that an extensive network of extrajudicial detention centers remain where torture and forced labor are commonplace.
China had announced that it would abolish its system of forced labor camps that were notorious for human rights abuses and torture back in November 2013. But two years later, former prisoners, lawyers, and other experts have pointed to a very similar, extensive network of extrajudicial detention centers where torture and forced labor are commonplace, according to a new Reuters’ investigation.
According to Freedom House:
Religious freedom is sharply curtailed by the CCP. All religious groups must register with the government, which regulates their activities, oversees clergy, and guides theology. Some groups, including certain Buddhist and Christian sects, are forbidden, and their members face harassment, imprisonment, and torture.
The largest among them is the Falun Gong spiritual group, whose adherents continued to suffer large-scale detention in extralegal centers for forced conversion or sentencing to long prison terms, despite the dismantling of the “reeducation through labor” camp system.
Documents leaked to Reuters disclosed that between February and April 2015, human rights experts within the State Department had cited this extrajudicial network of detention facilities as ample reason to downgrade China’s rating to the worst tier in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
This would have put China back on “the blacklist” of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking, along with other serial offenders in human rights like Russia, North Korea, and Thailand.
Watch NewsBeat Social report on Torture in China Prisons:
But, in the Reuters investigation, which involved interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, it found that “the government office set-up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats, and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries.” China remained on the “Tier 2 Watch List” for the second year running. The report was published in July 2015.
The report stated:
“State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of significant concern in China. “Re-education through labor” (RTL) was a systematic form of forced labor that had existed in China for decades. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government reportedly profited from this forced labor, which required many detainees to work, often with no remuneration, for up to four years. By some estimates, there had been at least 320 facilities where detained individuals worked in factories or mines, built roads, and made bricks. In 2013, the PRC’s National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish RTL. The government closed several RTL facilities by the beginning of April 2014; however, the government converted other RTL facilities into state-sponsored drug detention or “custody and education” centers, and continues to force prisoners to perform manual labor.
“Some women arrested for prostitution are detained for up to two years without due process in “custody and education” centers, and subjected to forced labor — such as making tires, disposable chopsticks, toothpicks, or dog diapers — in at least 116 “custody and education” centers throughout China.
“Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China; they are typically recruited from rural areas and taken to urban centers. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in the trafficking of Chinese women and girls in China. Victims are recruited with fraudulent employment opportunities, and subsequently forced into prostitution. Girls from the Tibet Autonomous Region are reportedly sent to other parts of China, and subjected to forced marriage and domestic servitude.”
Cyber security issues, among other sensitive issues, may have played a role in China’s generous ranking in the trafficking report.
In an opinion editorial piece published in the News Observer, Judith Kelley, a senior associate dean at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, and Mark Lagon, who was the U.S. ambassador-at-large to Combat Trafficking in Persons 2007-2009, and is now president of Freedom House, said:
“Countries dislike being known for failing to fight appalling violations of human rights, and loathe being grouped with other low performers. The reporting and tier-placement help TIP and embassies around the world engage local officials in dialogues about how to improve. It creates leverage.”
In response to the leaked documents, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly warned staff in his department to keep internal deliberations to themselves or to find a new job, Foreign Policy reported.
When a Foreign Policy reporter asked State Department Spokesman, John Kirby, about what Kerry said to his staff, Kirby said Kerry did not “discourage anybody at the State Department not to talk to the media.”
“What he did do was express his frustration with the leaks about policies that haven’t been made yet, decisions that haven’t been effected yet, and the process by which advice and counsel is derived here in the building, and driven to his desk,” the spokesman told Foreign Policy. “He believes it’s important that in the process of making sound foreign-policy decisions, that candor and openness, and frankness can dominate here at the State Department.”
The spokesman told Foreign Policy these sorts of leaks are “manifestly unhelpful” to working on sound foreign policy, but that “Secretary Kerry values the work of the media. He certainly values the work of everybody here at the State Department and our diplomats around the world, and routinely encourages communication with the press about what our hard working diplomats are doing around the world.”