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03 Nov 2020

Call on UNODC to end partnership with China's NSC

On Tuesday 3 November Safeguard Defenders filed an appeal with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to review a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with China's National Supervision Commission (NSC), following mounting criticism of the NSC and its liuzhi system of detention from several UN bodies. This follows the submission for review of the most comprehensive report to date on China's NSC and its liuzhi, filed by Safeguard Defenders 23 August 2019 to nine Special Procedures. 


Ghada Fathy Ismail Waly,

Executive Director,

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)


Subject: United Nations and China (NSC) agreement on combating corruption


Dear Ms. Waly,

Safeguard Defenders, an organization that protects human rights, promotes the rule of law and enhances the capacities of local civil society and human rights defenders in some of the most hostile environments in Asia, including in China, would like to draw your attention on the extreme danger posed by the memorandum of understanding signed on 17 October 2019 by your institution and China’s NSC on cooperation in combating corruption.

Under this new agreement, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will share information and collaborate with China’s NSC. China is is notably seeking practical cooperation with the UN in the areas of fugitive repatriation, asset recovery, and the building of a 'clean Silk Road', according to China’s Chairman of the National Commission of Supervision (NSC, also known as National Supervision Commission), Yang Xiaodu. This non-judicial organ, which is also protected from lawsuits by citizens for violation of law, and is therefore above the law, operates a system under review by other UN organs for possible crimes against humanity, in the form of systematic and widespread use of disappearances. The secret detention system run by the NSC is called liuzhi.

On 23 August 2019, just before the International Day of the Disappeared, Safeguard Defenders filed a comprehensive report and review of China's liuzhi system under the NSC[1] to nine relevant UN Special Procedures. The comprehensive review highlighted Safeguard Defenders’ concerns on the systematic violations of human rights by the NSC in its so-called fight against corruption.

The report describes the liuzhi system, a revamped version of the former Shuanggui system, which not only targets party members, state functionaries and teachers, but also journalists, business people, local contractors, management at hospitals, universities, mass organizations and state-owned enterprises. Since the implementation of this system, anywhere from 16 to 76 people have been disappeared every single day. Liuzhi can be used for up to six months, with ‘suspects’ placed in secret facilities not part of the judicial system, always kept in solitary confinement, with no right to see a lawyer. There is no external appeal against being placed into liuzhi. The victim's location is kept secret, from both family members, and in case of a foreign national, from that persons’ government. The WGEID has repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, concluded that such secret detentions are enforced or involuntary disappearances. Following the Universal Period Review of China most recently (2019), a letter from the High Commissioners to the Chinese government[2] called for the abolition of such practices.

This report, which can be found here, has been sent to the Working Groups on arbitrary detention (WGAD), on enforced or involuntary disappearances (WGEID), and to seven other Special Procedures, including the Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The WGEID has taken the subject to the Chinese government in a letter[3] of general allegation, and, due to China’s failure to even respond, reiterated it as part of its latest annual report[4]. Liuzhi operates under the near identical provision of another system for such disappearances, RSDL, which the WGEID, WGAD, and 8 other Special Procedures have concluded, in a joint allegation letter, are tantamount to enforced or involuntary disappearances, and called for its abolishment[5]. The Committee Against Torture earlier also made a harsh indictment of the practice and called on its abolition[6].

With the information provided by Safeguard Defenders, the most in-depth of its kind to date, UN organs relevant to monitor these issues are likely to come out with stronger calls for its abolition as the system is exposed further.

For these reasons, we urge you to reconsider this agreement in order not to participate or to avoid facilitating the disappearances of ‘suspects’ by the NSC. It took a mere five weeks after the system’s inauguration before the first (known) death by torture inside the system, of a person placed into liuzhi not for being a suspect, but merely for being a potential witness[7]. The victim nor his family has not been given any redress, or even the possibility of such redress.

Offering support to track and repatriate those deemed “criminals” by the Chinese government – and hand them over for investigation by a non-judicial organ, the NSC, while in secret detention outside the judicial system – will inevitably lead to enforced disappearances and very probably to maltreatment or torture.

After reviewing Safeguard Defenders’ - and others’ - reports on liuzhi and the NSC, we sincerely hope that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will come to realize the threat posed by the NSC and its unchecked power over anyone in China, and will reconsider its current agreement with the Chinese institution. As of now, ten(s) of thousands of people are placed into enforced disappearances every year by the NSC, and the vast majority of those ‘suspects’ are subject to torture under article 1 of the CAT, due to their placement into solitary confinement, during investigation phase, for prolonged periods[8], not to mention harrowing victim testimonies about severe physical torture inside the facilities. 

Hoping for your response, we remain at your disposal should you require any further information from us, and thank you for your consideration.



Safeguard Defenders


[1] Comprehensive report and review of Liuzhi and the NSC, Safeguard Defenders, 23 August 2019

[4] A/HRC/45/13

[5] OL CHN 15/2018

[6] CAT/C/CHN/CO/5, para. 14