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24 Jun 2021

New data shows China's secret RSDL jails a crime against humanity

Just one week before we released our brand new graphics report on life inside the RSDL system of secret jails in China, Locked Up, Safeguard Defenders submitted up-to-date data to relevant UN organs proving emphatically that the system did not only expand significantly in 2020, but that it qualifies as both systematic and widespread in its use.

For detailed data in table form, and including methodology for different estimations, please consult the Follow-up submission (review) on China's mass use of RSDL made on 16 June 2021 under the publications tab, submitted to the relevant Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

On 16 May 2018, Safeguard Defenders, along with Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and the Rights Practice provided the first comprehensive review of the RSDL (Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location) system to 15 Special Procedures, using victim testimonies to show the reality behind the system and treatment inside. The initial 2018 submission was based primarily on victim testimonies on treatment inside the system, alongside a comprehensive legal analysis of RSDL in Chinese domestic law and how it violates China’s legal and human rights commitments

On 24 August 2018, ten Special Procedures issued a joint letter of allegation (OL CHN 15/2018), classifying the use of RSDL, in light of the systematic abuse of ‘exceptions’ in law, as tantamount to an ‘enforced or involuntary disappearance’ and that torture and maltreatment were common in the system. It also noted the increased use of RSDL on human rights defenders, and that the lack of judicial oversight and prolonged detention without charges constitutes arbitrary detention.

This new evidence, along with that provided by an earlier report, Rampant Repression, adds more pressure on the UN system, and foreign governments via bilateral- and multilateral dialogues, to take China to task for its systematic use of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and use of torture. RSDL constitutes all three. The Rome Statute, and international customary law, classifies this type of use of disappearance and torture both as 'crimes against humanity'[1]

[1] The Rome Statute classifies Crimes against humanity as any of the following acts, carried out against a civilian population, and when use is widespread or systematic:

Article 7 (i): Enforced disappearances

Article 7 (f): Torture

Article 7 (k): Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.