August 30 is set aside each year as the International Day of the Disappeared to raise awareness of the victims of enforced disappearances and to end the terrifying state practice. The practice involves authorities taking someone using agents of the state, or those acting on their behalf, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that person’s fate or whereabouts. For those who are taken, the risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is high.
In a report presented at the September session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances highlighted that from February to May alone, it had responded to 20 new cases of enforced disappearances in China. Recently, the group had had sent other forms of communications to the Chinese government, including a joint letter last August on the use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), following a submission from Safeguard Defenders, which I am a co-founder of, along with the International Service for Human Rights, Network for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and the Rights Practice.
RSDL empowers police to take and hold someone in secret for up to six months. But seldom are they released after six months. Although the law ostensibly provides for the right to legal counsel or the notification of family members, exceptions in the law that have become the rule permit for the denial of procedural safeguards, important for preventing enforced disappearances and torture. Safeguard Defenders and others have extensively documented cases of abuse in RSDL.