As daily reports of torture and killing accumulated, it soon became clear that it was impossible to end the perpetrators’ impunity under the Communist Party’s current legal system.
For one, the very Party that launched the persecution also controls Chinese courts and regularly manipulates politically sensitive cases (related articles). Moreover, Chinese Falun Gong who tried suing officials responsible for their persecution have been arrested.
At the same time, China did not join the International Criminal Court, nor did the United Nations establish a special tribunal for crimes against humanity committed against the Falun Gong, of which there are plenty, as it had for Rwanda or Yugoslavia. The Falun Gong thus began looking to overseas national courts for justice.
In 2001, Falun Gong adherents filed their first lawsuit of this kind in a New York court against Zhao Zhifei, Hubei province’s Public Security head. It charged Zhao with the torture and murder of a mother and son in police custody (article).
A year and a half later, a group of lawyers filed a complaint in a Chicago court charging former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin with torture, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in the eradication campaign he launched against the spiritual practice (article).
By 2007, over 70 civil and criminal complaints have been filed against Chinese officials in 30-plus national courts on six continents on behalf of Falun Gong victims of persecution in China.
A group of internationally renowned human rights lawyers has joined the effort, many of them doing so pro-bono. Among the attorneys are former President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone Geoffrey Robertson and Georges-Henri Beauthier, best known for his role in bringing charges against ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (attorneys).
Considering the CCP’s geopolitical influence and determined efforts to make the cases go away, the lawsuits have met with more success than might initially be expected.
First, U.S. courts have issued rulings against Chinese officials in several civil cases. In November 2001, the judge in the first suit mentioned above found Zhao guilty and awarded damages in a default judgment. In December 2004, a San Francisco judge of Chinese descent found former Beijing mayor Liu Qi guilty of torture (article). Liu is now President of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (article).
Second, in July 2004, former Chinese Minister of Education Chen Zhili was made to appear in a Tanzanian court after being sued for torture there (article). Four months later, a Zambian court issued an arrest warrant for a visiting provincial governor. Unfortunately, he escaped across the border before police could catch him (article).
Finally, anecdotal evidence indicates that the legal campaign and prospect of facing accountability are having a deterrent effect on the ground—Jiang and several cohorts reportedly fear leaving China and other officials have distanced themselves from the persecution of Falun Gong.
Still, the suits have also met with challenges, often related to countries’ interests in staying on the good side of the “rising power.” Thus, the U.S. executive branch recommended that Jiang Zemin be granted immunity, a move that was opposed by leading human rights figured in Congress such as Tom Lantos (article). Danish prosecutorial authorities have similarly refrained from arresting an ex-minister of public security, notwithstanding their obligations under the Convention against Torture.
Despite these obstacles, the quest for justice continues. In a groundbreaking development, judicial investigations are underway in Spain and Argentina against high-level Chinese officials Jia Qinglin and Luo Gan, respectively, for genocide (article). A new case was filed in June 2007 in Hong Kong by none other than a man who spent five years being tortured in a Chinese prison for trying to sue the same officials on the mainland.