Duty to Investigate Treatment
International standards set out that all death-in-custody cases should be subjected to “prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the circumstances and causes” of the death. As the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has noted, since there is a presumption of state responsibility due to the custodial setting and the government’s obligation to ensure and respect the right to life, the government has to affirmatively provide evidence to rebut the presumption of state responsibility. Absent proof that it is not responsible, the government has an obligation to provide reparations to the family of the deceased.
Beyond obligations to prosecute wrongful deaths, the authorities also need to take measures to prevent deaths in custody and respond effectively to the causes of death, including by ensuring proper oversight and adequate medical care to detainees. Families should have access to “all information relevant to the investigation,” and the government should release the results of the investigation in the form of a written report. In cases in which the “established investigative procedures are inadequate because of lack of expertise or impartiality” or where there are complaints from the family about these problems, the government should “pursue investigations through an independent commission of inquiry.”
Chinese authorities have in past years allowed at least two other prominent critics of the government to become gravely ill in detention and die there or in hospitals. In March 2014, Cao Shunli, an activist who had tried to participate in China’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, died in a Beijing hospital after being arbitrarily detained in September 2013. Her family members had repeatedly warned that she was becoming gravely ill, but authorities only transferred her when she fell into a coma. And in July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama who was serving a life sentence for “inciting separation of the state” following a trial that fell far short of international standards, died in detention after months of increasingly serious allegations that his health was deteriorating.
Several governments – including the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan – publicly offered to host Liu for treatment, while others, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Germany, have made statements calling for his release and right to receive medical treatment at a place of his choosing. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, met with Chinese officials on June 30 to discuss the case.
“No government should let the death of Liu Xiaobo pass without challenging Beijing’s mistreatment of this critical voice for human rights, calling for Liu Xia’s freedom, and pressing for the release of all those wrongfully detained across China,” Richardson said. “Governments should send a clear message to Beijing that the principles to which Liu Xiaobo devoted his life will thrive after his tragic death.”