This past Saturday, July 9, 2016, marked the one-year anniversary of the Chinese government’s on-going campaign against human rights lawyers and advocates, hundreds of whom have been seized, detained, abused, and incarcerated as alleged threats to the State. In fact, they simply were doing their jobs as lawyers—defending the human rights of fellow citizens to freedom of expression, association, peaceable assembly, and petition of grievances, among other rights expressly protected under Chinese law and international law.
Today at least nine, and probably more, of those lawyers remain incarcerated. Their whereabouts and medical condition are known only to the Chinese government.
This is an issue that affects the integrity and professionalism of the entire world legal community. As American Bar Association President Paulette Brown said on April 12 in calling for the Chinese government to protect human rights under its own and international law, “When basic rights of self-advocacy are at risk, other rights and progress made toward the rule of law are not secure.”
Under these circumstances, it is fitting that the ABA has conferred its inaugural ABA International Human Rights Award upon Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu.
As stated in the ABA’s Award announcement, Wang Yu has “committed herself to the representation of some of China’s most underserved and marginalized communities in their struggle to access justice, and she has also worked to expand legal pathways to justice for women and girls through her leadership of women public interest lawyers.” She has done so courageously under severely harsh conditions, and she is being punished by her own government for her legal advocacy.
The award is to be presented to Wang Yu in absentia at the ABA’s Annual meeting in San Francisco on August 6, 2016.
This will be a tribute not only to Wang Yu, but to all Chinese lawyers in their struggle to secure human rights and a just rule of law in their country. Lawyers and legal organizations throughout the world should express their solidarity.