The international community must hold the Chinese authorities accountable for the tragic death of Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli, 52, who died of organ failure at hospital in Beijing on March 14.

Her death came just five days before the United Nations Human Rights Council is scheduled to consider the report of China’s second human rights review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, to which Cao Shunli submitted a civil society report detailing the plight of petitioners in China. Cao had been detained on September 14, 2013, as she was preparing to board a flight to Switzerland to take part in a human rights training on UN mechanisms in Geneva.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Cao Shunli was a deeply courageous woman whose horrifying death is a vivid and shocking reminder of the lengths the Beijing leadership is taking to silence moderate and reasonable citizens who seek to protect their rights. Cao Shunli paid the ultimate price for her efforts to ensure that ordinary Chinese citizens have a voice, and her death must not be forgotten. We support the efforts by brave Chinese rights defenders including her lawyer in calling for an immediate investigation into her death. Every delegation to the UN Human Rights Council should also raise Cao Shunli’s death during the rights review process in Geneva this week.”

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said that she was “deeply saddened” by Cao Shunli’s death in a statement issued on March 15: “The EU would like to pay tribute to Ms Cao Shunli’s engagement and recall the EU’s attachment to the full participation of independent civil society organisations in the Universal Periodic Review process. The EU also reaffirms its call on China to implement the announcements made at the last Third Plenum Central Committee of the 18th Chinese Communist Party, as well as the pledges before the Human Rights Council, by releasing all those imprisoned or detained for the peaceful expression of their views.” (Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton regarding the death of Chinese Human Rights defender, Ms Cao Shunli).

Consistent with its approach in 2009, China has responded to the United Nations review of its human rights record by rejecting most of the recommendations made specifically on Tibet by other member states of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC). (ICT report, China rejects most UPR recommendations on Tibet but agrees to High Commissioner’s visit to Tibet).

Cao Shunli was denied medical treatment for months while in detention, according to her brother and fellow activists. “[It’s] so merciless, so sad,” Cao’s brother Cao Yunli told RFA’s Mandarin Service. “I’ve never seen someone who looks the way she does now. I am even scared to look at her. I couldn’t even treat a dog like that. I don’t understand why people are so merciless. Why didn’t they just shoot her dead?”

Chinese rights activists have launched a signature campaign demanding an investigation into her death and condemning her persecution (Rights Activists Launch Signature Campaign to Demand Investigation of Cao Shunli’s Death).