Public Statement by Former Board Members of “Human Rights in China”
Recently, we the undersigned have resigned our positions on the Board or Honorary Board of Human Rights in China. Some of the resignations have also entailed departure from positions on the Executive Committee of the Board or as its Co-Chair. We have made our decisions individually, and yet there are some important commonalities that we would like to make clear.
Human Rights in China (HRiC), which was founded in March 1989 to carry on the cause of the “Chinese Human Rights Protection Alliance” led by Cai Yuanpei and Song Qingling in the 1930s, is a non-government organization aimed at promoting the idea of human rights in China and at providing humanitarian aid for its advocates. Harsh conditions inside China have meant that HRiC can have an office only in New York, and yet, for years, the focus of the group’s vision and program priorities remained entirely on events inside China. The hard work of many people over many years has allowed HRiC to play important roles in promoting the cause of Chinese human rights. The group has also enjoyed a good reputation outside China. But HRiC has changed its nature in recent years. It is no longer a public-interest group willing to accommodate people who have an exclusive devotion to the cause of human rights.
The signatories of this statement include an original founder of HRiC, a worker who served the group for more than ten years as a volunteer, several who risked their safety to join the HRiC Board while they were still inside China in the period of terror following “June 4th,” an American with a long commitment to watching human rights in China, and others who have served on the HRiC Board for a decade or more. No one feels more pain to observe HRiC’s change of nature than we do.
HRiC’s gravest departure from its original principles has been its abandonment of the idea that human rights are universal, non-partisan, and non-political. In recent years, HRiC president Liu Qing has led political groups and involved himself in party politics. He has, without disclosure to the HRiC Board, chaired three other organizations. He has transferred HRiC resources to those organizations through the HRiC “Humanitarian Aid Fund” that he controls. These actions seriously violate “conflict of interest” provisions in the HRiC by-laws. The HRiC “Humanitarian Aid Fund” has become known as “Liu Qing’s money,” and HRiC’s financial resources have been diverted toward the building of Liu Qing’s personal political capital. He has clearly violated the principles that one must uphold in order to do non-partisan human rights work.
HRiC’s internal operations have also come into serious violation of the group’s own by-laws. Lack of transparency has become an increasingly severe problem. Top administrators place themselves above the Executive Committee, and the Executive Committee places itself above the Board. The Board has lost its power to supervise HRiC operations. Management has erected a range of barriers that frustrate attempts at accountability. Of HRiC’s annual budget of nearly $3 million, only about $100,000 goes to humanitarian aid, while more than 60% of the $3 million goes to salaries and office expenses. The rest of the budget goes to such things as “joint projects” and “contract work,” much of it involving members of Liu Qing’s other organizations.
The recent 2005 annual Board meeting allowed HRiC president Liu Qing, after 13 years in office, to remain in office. As before, this was done without the re-election required by the group’s by-laws.
The internal changes in HRiC’s nature do much to explain why it has remained oblivious and unresponsive as new movements by Chinese citizens inside China, aimed at defending their own rights, have emerged at the beginning of the 21st century. As if neglect of this rights movement were not enough, HRiC officers actually accused some Board members who sought to help the movement of “hurting the [HRiC] organization.”
HRiC is no longer the same organization to which we devoted ourselves for more than ten years. We bear responsibility for not preventing its change in nature before the change happened. After the change occurred, we did our best to correct the situation by following the by-laws, but our efforts proved futile. This is what led to our decision to resign.
The reasons why we have no choice but to resign are: 1) Since we can no longer confidently exercise the supervisory power that is necessary to carry out our duties, we do not wish to be held accountable for the organization’s departure from human rights principles. 2) We do not wish to have our names and reputations used for raising funds to support people and activities that are in breach of human rights principles.
This in no way reduces our continuing determination to do whatever we can to advance the cause of human rights in China.
Fang Lizhi, Guo Luoji, Mab Huang, Li Xiaorong, Perry Link, Liu Binyan, Su Xiaokang, Tong Yi, Tsung Su, Wang Dan, Wang Yu, Zhang Weiguo, Cheng Hsin-yuan
List of HRiC 2004 board members:
Fang Lizhi (Chinese Co-Chair, ExCom member); Robert Bernstein (Host Co-Chair, ExCom member)
William Bernstein; Joseph Berman; Gregory Carr; Cheng Hsin-yuan; Scott Greathead (Treasurer, ExCom member); Guo Luoji; Han Dongfang; Sharon Hom (Executive Director, ExCom member); Hu Ping; Robert James; Harold Honju Koh; Cheuk Kwan; Joel Lebowitz; Torbjorn Loden; Li Lu; Li Xiaorong (ExCom member); Perry Link; Liu Binyan; Liu Qing (President, ExCom member); Paul Martin; Andrew Nathan (ExCom member); Jim Ottaway; Nina Rosenwald; Ruan Ming; Orville Shell (resigned in December 2004); Su Xiaokang; Anne Thurston; Tong Yi (Secretary, ExCom member); Tsung Su; Wang Yu (ExCom member, resigned in July 2004); Albert Waxman; Megan Wiese; Xiao Qiang (ExCom member, resigned in June 2004); Zhang Weiguo
The list of HRiC 2004 honorary board members:
Bo Yang; Chang Xiangxiang; Marie Holzman; Mab Huang; Lin Mu; Lu Keng; Robin Munro; Wang Dan
After the reorganization of the board at the January 2005 meeting and a series of resignations thereafter, HRiC has the following board members and honorary board members:
The list of HRiC 2005 board members:
Robert Bernstein (Co-Chair, ExCom member); William Bernstein; Scott Greathead (Treasurer, ExCom member); Han Dongfang; Sharon Hom (Executive Director, ExCom member); Hu Ping (ExCom member); Harold Hongju Koh; Cheuk Kwan; Li Jinjin; Li Lu; Liu Qing (President, ExCom member); Christine Loh; Robin Munro; Andrew Nathan (ExCom member); Jim Ottaway (ExCom member); Megan Wiese
The list of HRiC 2005 honorary board members:
Bo Yang, Joel Birman; Chang Xiangxiang; Marie Holzman; Joel Lebowitz; Torbjorn Loden; Paul Martin; Ruan Ming; Anne Thurston (and possibly others)
Appendix 2: Background Information
After the annual board meeting of HRiC in January 2005, Co-Chair Prof. Fang Lizhi, a number of Executive Committee (ExCom) members, Board members and Honorary Board members resigned in succession. This was a historic event at HRiC. All of those who resigned have subscribed to the statement above. What follows is some additional background information to clarify what precipitated this unprecedented event.
Before the January 2004 board meeting, Wang Dan resigned from the HRiC Board. He did not speak publicly on why he resigned at that time. But on February 2, 2005 he laid out his grounds in response to an inquiry from reporter Zeng Huiyan of the World Journal:
The reasons for my resignation were the following:
1) As a Board member, I had inquired several times about the distribution of the humanitarian funds to people inside China. But the person in charge of this fund always use "secrecy" as a reason not to tell me. This made me worried that a disbursement of funds without supervision cannot guarantee proper use. Even though I would like to trust the personal integrity of the responsible person, since we live in a Western society I thought we should put our trust more in a sound system than in any individual person. Moreover many of my friends in China who are in need of financial help had indicated that they have not received any help from HRiC. Some of them, with Mr. Lin Mu of Xi’an as the lead signature, wrote to me asking for some form of humanitarian aid. I felt embarrassed before these petitioners that I could not seek any help from HRiC on their behalf. I had also asked for financial help from HRiC on behalf of Jiang Qisheng’s son, who was in need of school fees, and Guo Shaoqun, who suffered financial difficulties, and both requests were rejected. The reason for the rejection was that the requests "do not fall within assistance guidelines." This made me feel that to be a Board member is just to be in an empty position without any rights or power. Accordingly I decided to resign. 2) I had always felt that for HRiC to have such a huge operating budget is not appropriate. The explanation from the person in charge is that donors ask that certain funds to be used for certain purposes. But I felt that a human rights organization should not be too showy. I had visited the London headquarters of Amnesty International, which turns out to be just a simple, plain building. Yet the amount of work they have accomplished far surpasses the work done by HRiC. Since I could not solve these problems within HRiC, I had no choice but to leave. I do not want my name to be used to raise funds to maintain the showy appearance of a huge organization and the enriched personal income of the responsible person.
3) In recent years, HRiC had engaged a number of so-called democracy activists to join in the group’s work. There were some among them whom I knew, from personal experience, to be strongly self-interested and unworthy of trust. I personally raised these questions with the person in charge, but was ignored. That being the case, I had to decide whether I could associate with people whose behavior is unacceptable to me, and decided I must resign.
Finally I would like to add that to leave HRiC was a painful choice for me. I did not state my reasons for leaving at the time I resigned. I was also persuaded to be an honorary Board member because of my basic sympathies for HRiC. When I was still in China, I was willing, at considerable political risk, to join the HRiC Board. When I was sentenced to my 11-year jail term, this was one of the chief charges. So HRiC and I are truly “friends who had endured stormy weather together.” HRiC worked hard to secure my release from jail. For this I am grateful. But the recent developments at HRiC have come to a point where they conflict with my personal beliefs, and this has left me sharply disappointed. Recently those who have resigned include Co-Chair Prof. Fang Lizhi, the founding members Xiao Qiang, Wang Yu, Li Xiaorong, the highly respected Liu Binyan, Guo Luoji, and Yu Haocheng, and people like Zhang Weiguo, Mab Huang, and others who are known for their upright character. All these share my views on the problems within HRiC, and these are not the kind of people who like to struggle for personal power. They have turned to this last resort of group resignation because they have failed after doing all that they could to bring reform from within, and because they are unwilling to follow the HRiC leadership on its present course. When I first came to the United States, I indicated that I would continue to work, as always, to improve the condition of human rights in China. Even though I now have resigned my position as a Board member of HRiC, this does not mean that I will not work hard for human rights and democracy of China. On the contrary, leaving a human rights organization like the present HRiC will allow me to work better and strive harder for the democratization of China. I also believe that all those Board members who have resigned have not given up their struggle for the democratization of China. We will all seek other channels to work to realize our ideals.
At the annual Board meeting in January 2004, Board members learned for the first time that Liu Qing, the President of HRiC, was the sole person responsible for and in control of the disposition of the annual $100,000 Humanitarian Aid Fund. After the initial shock, some of the Board Members moved to set up a three-person subcommittee to replace Liu's one-person control. Liu objected immediately that "a three-person team won’t do." After the meeting, Yu Haocheng tendered his resignation. (The HRIC office later asked both Wang Dan and Yu Haocheng to be Honorary Board members.)
On February 5, 2004, former office manager of HRiC Weilin appealed to the Board with her complaint that "Liu Qing violated her worker's rights and harmed her personal integrity" and asked the Board to investigate this as well as Liu's mishandling of funds.
On February 11, 2004, the Executive Committee held a meeting during which Andrew Nathan and Tong Yi were appointed to investigate Weilin's complaint regarding her employment grievances, and Scott Greathead and Tong Yi were assigned to investigate Liu's sole management of the Humanitarian Fund.
Xiao Qiang, the former Executive Director of HRiC for more than a decade, remained an HRiC Executive Committee member and Board member after he went to UC Berkeley in 2003 to take up a teaching position. When he applied for grants from a foundation (that had also supported HRiC) for his "China Internet" project, HRiC's management forced Xiao to resign on grounds that Xiao's application constituted "conflict of interest."
On June 1, 2004 the Executive Committee held a meeting. After discussion of Xiao Qiang's "conflict of interest," Tong Yi reported on the "investigation of the Humanitarian Aid Fund" and pointed out discrepancies between the English and Chinese versions of the accounts of the funds' use. She also raised questions about fund transfers between HRiC and Citizens' Forum and other organizations that Liu Qing also heads. ExCom members Wang Yu and Li Xiaorong saw these problems as more serious than Xiao Qiang's "conflict of interest" and asked for further investigation. Scott Greathead, who is legal counsel to Citizens' Forum, disagreed and thought the investigation should stop immediately. In fact, Greathead had not investigated the accounts of the Humanitarian Aid Fund as requested by the ExCom, because, with no knowledge of Chinese, there was no way he could have a clear idea of the Fund's accounts, which were written in Chinese. Still, he pressured Tong Yi to stop the investigation. Executive Director Sharon Hom also thought there was no need for further investigation, because in February 2004 she had stopped the practice of fund transfers to Citizens' Forum. Citizens’ Forum is known as a political group with the purpose of forming a future political party in China. It was registered as a non-profit organization in the United States for the convenience of fund-raising. Before it was granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, it used HRiC for fund-transfer.
At the June 1st meeting, the Executive Committee also discussed the "Weilin matter." Andrew Nathan and Tong Yi, who were in charge of the investigation, reported on their findings. The majority at the meeting thought the report was detailed, comprehensive, objective and fair. The natural conclusion was for Liu Qing to apologize to Weilin as demanded in her complaint. But Liu Qing and Sharon Hom strongly objected to this. The final compromise was for the ExCom to write Weilin a letter, with an apologetic undertone and an offer of monetary compensation of two months salary in exchange for her signature and a promise of non-disclosure to outsiders. In the end the letter drafted by Andrew Nathan contained no hint of apology. Several ExCom members objected, but the letter was sent out anyway. Weilin rejected this proposed solution.
At this ExCom meeting, on many questions the debate was quite heated. Some of the American ExCom members strongly rejected further investigation of some very serious issues and demanded that these matters be kept secret from the Board. A warning was issued that ExCom members who disclosed these matters to the Board would be liable for "legal action."
After the meeting, ExCom member Wang Yu was outraged and decided to resign. In her resignation letter to the full Board, she disclosed two "secret" problems:
I learned that from 2002 to 2003 Mr. Liu Qing, the President, has repeatedly used HRiC to transfer thousands of dollars to Citizens’ Forum (gong ming yi zheng) and the Chinese Equal Education Foundation (zhongguo pingdeng jiaoyu jijinhui). This is a serious legal problem. Although the office claimed that it would forbid any similar activities in the future, the Executive Committee has neither taken any remedial measures nor established a system in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Moreover Citizens’ Forum is political, which is not the function of HRiC, which is a human rights organization.
To complicate the matter further, Mr. Liu Qing has been deeply involved with both Citizens’ Forum and Chinese Equal Education Foundation. He is in fact Chairman of those two organizations. There is an obvious “conflict of interest” and a violation of the by-laws of HRiC.
This transfer of money through HRiC was only recently revealed to the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee members are responsible to work with the office and keep the rest of the Board informed.
Wang Yu volunteered for 15 years at HRiC with no compensation at all. Her resignation did not cause any reaction from the ExCom.
In late May of 2004, several Board members, citing the HRiC by-laws that require that "the president shall be elected every three years," moved to have an election held immediately on grounds that, for the past 13 years, no presidential election had ever taken place within HRiC. The same view was expressed by Board member Guo Luoji in his letter to the Executive Director and the Board on December12, 2004:
On May 30th of this year, a number of Board Members (Guo Luoji, Mab Huang, Liu Binyan, Su Xiaokang, Tsung Su, Zhang Weiguo, Cheng Hsin-yuan) collectively wrote a letter to the Co-Chairmen of HRiC to ask for a special meeting to be convened in the later part of the year. This request was presented in accordance to Article 2 of the HRiC Charter By-laws, which stipulates that a special meeting shall be convened if 1/10 of voting Board Members so demand by written request. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss certain organizational and management problems at HRiC, especially those regarding the term and termination of employment of primary officers. This request was denied on the promise that these issues shall be resolved at the next annual Board Meeting. Thus it is expected that the above-mentioned issues shall be on the agenda of the upcoming Board Meeting in January of 2005.
Thus, Mr. Guo suggested, in the 2005 meeting, "the Board should put the discussion of the organizational structure of HRiC, especially the election and term of service of chief officers and the revision of corresponding by-laws, on the meeting agenda." He also asked the Board to discuss four other questions:
1. Since 2003, in China, there have been waves of activities of ordinary Chinese citizens defending their own rights, known as the “rights defense movement” (wei quan yun dong). At this Board meeting, we should discuss what kind of role, if any, HRiC should play in this mass human rights movement.
2. At the Jan. ‘04 Annual Board Meeting, members learned for the first time that the control and management of the HRiC Humanitarian Assistance Funds rest with Liu Qing alone. At the time it was suggested by a number of Board Members that a team of three should be in charge of this fund to oversee its distribution. The Executive Committee should report back to the Board on the management of this fund since the last meeting.
3. Wang Yu (formerly of the Executive Committee) stated in her resignation letter that Liu Qing had transferred funds from the Humanitarian Assistance Project of HRiC to two other organizations that he heads. This is a rather serious irregularity which the Executive Committee has yet to address or explain to the Board. Thus this issue and its resolution need serious discussion at the Annual Meeting.
4. On Feb. 5th of this year, a former employee of HRiC, Weilin, filed a complaint to the Board in which she stated grievances against Liu Qing, president of HRiC, for “personal insults and humiliation” and for “infringing upon her human rights.” She demanded “an investigation” and “justice” and “an apology from Mr. Liu.” The Executive Committee later wrote to the Board that Weilin was given two month’s salary as compensation. The ExCom should explain to the Board how it reached its conclusion. The ExCom cannot bypass the Board to make a final decision about how to respond to a complaint filed to the Board.
Executive Director Sharon Hom was non-committal on December 20th on whether the above motions would be put on the 2005 meeting agenda.
On December 21st, Board member Zhang Weiguo also wrote to Sharon Hom and the Board. Zhang thought that HRiC "has reached a turning point in its development." In addition to endorsing Guo's motions, Zhang made the following two additional proposals:
1. To re-examine HRiC's organizational function and effectiveness: In the Chinese human rights movement, there is a widespread saying that "those with resources don't function effectively; those who work effectively don’t have resources." I think it is necessary to re-examine the developmental direction of HRiC and its function and make appropriate adjustments. HRiC, through years of solid build-up and growth, has proved itself to be the most outstanding, among many overseas groups with similar purposes, in securing funds for the promotion of Chinese human rights. But this does not mean that we have to overextend ourselves to make our organization bigger and bigger. Bigness does not equal effectiveness. If certain groups or individuals can do a better job in certain areas, why can't HRiC lend them support?
In concrete terms, on funding certain programs, HRiC can have open bids to attract the best possible talent to do the work. Second, to establish annual human rights awards to reward the best human rights individual activists or groups with honor and financial support.
2. To establish human rights training classes: currently, the Rights Defense Movement in China has been growing rapidly, but there is evident lack of rights knowledge, lack of networking among the several groups, and a lack of capacity and know-how by these groups to contact international human rights groups. HRiC, through various channels, could sponsor human rights training classes to train committed rights activists. This education would broaden their perspectives and promote interaction among them. It would also strengthen HRiC's service function.
On December 26th, Andrew Nathan responded to Guo Luoji and Zhang Weiguo and his main points are as follows:
1. The upcoming board meeting has limited time and may not be able to discuss everything that we want to discuss. The board reorganization plan that Hu Ping and he have worked on, and have discussed with the Executive Committee, should be a priority item for this coming meeting.
2. Zhang Weiguo’s views about program and projects are not concrete, specific suggestions. Without concrete proposals we cannot have a productive discussion.
3. He agrees that the ExCom should briefly report to the board on what it did and why. But that's all. Since this is a personnel case, it is appropriate that we handle it confidentially, first, out of respect for the people involved (chiefly Weilin and Liu Qing), and secondly, out of legal considerations. It is not appropriate to reveal the whole process to the board. From a legal standpoint, the ExCom exercises the powers of the board, and it has the right to make decisions on behalf of the board.
Since Andrew Nathan has long enjoyed high regard among many Chinese and scholars, his response on behalf of the HRiC management and ExCom caused quite a stir among many of the Chinese Board members.
A month prior to the annual meeting, Li Xiaorong, voicing the opinion of many other Board members, asked the management to send the agenda and background materials to the members a week in advance of the meeting, especially the 2005 budget proposal. Near the end of December, the agenda and other relevant documents still had not reached the members.
On December 28th, Guo Luoji answered to Professor Nathan (with copies to the whole Board) as follows:
To decide on the agenda of the Board meeting is the first step in a Board member’s participation. All members have the right and obligation to make motions. Motions are different from resolutions. Motions are issues to be discussed. Resolutions are made after the Board members have discussed certain issues and arrived at certain conclusions. When it comes to motions, the more the better. First, it shows that the members care about their work. Second, it broadens their perspectives to have motions be discussed. As for the time constraint, or which issues should be discussed, this is up to the presiding chair to decide. It is the members' duty to submit motions, and the presiding chair's job to make decisions on the agenda. In any case, your "restructuring of the Board" should not be a priority item, since it comes up every year.
As for the "Weilin Case", Guo argued this way:
On February 5th of this year (2004), Weilin sent a letter to the Board, accusing Liu Qing of violating her human rights and insulting her personal integrity. The details of the original complaint were no secret to the Board; how can it be that, after processing by the ExCom, the details suddenly become secret? The Excom's decision to offer Weilin two months of salary as compensation in exchange for her signature is not a decision based on right and wrong, but rather an attempt to cover-up and prevent further investigation. Weilin rejected this offer. Thus this case remains unresolved. The Board has to reconsider this case and to look into whether there was any mishandling of the matter by the ExCom.
As far as I know, Andrew Nathan and Tong Yi had completed a detailed investigative report on this case. It is fairly objective and just. The investigation shows that Weilin's charge had a factual basis. And Liu Qing has undeniable responsibility in this regard. But the Excom, under the urging of Liu Qing, made a decision to keep the investigation secret from the Board. Thus I think the Excom may be protecting Liu. The Board must strongly intervene in this regard.
Guo disagreed with Nathan's claims that "the Excom has the right to make decisions on behalf of the Board” and that to make the investigation public is to express distrust the Excom's decision. Guo wrote:
Under Article IV, Section 3 of HRiC's By-laws, entitled "Duties and Powers," Subsection (e), the Board has the right to supervise the ExCom and to approve the ExCom's decisions and plans. The Board’s trust of the ExCom assumes the pre-condition of supervision. Without supervision, or if the ExCom skirts the Board's supervision, it would be a blind trust of the ExCom. To give blind trust to the ExCom is to relinquish the Board's duty. We, as the Board members, do not want to shirk our responsibilities.
Article IV, Section (1) of the Bylaws states: "The Board of Directors shall have plenipotentiary powers." Article IV, Section (3)(a) states: "The entire direction and management of the affairs of the Corporation shall be vested in its Board of Directors." Article IV, Section (3)(f) states: "All corporate powers except such as are otherwise provided for in these Bylaws, in the Corporation's Certificate of Incorporation or in the laws of the State of New York, shall be and are hereby vested in, and shall be exercised by, the Board of Directors."
The HRiC by-laws cited above indicate that the Board has all the power and can enforce its power. The Excom serves at the pleasure of the Board. The relationship between the two is not based on an equal power-sharing, nor is it based on the Excom assuming any superior powers. But now it appears that the Excom enjoys higher authority to decide what the Board should know and what should be kept secret from it. Isn't this turning the relationship upside down?
Guo Luoji also defended Zhang Weiguo whom Nathan criticized in his email:
I think the two proposals by Zhang Weiguo are terrific, and I support them strongly. Zhang has already made his proposals very concrete, and they are much more detailed than what I proposed. If you want more details, that should be done by the full-time staff with salaries (some with high salaries) in HRiC. We board members all have our own separate jobs, and we cannot describe all the details of the proposals that are supposed to be the duties of HRiC's full-time employees.
During the 2004 board meeting, neither Liu Qing's nor Sharon Hom's reports mentioned the burgeoning Rights Defense Movement. At that moment, many board members suggested that HRiC pay attention to this movement that was started in 2003. Liu Qing smiled and said to us: "We have considered it." Therefore, my proposal was meant to be focused only on what role and function HRiC has played in the movement. In other words, we should discuss what Liu Qing and others at HRiC have done after they told us that they were involved in the movement. I do not need here to give out all the details how HRiC is involved. Zhang Weiguo did not participate in the 2004 board meeting, and he did not know the issue had been raised there. Of course, Zhang also does not need to provide a more detailed blueprint.
Guo pointed out to his old friend Nathan that, “This kind of argument, coming from you, can damage your reputation as a scholar."
Because the office still had not sent the agenda to board members and because Andrew Nathan implied that some of the proposals would be blocked at the board meeting, Tong Yi thought that it was imperative for all board members to know the background information regarding Liu Qing's "conflict of interests" that had been so vehemently debated among the ExCom members for almost a month. She wanted all board members to be able to give their informed opinion about this issue at the meeting. On December 28, 2004, Tong Yi sent out an email to the full board detailing the following:
1. The Executives and some ExCom members at HRiC were highly sensitive to the issue of "conflict of interests." Xiao Qiang had been forced to resign by the ExCom in the name of "conflict of interests."
2. At the November 11, 2004 ExCom meeting, Liu Qing for the first time disclosed his relationship with three other organizations that he chaired. Specifically, Citizens' Forum also received funding from NED and has an office below HRiC in the same building.
3. Most of the ExCom members think Liu Qing's "conflict of interests" affects HRiC's health and interest and thus deserves thorough discussion.
4. Andrew Nathan on behalf of the ExCom had a talk with Liu Qing on December 22, 2004. The results of that talk are: Liu Qing denied that there is any real or potential conflict in his joint chairmanship in multiple organizations. He demanded those who believe the existence of conflict provide evidence.
A few days later, Weilin again petitioned to the whole board, requesting the board to reconsider the unjust decision made by the ExCom.
Andrew Nathan again came forward, blaming Tong Yi for leaking ExCom secrets to the board. He again refused to disclose the "Weilin Investigation Report" to the board. He also advised the board not to take up Weilin's petition, and suggested a very brief introduction on Weilin issue at the meeting. But Nathan was silent on the questions, which Guo Luoji had raised, of transparency and the supremacy of the Board according to the by-laws.
Tong Yi answered Nathan’s email as follows: Liu Qing had already acknowledged that his dual chairmanships should be discussed at the board meeting that would take place within 10 days, and further had demanded that those who believe there might be a conflict of interest to come forward with evidence at the meeting. Under these circumstances, continuing to keep the "secrets" of the ExCom away from the board was grossly unreasonable. Tong Yi also cited the relevant provisions in the by-laws to show that there was no secret that should be held by the ExCom to the board.
On January 4, 2005 (three days before the board meeting), the office finally sent out the meeting agenda and some background and discussion materials to the board. But the package did not include the "HRiC 2005 budget," specifically requested by Board members Li Xiaorong and Cheuk Kwan three weeks earlier. (Because the Executive Director Sharon Hom worried that some board members might disclose the budget numbers to outsiders, she had planned to include a "web bug" with the email sent to the board members in order to determine who might be responsible for any breaches of confidentiality. When other ExCom members objected, Sharon Hom withdrew the idea. The budget plan did not reach Board members until the meeting itself, and Board members were asked to approve the lengthy document a few minutes after receiving it.)
The meeting agenda had obviously been planned with care: only 15 minutes for Weilin issue; the "conflict of interests" issue to be discussed on the second day of the meeting (a Saturday when some board members might not be there, and when time might run out). The "Reorganization of the Board" issue was to be discussed first, so that those who were transferred to “honorary” status would lose their voting rights in subsequent votes. The first day's agenda also included election of three board members, including Li Jinjin (Liu Qing’s pick to be trained as Liu's successor in office) and Robin Munro (who works for Han Dongfang at "China Labor Bulletin"). Hu Ping was slated for promotion to the ExCom. Both Hu Ping and Han Dongfang are members of Citizens’ Forum, and both have contract work or joint programs with HRiC, i.e., both gain financial benefit directly or indirectly from HRiC.
Under these circumstances, on January 4, eight Chinese (of Mainland and Taiwan origins) proposed an “Urgent Motion” to put to a vote the removal of the president Liu Qing. Their stated reasons were as follows:
1. According to the HRiC Bylaws, Article 7, Section 2, “The officers shall be elected at the annual meeting of the Board of Directors and shall hold office for three years and until their successors are duly qualified, or until such time as they resign, are replaced or are removed by the Board. Officers may be elected to any number of consecutive terms.” Mr. Liu Qing has occupied the presidency for 13 years without ever being re-elected. Hence his legitimacy in continuing to hold office is less than adequate. This Board has neglected its responsibilities for many years. We should take immediate corrective action to reverse this abnormal condition that has persisted within the organization. This should be the first item of business for “Board Reorganization.”
2. During his presidency, in which Mr. Liu Qing has been paid a full-time salary as president, he has also become chair of three other organizations. He has transferred funds from HRiC to these organizations in ways that have likely breached laws governing non-profit, tax-exempt organizations. According to HRiC Bylaw (Article 10, Section 2, on “Conflict of Interest”), Mr. Liu should have disclosed to this Board his involvement in any other organizations. He failed to do this, and thus has violated HRiC by-laws. This violation has disqualified Mr. Liu Qing from serving as an executive officer of the organization.
3. The office of the presidency can remain vacant after removal of Mr. Liu Qing. Upon revision of the by-laws, this position, in our view, can be abolished. We note that in other human rights organizations, such a position has not been necessary. We favor a strengthening of the Executive Committee and creation of a post of Deputy Executive Director.
Those who signed this motion are: Liu Binyan, Su Xiaokang, Guo Luoji, Zhang Weiguo, Wang Dan, Mab Huang, Cheng Hsin-yuan, and Tsung Su.
Before the board meeting, Co-Chair Fang Lizhi proposed a few solutions. Some of them were supported by the other Co-Chair Bob Bernstein and Sharon Hom. But all of these solutions were rejected by Liu Qing. Sharon Hom then changed her position and supported the only "solution" sanctioned by Liu Qing, i.e., a "Transition Working Plan." This plan entailed the following: It will be Liu Qing's decision when he retires; Liu Qing will join the "Search Committee" for the new president; the candidate shall be acceptable to Liu Qing and trained by him at the office during a period of overlap.
On January 7, 2005, the atmosphere of the board meeting was full of tension and there emerged quite a few irregularities. Because of the Motion to Remove Liu Qing's President Position raised by Guo Luoji, et al., Liu Qing issued a revengeful Motion to Investigate Guo Luoji's Conflict of Interests and His Harming HRiC. During Tong Yi's presentation about the investigation of the humanitarian aid fund, Scott Greathead tried to stop Tong Yi by claiming Tong was practicing McCarthyism. Su Xiaokang and Tsung Su immediately demanded, in vain, that Greathead apologize to Tong Yi. Fang Lizhi again proposed the compromise solution endorsed by both him and Bob Bernstein to abolish the position of President, but was rebuked by Liu Qing and his supporters. Of all the controversial issues that had been discussed, none reached a conclusion.
Immediately after the January 7 meeting, Fang Lizhi and Sharon Hom were entrusted by the board to set the second day's meeting agenda. But many of Liu Qing's supporters and office staff members also participated in the agenda-setting process. According to eye-witnesses, Liu Qing's supporters proposed various plans for how to defeat Guo Luoji's motion should this or that kind of eventuality arise. As a law professor, Sharon Hom found various procedural rules and regulations to block and defeat her opponents' motion. They even considered that if they did not have enough votes, that they could adjourn the meeting, wait for the out-of-town board members to leave, and then re-convene.
In light of this kind of power abuse and procedural manipulation, some dissident board members decided not to go to the second day of the board meetings.
At January 8 meeting, Liu Qing was persuaded by his supporters to withdraw his vengeful motion against Guo Luoji. Meanwhile, they pressured Guo Luoji and others to withdraw their motion. Guo Luoji rejected that demand, and the impasse persisted for a while. According to HRiC's Bylaws, the board can remove an officer without cause. But still, Guo Luoji laid out causes why Liu Qing should be removed. Liu Qing's supporters did not say much about why they opposed Guo's motion. In an attempt to avoid the escalation of conflict, before Guo's motion was voted, Fang Lizhi proposed no voting on this kind of motion. His reason was: the issue is a political issue, and it cannot be resolved by a vote today, especially when many board members were not present. Fang's proposal was rejected, and the motion was voted: two for, 11 against, and two abstain. Then it was announced that Guo's motion was denied by the board.
Later, Su Xiaokang wrote on behalf of all the petitioners of the Removal Motion as follows:
On January 8, the second day of the 2005 Board meeting, the "Urgent Motion" proposed by eight members was put to a vote. Because the second day’s meeting was the extension of the first day’s meeting, it used the first day’s quorum – "a majority of the Directors in office." According to HRiC Bylaws (Article V, Section 4), the quorum for the two-day meeting was twenty-four.
The voting result was: two for, eleven against, and two abstain. At the meeting, our motion was declared "denied." However, this conclusion was incorrect according to the by-laws. This is because the eleven votes against did not reach a majority of the quorum, i.e., at least thirteen. Therefore, we demand the records of the meeting be set straight, and the voting result be declared as the follows: the vote neither disapproved nor approved our "Urgent Motion."
This board meeting shows that HRiC has been in control of an interest group. The controllers of the organization have repeatedly violated the by-laws to suit their own interests. Because of their manipulation, it had become impossible to resolve problems by reason, principle or use of due procedure within the organization. The intent of the ones in control is clear: they will continue to recruit new board members with whom they are pleased while blocking dissenting opinion and other board members. They will continue to use the name of "Chinese human rights and democracy activists" to garner international resources.
After the board meeting ended on January 8, 2005, a series of resignations took place.
On January 9, Fang Lizhi resigned from the post of Co-Chair and of the ExCom. Shortly afterwards, Li Xiaorong and Tong Yi resigned separately from the ExCom. Tong Yi resigned from the post of the Secretary as well.
On January 14, 10 more board members and honorary board members tendered their resignations. Their letter follows:
Dear Mr. Bernstein, co-chair of the Board of Directors of Human Rights in China:
In recent years, Human Rights in China, a group created in 1989, has departed from the universal, nonpartisan, nonpolitical ideals of human rights that we espouse and support. In addition, its internal functioning lacks transparency and accountability. At the same time, the democratic elections of the organization’s president, which the by-laws of Human Rights in China, Inc. stipulate to be held periodically, have not taken place for thirteen years, leaving the current president without full legitimacy for his exercise of power. The board of directors bears responsibility for this latter condition. The efforts that we have made to try to address these irregularities according to the by-laws have ended in failure. We have therefore decided to resign our positions as board members and as honorary board members. We plan to continue as always to work in whatever ways we can to advance the cause of human rights in China.
Liu Binyan, Guo Luoji, Su Xiaokang, Zhang Weiguo, Wang Dan, Tong Yi, Li Xiaorong, Cheng Hsin-yuan, Tsung Su, Mab Huang
After these 10 members resigned, Fang Lizhi tendered his resignation as a board member to Andrew Nathan:
Considering the current situation of the HRiC, I do think it is responsible that I resign from the HRiC Board now.
The HRiC was initiated by pro-human rights Chinese students, scholars and famous pens under the helps of scholars in the US like you, Perry, Orville, J. Birman, J. Lebowitz, etc. Most of them were working for the HRiC voluntarily.
Things are dramatically changed. HRiC is on longer to be an organization as above-mentioned after HRiC lost the support of Liu Binyan, Yu Haocheng, Guo Luoji, Wang Yu, Tsung Su, Su Xiaokang, and others for whom I have very great respect, as they are the true voice of the Chinese--whether on the mainland, in Taiwan or overseas.
If most of independent Chinese board members, i.e. they don't hold paid positions at HRiC and don't receive, directly and indirectly, monetary supports, do leave, I feel there is no reason or basis for me to remain in HRiC. To me, the integrity and reputation of a human rights organization are, at least, as important as its fundraising.
Tong Yi and Fang Lizhi both emphasized in their letters that the resigned were "independent Chinese board members," i.e., those who did not receive any remuneration from HRiC directly or indirectly. The last sentence of Fang Lizhi's letter (quoted above) has its subtlety. After Fang resigned, the other Co-Chair Bernstein called Fang, requesting him to withdraw his resignation. Bernstein even asked Andy Nathan to tell Fang: without Fang's imprimatur, HRiC would have difficulty in getting money from foundations. That is why Fang reminded Nathan of the importance of protecting a human rights organization’s "integrity and reputation."
The last person to resign from the board is Princeton University's professor Perry Link. He is an American "China hand" who understands China and Chinese thoroughly. His actions demonstrated that the controversy of HRiC is not simply "an internal fight" among the Chinese. He wrote a letter to Co-Chair Bernstein with his acute observations:
Co-chair, Human Rights in China
Recent events have thrust a terrible dilemma before me. You, Andy Nathan, Hu Ping, Han Dongfang, and Robin Munro have all made splendid contributions to a better China and a better world. I do not like to leave you. On the other hand Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, Su Xiaokang, Guo Luoji, Yu Haocheng, and others are people who have shaped my fundamental understanding of contemporary China and have earned a tremendous moral authority in my view. In the last few days I have made final-hour efforts--one through Andy Nathan and another through Fang Lizhi--to see if there is any way to avoid a damaging split. I have not succeeded.
Reputations aside, my view on the merits of the issues is that Liu, Fang, Guo and the other critics of HRiC management are seeing things correctly. They point to “transparency problems.” A system in which the President keeps secrets from the Executive Committee and the Executive Committee keeps secrets from the Board--and the management wants to monitor the Board in search of those who may not be keeping secrets--comes too close to the way the Communist Party of China works. So do “elections,” when the recommendations of a Nominating Committee are presented to the Board for approval and voted upon thirty minutes later, up or down, as a slate, with no prior announcement of the candidates and no discussion. So is leadership succession, when the leadership suggests that we need a two-year transition in which the president can test out the suitability of his own successor. Complex, hard-to-understand budgets are presented for immediate approval, lest “the organization come to a halt the next day.”
In these and other matters Board members are invited to agree with what the higher-ups have prepared, but when they make their own proposal--for example that the group observe its own by-laws about election of the President--an odd obfuscation sets in: “We haven’t studied this question adequately” (But why does observation of the by-laws need study?); “We need two years for transition” (Really? A U.S. president needs two and a half months); “No one but the current president could really do this job” (In whose opinion? The management’s?); “It is the Board’s fault, not the President’s, that the by-laws have been ignored for so long, so the President should not be punished” (Of course it is the Board’s fault, but is it a remedy for ten years of neglect to add two more?).
Even more important than the transparency issue, in my view, is the critics’ concern about a departure from “universal” concepts of human rights. HRiC should not be anyone’s power base, bastion against rivals, or “party” (whether called by that name or not). All people who stand up for human rights, or whose human rights are being abused, should have HRiC’s equal support, no matter whose group they belong to. I am embarrassed to learn from friends in Beijing that HRiC funds have in recent years been known there as “Liu Qing’s money”; or to hear that an associate of Xu Wenli is turned down because he is an associate of Xu Wenli; or to watch as several people, including me, have recommended that we give some support to Lu Siqing (who does a remarkable job of putting out human rights information from his tiny apartment in Hong Kong), only to be told that Lu Siqing is “unreliable” or even “a spy.”
Citizens’ Forum (CF), regardless of what it says to the IRS, is in its nature a nascent political party. It has some fine people in it, and some day it may grow into a very good political party, as political parties go. But that is not the point. The point is that its close relations with HRiC (overlapping memberships, the same president, CF people on HRiC payroll or receiving HRiC support, a CF office right downstairs from the HRiC office) pull HRiC away from its dedication to “universal” human rights, free of party or faction. When the critics speak of only some HRiC board members being “independent,” I understand what they mean and fully share their concern.
For too long, many on the board, including me, have been slow to notice these problems. I have been a board member since 1989, and for years I told others that I was proud that HRiC is different from virtually every other overseas Chinese group of its kind. Other groups--which I needn’t name here--have dwindled and foundered because a single leader demands that his group become his faction, turns rivalrous towards leaders of other groups, and in the end alienates all the followers who had begun from more generous ideals. Until very recently I did not realize that this pattern was also developing within HRiC. Not realizing it is in large part my own fault. Three years ago, for example, I read a long letter of complaint that Mo Li, in Sweden, sent to the HRiC board. I did not respond to her at the time. I thought then that, yes, she might have a point or two, but that she was too upset and no doubt was exaggerating. Now, as I re-read her letter, I see it quite differently: she was telling me--with other examples than those that I see now--about the same problems of faction-building, self-promotion, and rivalry.
Why has such a large number of people become alienated from HRiC? A few days ago ten Board members resigned, and Fang Lizhi resigned as co-chair. Before them Yu Haocheng, Wang Yu, Xiao Qiang, Jim Seymour, Sophia Woodman, and others have resigned. Any group has turnover, of course--and should. But is it normal that so many people leave in bitterness? In my view there is far too much human flotsam in our wake--and it includes some extraordinarily remarkable and reputable people. I fear that some on the Board, especially the English speakers, do not fully appreciate the reputations that some of our Chinese colleagues command in the Chinese world. Let me briefly sketch a few.
Fang Lizhi is fairly well known in the West because of the dramatic events of 1989. But from his halting English at Board meetings, you get no sense of his soaring eloquence in Chinese, his incisive intellect, mischievous wit and graceful literary style, all of which enthralled a generation of Chinese students in the late 1980s and are still the ballast of his considerable reputation in China today.
Liu Binyan is in my view the most admirable writer that China produced in the second half of the twentieth century. And this is not just my view. In 1985, which was the only year--ever--in which Chinese writers were free to elect their own leaders in the Chinese Writers’ Association, Liu received the second highest total of votes, nationwide, from his fellow Chinese writers. (First was Ba Jin, who wrote primarily in the late 1920s through mid-1940s.) Liu was known in 1985 as “China’s conscience,” and that remains his image with the Chinese public.
Guo Luoji, that thin man with the raspy voice in the back of the room, is much more than may appear to you. In China he is known as an eminent teacher and scholar of political philosophy and law. His writings in Chinese are unmatched for their precision, tight logic, and penetration. He was the first person in China ever to file a lawsuit against the Communist Party of China--which was something Party people had not imagined anyone might even think of trying to do. Guo lost his suit, of course, but appealed his case level after level, always winning in the court of public opinion while losing the official verdicts. By forcing the Party to lay bare its pretense that it can be defendant and judge at the same time, Guo exposed a mendacity that had much broader application in Chinese life. He was, and remains, widely admired for his integrity and nerve.
Su Xiaokang, the short man who wears no tie and looks as if he would never want to, is another highly distinguished writer. He wrote the script for the television series River Elegy, which in summer 1988 became the most-watched film in China’s history and contributed to the public mood that led to the nationwide uprising in 1989. In my mind Su’s literary intellect resembles that of the late Susan Sontag (although Su has many times the number of readers). Su’s books have remarkable range--from political turning points in CCP history to a soul-searching memoir of his wife’s injury in and partial recovery from a terrible automobile accident--and yet are consistently “Su Xiaokang works” in their revelation of an enquiring, self-doubting mind and their moral seriousness, honesty and good judgment. Su is exiled from China but writes on the Internet and is still very widely read in China.
When people of this quality and reputation leave HRiC the costs in the Chinese world are immense. This fact is independent of whether or not you think the group is right on the issues.
Others among the disaffected--Wang Yu, Xiao Qiang, Li Xiaorong--are people who have pumped their lifeblood into HRiC for years. If there is anyone who has been more idealistically devoted to the work of HRiC than Wang Yu, I would like to know who it is. The fact that she worked for ten years as a volunteer (accepting only reimbursement of bus fare during three of the ten) is important not because of the funds it saved for the group but because it shows so clearly the reasons why she was working in the first place. Xiao Qiang left his career in physics to work for our group. Do we really believe that the “conflict of interest” for which he was forced to resign is more serious than the one that now infects the organization? I do not believe that the question is even close. Li Xiaorong has put in the longest service of all. She was a founding member of HRiC in 1989 and has worked continuously since then--about half her adult life. For her, I imagine, the last two weeks must have felt like the stomach being pulled up the esophagus and out the mouth. If these people had all wanted to retire, that would be one thing. But when they leave bitter, and unanimous in feeling that the group has lost its way, that is something else.
In this context I have no alternative but to submit my resignation as well. I feel sad to do so and mean no disrespect to you and other members of the Board whom I admire.
January 17, 2005
With sharp analysis and fair assessment of HRiC's problems, Perry Link's resignation letter concluded this resignation incident.