U.N. Expert: Torture Remains Widespread in China Despite Decline

Though there is a decline, and government officials are increasingly recognizing it, torture remains widespread in China, a U.N. human rights expert said on Friday.
( [email protected] ) Dec 03, 2005 05:34 PM EST

Though there is a decline, and government officials are increasingly recognizing it, torture remains widespread in China, a U.N. human rights expert said on Friday.

After a two-week visit with a two-fold purpose of fact-finding and cooperating with China to eradicate torture, the Special Rapporteur for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Manfred Nowak said that even though he could not make a detailed determination as to the current scale of abuses, he confirmed torture methods alleged to have been used on ethnic minorities, political dissidents, human rights defenders, and members of the house churches.

The methods of alleged torture include use of electric shock batons, cigarette burns, guard-instructed beatings by fellow prisoners, submersion in pits of water or sewage, exposure to conditions of extreme heat and cold, being forced to maintain uncomfortable positions, deprivation of sleep, food or water, hard labor, and suspension from overhead fixtures by handcuffs, the U.N. released in the statement.

"Very often an individual police officer is not instructed to torture but is under pressure to extract a confession," Nowak told reporters after his trip.

The Special Rapporteur visited Beijing, Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) between Nov. 20 to Dec. 2, carrying out all meetings with detainees in private and in locations he designated, with no request of a particular individual denied by the prison staff who were generally cooperative, the U.N. reported.

After a decade of negotiations between the U.N and China for an inspection of China's detention centers, Nowak expressed his deep appreciation on Friday to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, crediting them for its effort in ensuring that the mission proceeded as smoothly as possible.

However, Nowak felt "compelled to point out" that some of the government officials attempted to obstruct or restrict his attempts at fact-finding, and some alleged victims and family members were instructed not to meet him or were prevented by security personnel or police surveillance.

Moreover, he noticed when interviewing the detainees that there was a "palpable level of fear and self-censorship," on a considerable number, who expressed no willingness to speak to him, and for those who did, they requested confidentiality.

"Under these conditions and taking into account the size and complexity of China as well as the limited duration of the mission," Nowak acknowledged according to the U.N. News Center, "the limitations in drawing up a comprehensive set of findings and conclusions on the situation of torture and ill-treatment in China."

A day before, in a Ministry press briefing, spokesman Qin Gang commented on the Special Rapporteur's visit to China and said, "The Chinese side is ready to exchange and cooperate with UN human rights mechanism in accordance with the principle of equality and mutual respect."

"China's invitation for Mr. Nowak's visit precisely displays China's attitude and sincerity. We are convinced that his visit will be helpful to mutual understanding between the two sides," Qin said according to the Ministry.

The Special Rapporteur said the steps that China needs to make has to come from the central and local levels, from the standardization of regulations to measures against forced confessions, resulting in injuries or miscarriages of justice to pilot systems of audio and video recording in interrogation rooms.

Among the recommendations, Nowak urged China to continually improve their criminal laws to ensure fair trials, and torture should be reformed to fit the international definition and then receive the appropriate penalties.

On his arrival to China, Nowak "praised" Beijing for offering him freer access to prisoners and accepting his "terms of reference." He noted that China is a large country, with a "long tradition of torture and ill-treatment" and he doesn't expect change to come in one day, but rather "it is a policy of taking small steps."

The Special Rapporteur will submit a comprehensive written report on the visit to the Commission on Human Rights at its sixty-second session in 2006.