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UN Committee Says China "Should Take Immediate Steps to Prevent Acts of Torture"

November 21, 2008


In a sweeping report, the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture today issued its review findings on China’s compliance with its international treaty obligations to end torture. The Committee said that it “remains deeply concerned about the continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.”

The Committee against Torture's findings are a critical and much-needed reminder of the pervasive and ongoing human rights abuses in China.
— Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC

The report describes a criminal justice system that allows “prolonged police detention without charge,” uses “black jails” – secret detention facilities – to hold suspects, routinely deprives detainees of the right to counsel, and in which justice is severely hampered by conflicting laws and laws providing inadequate safeguards against police abuses.

The Committee recommended: “As a matter of urgency, [China] should take immediate steps to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country.”

“The Committee against Torture’s findings are a critical and much-needed reminder of the pervasive and ongoing human rights abuses in China,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China (HRIC). “These abuses, which were overshadowed by the spectacle of the Beijing Olympics, victimize millions in China and need urgent remedy.”

In particular, the Committee identified “three over-arching problems”: the 1988 State Secrets Law, which “severely undermines the availability of information about torture”; the reported harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders; and the physical violence against rights defenders carried out by unaccountable “thugs” who enjoy de facto immunity. The Committee highlighted the cases of many rights defenders, including Teng Biao, Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, Hu Jia, and Li Heping. It also expressed grave concern about “the allegations of targeted torture, ill-treatment, and disappearances directed against national, ethnic, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in China, among them Tibetans, Uighurs, and Falun Gong practitioners.”

The Committee made key recommendations for legislative reforms and measures to end official and unofficial impunity, including:

  • Immediately abolish all forms of administrative detention, including “Re-education-Through Labor,” and insure that no one is detained in any secret facility.
  • Ensure that all allegations of torture, ill-treatment and harassment of human rights defenders, lawyers and petitioners – by official and unofficial personnel – are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially.
  • Abolish any legal provisions that undermine the independence of lawyers and the right to counsel, including in cases involving state secrets.
  • Address impunity for past abuses, including conducting a full and impartial investigation into the suppression of the Democracy movement in Beijing in June 1989, providing information on the persons who are still detained from that period, informing the family members of their findings, offering apologies and reparation, and prosecuting those found responsible.

The Committee, consisting of 10 independent experts, monitors the implementation by the State parties of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It conducted its review of China on November 7 and 10 in Geneva. The Committee invited China to submit its next report by November 21, 2012. However, it has also requested that China provide, within one year, information on its response to a number of the Committee’s recommendations, including those on ending harassment and intimidation of lawyers and on addressing impunity for the June 4 crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement.

HRIC urges the Chinese government to implement the Committee’s recommendations to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted, and to widely disseminate the findings through its official websites, the media and non-governmental organizations. As the Chinese delegation had pledged during the UN review sessions, it must provide answers to the Committee’s concerns, including investigation and disclosure of information about thousands of individuals detained or disappeared.


For further information on the Committee Against Torture review and related resources, see:

  • Full text of the Committee Against Torture’s Concluding Observations on China, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/CAT.C.CHN.CO.4.pdf;
  • "UN Experts: ‘Serious Information Gap’ on China’s Efforts to End Torture," November 10, 2008, http://www.hrichina.org/public/contents/74784;
  • "A Parallel NGO Report By Human Rights In China," October 2008, http://www.hrichina.org/public/contents/74029;
  • "Oral intervention of Human Rights in China to the Committee against Torture," November 6, 2008, http://hrichina.org/public/contents/74725;
  • "Written replies by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to the list of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the fourth periodic report of China," September 10, 2008, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/CAT.C.CHN.Q.4.Add.1_en.pdf;
  • "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," entry into force on June 26, 1987, http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_cat39.htm;
  • United Nations Committee against Torture, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/;
  • China Rights Forum, "June 4|2008," No. 2, 2008, http://hrichina.org/public/contents/55177;
  • HRIC Report, State Secrets: China’s Legal Labyrinth, June 12, 2007, http://hrichina.org/public/contents/41421.
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