Human Rights in China (HRIC) welcomes the statement and recommendations for criminal justice reforms issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak in Beijing earlier today.
This was the first inspection visit to China by a Special Rapporteur on Torture, the result of ten years of negotiation with the PRC government. The general terms of reference for all visits of UN Special mechanisms, to which the PRC agreed prior to his visit, specify that the Special Rapporteur be given confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, and that no persons who have been in contact with the Special Rapporteur will suffer threats, harassment or punishment.
However, the Special Rapporteur noted that the visit was subjected to close surveillance and monitoring by certain government authorities, particularly the Ministries of State and Public Security. He also observed a palpable level of fear and self-censorship on part of interviewees that was not present in his previous missions to other countries. HRIC sources confirmed that a number of people were detained, intimidated or subject to house arrest and close surveillance during the Special Rapporteur’s visit.
The Special Rapporteur’s conclusion that the practice of torture, “though on the decline – particularly in urban areas – remains widespread in China,” is alarming given the diverse range of detention facilities in which torture and abuse occur. Although the visit was necessarily limited by time constraints, HRIC urges the Special Rapporteur’s final report to address the full range of facilities, including police dispatch stations, prisons, detention centers, labor camps, reeducation through labor centers, psychiatric institutions and extra-legal detention facilities. The lack of transparency and control of information in China also prevents comprehensive documentation of the full extent of torture and other human rights abuses, including officially sanctioned practices perpetrated by extra-legal personnel.
The PRC government’s illegal and secret detention and intimidation of detainees and their relatives violates UN guidelines for country visits and calls into question the sincerity and commitment of the Chinese authorities in honoring international obligations. HRIC urges the PRC to implement the recommendations issued by the Special Rapporteur, including the abolition of the reeducation through labor system, reform of criminal laws and ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further, HRIC calls on the PRC government to take measures to control the use of extra-legal personnel to silence dissent through physical intimidation and abuse, as documented in the case of Taishi village in Guangdong province earlier this year.