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UN Experts: “Serious Information Gap” on China’s Efforts to End Torture

November 10, 2008


A United Nations (UN) body of independent experts voiced concern today that China has not presented sufficient information to show its compliance with its international obligation to end torture. During a two-day review in Geneva, Chinese representatives defended the country’s record, claiming that there is “zero tolerance” for torture in China. The UN body, the Committee against Torture, will issue its findings on November 20, 2008.

“The Chinese delegates largely evaded the substantive issues,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China (HRIC). “Overall, we are disappointed by the failure of the delegation to address specific issues and cases of concern raised by the Committee. Instead, they focused on reciting formal provisions of law and presenting statistics in isolation.”

Overall, we are disappointed by the failure of the delegation to address specific issues and cases of concern raised by the Committee. Instead, they focused on reciting formal provisions of law and presenting statistics in isolation.
— Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC

Committee members pressed the Chinese delegation for clarification of many areas of law and information about cases they saw as relevant to the practice of torture. They included:

  • the state secrets designation of cases, which in effect deprives a detainee of the right to counsel;
  • the exclusion – from the Chinese legal definition of torture – of acts causing mental suffering, or acts of torture committed by non-judicial officials hired by the government;
  • the ongoing crackdown on lawyers; and
  • individual cases, including Yao Lifa (姚立法), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), and Bishop Su Zhimin (苏志民主教).

The Chinese delegation conspicuously did not address questions about government accountability, truth-seeking and investigation, and compensations for victims of the June 4, 1989 crackdown. It also said that charges of torture reported by NGOs were lies spread by organizations with “sinister ulterior motives.”

HRIC has actively contributed to the review process by:

  • submitting a parallel NGO report that discussed issues of concern, including the state secrets system, Reeducation-Through-Labor (RTL), intimidation and harassment of lawyers, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO);
  • presenting an oral intervention (including updates on Guo Feixiong, and the firing of Beijing lawyers who recently called for direct elections of the Beijing Lawyers Association);
  • monitoring the review sessions; and
  • participating in meetings with the press.

The Committee against Torture is a body of 10 independent experts tasked with monitoring implementation by State parties of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As a party to the Convention, China is required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to prevent and eradicate torture. Like other states, China must report to the Committee every four years. In addition to reports from the State Party, the Committee also takes into account NGO submissions and other sources of information.

The experts’ findings – Concluding Observations – will set forth recommendations for compliance, and China is expected to present a follow-up report in one year.

The 32-person Chinese delegation consisted of officials from 12 ministries and government bodies, including the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Justice. The group’s size and composition suggest the seriousness with which China regards its international reputation. The delegation took pains to express its respect for the issues and concerns raised by the Committee and reported that it has transmitted them to the capital. The delegation also promised to follow up and investigate.


For more information on the Convention against Torture review, see:

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