Manfred Novak

Manfred Novak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. (AP)

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Manfred Nowak, has ended his visit to China with a public statement delivered in Beijing. During Dr Nowak’s two-week visit to China he visited detention centers in Beijing, Urumqi in Xinjiang and Lhasa in Tibet. The overall conclusion of his visit was “that the practice of torture, though on the decline – particularly in urban areas – remains widespread in China”. While Dr Nowak noted areas of improvement in the Chinese legal system, there remain significant and serious concerns as to the actual implementation of the rule of law, the use of the death penalty for wide-ranging and vaguely defined offences, and the continued targeting and mistreatment of Tibetans.

In his statement, Dr Nowak noted that almost a decade had passed since the initial request for a visit to the PRC by the UNSR on Torture. Dr Nowak was critical of attempts by State Security and Public Security officials to “obstruct or resist his attempts at fact-finding” and accused the Security Services of using intimidation, surveillance and physically preventing alleged victims or family members from meeting with the Special Rapporteur. The statement reads: “In his interviews with detainees, the Special Rapporteur observed a palpable level of fear and self-censorship, which he had not experienced in the course of his previous missions”.

Dr Nowak specifically raised the issue of torture in Tibet, stating that he and his predecessors had received “serious allegations” of a “consistent and systematic pattern of torture related to ethnic minorities, particularly Tibetans and Uighurs” and in great detail described specific torture techniques. He also distinguished between the creation of legal mechanisms and their actual implementation, hinting that the levels of torture in Tibet and Xinjiang were much greater than those reported, saying “the Special Rapporteur noted the inefficiency of current complaint mechanisms. He was informed, for example, that in Prison No. 4 in Urumqi, the procurators have not received a single torture complaint during the last decade. In the Tibetan Autonomous Region, he was told that no complaint had been received since 2003”

The statement also highlighted what were called “conceptual or ideological constraints to the effective implementation of the prohibition of torture”, citing the need for a culture of tolerance in societies with a successful human rights culture and highlighting the Chinese practice of Re-education through Labour as leading to a “culture of fear”.

Prior to Dr Nowak’s visit, ICT raised a number of issues of concern with the Special Rapporteur, all of which have been included in some form in the Rapporteur’s final recommendations to the Chinese government, namely:

Allow lawyers – particularly criminal defense lawyers – to be more effective in representing the rights and interest of their clients including through involvement at the earliest stages of police custody and pre-trial detention.
Establish an independent complaints mechanism for detainees subject to torture and ill-treatment
Take measures to enhance the professionalism, efficiency, transparency, and fairness of legal proceedings; and raise the status and independence of judges and courts within the Chinese legal system.
The International Campaign for Tibet will continue to urge the Special Rapporteur to meet with Tibetan former political prisoners now living in exile, so that he might obtain further evidence on the use of torture in Tibet prior to the completion of his final report at the 62nd session of UN Human Rights Commission in 2006.

You can find the full text of the statement by the Special Rapporteur here.