Wednesday, November 12, 2008
U.N. torture panel to question China on abuses
GENEVA-Rights activists hope that China's appearance before a United Nations torture panel on Friday will shed light on what they say are widespread abuses in the country.Chinese officials will face questions about alleged mistreatment of prisoners, drug addicts and dissidents in the two-day review by the U.N. Committee Against Torture.Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty International said the rare public grilling would heap pressure on Beijing to increase its monitoring and do more to reduce the incidence of torture."A country like China typically can evade that sort of formal analysis and scrutiny," she said. "It is important that the U.N. (committee) is looking at China and scrutinizing it."Amnesty is among more than a dozen human rights groups that submitted reports to the U.N. panel describing acts of brutality in Chinese police stations, prisons, covert detention centers, and in the streets throughout the country.The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a network of Chinese rights groups, told the committee that while Beijing has introduced some new laws, it defines "torture" too narrowly and lacks the mechanisms to monitor, investigate, and sanction it."Except for some progress in the promulgation of legislation and administrative documents, China has made no clear and discernible improvement in prohibiting the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," it said."All are routinely practiced by government personnel with a wide variety of official duties as well as by persons affiliated with or working on behalf of the state to such a wide extent that their practice must be considered systematic."The Committee Against Torture monitors countries' adherence to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which China has ratified.In questions submitted to Beijing ahead of the review, the 10-member panel asked about issues including sexual violence in prisons, targeted attacks on human rights campaigners, and the fate of those detained after March protests in Tibet."According to information before the Committee, the criminal justice system is still strongly focused on the admission of guilt, confessions and re-education through labor, which create conditions for the occurrence of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," it said.China responded with a 52-page document outlining its laws banning torture, rejecting several questions as "groundless.""The extremely few cases of torture found in detention facilities are personal law-breaking acts toward detainees by a few keepers who failed to perform their duties properly," it said."Cases of ill-treatment of detainees are subject to serious investigation and punishment in accordance with the law."But Amnesty's Francis said the U.N. panel needed to press Beijing to respond to new reports that China has been holding Falun Gong practitioners and others in covert "black jails," and hiring "thugs" to attack and harass human rights lawyers.
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