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China claims it has ‘no political prisoners’ during UN torture review PDF Print E-mail
[19 November 2015] China’s record on torture has been condemned during a review process at the UN. Tibet activists presented evidence that torture remains endemic in Tibet whilst other experts and witnesses condemned the use of torture throughout China. The Chinese delegation defended its record and even claimed there are “no cases of political prisoners” in China.

The UN Committee against Torture met on 16-18 November 2015 in Geneva to review China’s record on torture. The review was China’s fifth overall, the previous one being held in 2008.

Tibet representations | UN concerns | China’s response | Concluding remarks

Tibet representations
ITN logoTibet was represented at the review by the Tibet Advocacy Coalition, a team of seven Tibetans and Tibet activists, along with Uyghurs and Southern Mongolians from across Europe and the US. The coalition included representatives from International Tibet Network (of which Tibet Society is a member), Students for a Free Tibet and Tibet Justice Centre as well as former political prisoner Golog Jigme, who was arrested in 2008 for helping Dhondup Wangchen interview Tibetans for the film Leaving Fear Behind.

Two Tibetans gave evidence to the Committee on the first day of the review, Golog Jigme and Padma Dolma of Students for a Free Tibet.

In a press release issued prior to giving evidence, Golog Jigme said, “China has so far denied the use of torture, but I have been arrested and tortured three times by Chinese authorities... I am physically scarred and a witness to their brutal treatment. I am here to make sure the Committee gets the true story of China’s torture record.”

Padma Dolma said, “The Committee against Torture must use this opportunity to put China’s deteriorating human rights practices including torture under the microscope on an international stage, and push for Beijing to implement serious changes in line with international standards.”

In addition to providing verbal statements, the Tibet Advocacy Coalition submitted a joint report to the Committee detailing the situation in Tibet as well as for Uyghurs and Mongolians living under Chinese rule.

UN Committee’s concerns
UNHRC logoThe UN Committee against Torture raised numerous concerns over torture in China and Tibet and criticised the Chinese delegation for not providing more information on specific cases.

Specifically on Tibet, the Committee called on China to provide more information on the death in custody of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and the lack of medical treatment afforded Khenpo Kartse. The Committee also requested further information on individual Tibetan cases of torture, including those of 24 Tibetans which the Committee had raised previously.

The Committee also expressed concerns over China’s continued use of torture to extract confessions, the harassment of human rights lawyers, the use of interrogation chairs, the existence of “black jails” and the use of solitary confinement. It also highlighted the lack of judicial independence in China. As one Committee member stated, “a state of law without judicial independence is no state of law”.

In addition, the Committee called upon China to allow a visit by the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.

China’s response
PRC flagUnsurprisingly, the Chinese delegation asserted that China adhered to good practice and denied all allegations of endemic, systematic acts of torture. The delegation refused to address individual torture cases in Tibet, and went on to present false information and a number of outrageous claims.

Responding to questions from the UN Committee, the Chinese delegation said it was unable to verify Tibetan cases of torture due to the “unverifiable nature of information”.

However, in the one case it did respond to in detail, namely that of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who died in prison in July whilst serving a life sentence, the Chinese delegation presented spurious information.

The Chinese delegation claimed Tenzin Delek’s case had been dealt with according to law and with the family’s consent. They stated Tenzin Delek had received adequate medical treatment, his body had been cremated “according to local customs” and his ashes scattered locally with his family in attendance.

[The reality is that the Chinese authorities denied Tenzin Delek medical treatment throughout his incarceration, rushed the cremation which was held without respect to Tibetan traditions and arrested family members for requesting an investigation into the death.]

The Chinese delegation made a number of outrageous claims during the UN review process, including that “there are no political prisoners in China”. According to members of the Tibet Advocacy Coalition, audible gasps were heard from those in attendance when this statement was made. The delegation also refuted allegations of unfair or cruel treatment of prisoners from ethnic minorities, saying such allegations were “groundless”.

China also contended that interrogation chairs (also known as iron or tiger chairs), used to torture detainees and prisoners, were in fact for the protection and safety of those being questioned by the authorities.

Concluding remarks
At the conclusion of the UN session, Golog Jigme said, “I am living proof that those statements [by the Chinese delegation] are lies.” He added, “In 2008 I endured over one month of excruciating torture while fastened to a notorious “iron chair”... My body now shows more evidence of torture than China brought to offer to this Review.”

Mandie McKeown, who represented International Tibet Network in Geneva, said the UN Committee was “strong in its review of China, but the Chinese delegation’s responses “leave a sour taste”.

Ms McKeown concluded on behalf of the Tibet Advocacy Coalition saying, “We call on UN Member States and independent experts to press China for specific dates for a visit by Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, which must include unfettered access to Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia, and we urge all governments to press for this agreement at the highest possible level.”

Further reading: ICTReutersNY Times
UN press release: Committee against Torture considers report of China
Tibet Advocacy Coalition's press release (18 Nov)

Tibet Advocacy Coalition's submission to UN Committee against Torture (26 Oct)

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