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The UN's Tough Criticism of China on Torture

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 25, 2008

Today, a time out from discussion of China’s economy or China’s food-safety crisis to talk about the recent report by the UN on torture in the world’s biggest country. The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) on Friday came out with a report that’s surprisingly critical of the Chinese government. It’s not easy reading. CAT’s report frequently expresses how the committee is “concerned,” “deeply concerned” or “greatly concerned” about the many shortcomings in the Chinese legal system that permit or promote the use of torture against Chinese citizens.

How bad is it? Some excerpts:

“The Committee remains deeply concerned about the continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.”

CAT “remains concerned about reports of abuses in custody, including high numbers of deaths, possibly related to torture or ill-treatment, and about the lack of investigation into these abuses and deaths in custody.”

CAT “is also concerned with the failure to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in ‘Re-education through Labour’ (RTL) facilities, in particular against members of certain religious and ethnic minority groups.”

“The Committee also notes with great concern reported harassment of lawyers…the Committee is concerned at the persistent reports on attempts to curb the activities of human rights activists…The Committee is deeply concerned by the lack of an effective mechanism for investigating allegations of torture…The Committee is greatly concerned by the allegations of targeted torture, ill-treatment, and disappearances directed against national, ethnic, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in Chiina, among them Tibetans, Uighurs, and Falun Gong practitioners….The Committee is deeply concerned that allegations of torture and/or ill-treatment committed by law enforcement personnel are seldom investigated and prosecuted. The Committee notes with great concern that some instances of torture involving acts which are considered as ‘relatively minor offences’ can lead to only disciplinary or administrative punishment….”

Thanks to the Bush Administration, the U.S. is hardly in a position to be lecturing other countries about torture. That’s why this CAT report is so significant. It’s not from the State Department, it’s from the United Nations. And China is a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture, which means Beijing can’t just say this is an internal matter and none of your business. The report “is from a U.N. committee, and China ratified the convention [against torture], so it has to be subject to the U.N. mechanism,” says Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based member of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. “Other criticism, they can brush aside but this time, they are a registered body of the convention, so they should be subject to its scrutiny.”

The Chinese government’s response, as issued by the Foreign Ministry on Monday: “China respects and protects human rights, and always opposes torture. China has earnestly fulfilled its obligations set out in the UN Convention against Torture and made great achievements through persistent efforts in this regard….To our regret, some biased committee members, in drafting the observations, chose to ignore the substantial materials provided by the Chinese government, quote and even fabricated some unverified information. Running counter to the ethics of justice and objectiveness, they attempted to politicize the review by squeezing some unreal and stigmatized comments into the concluding observations, which China firmly opposes.”

Reader Comments


November 25, 2008 10:26 PM

What is this article has anything to do with business related issue? You can make an article about the Piracy near the coast of Somalia, or an article about the untouchable in India or the moral justification of invading Iraq on 2003? Are those article related to business issue?
My point that you are abusing BW to use it as an tool to propagate your political view.
Torture is bad and should be stopped by everyone but it should be communicated in a different medium.


November 26, 2008 4:42 PM

Nice report, but what's anybody gonna do about it?


November 26, 2008 11:35 PM

The fact is that China's human right records is not too bad, it is too good. All Tibetan and Urghur separists, and Falun Gong cult should be treated like US treated Iraqis and prisoners in Guantanamo! It is simple, they are the cancers of Chinese society and need to be cinerated with 100% resolute will! If UN and all you China evil-wishers have a problem, just deal with it!


November 27, 2008 2:08 AM

Myview, if you think Tibetan and Uighur wishes for self-determination are the cancers of modern Chinese society then you clearly either haven't spent any considerable time here, or a blinded by some kind of chauvinistic Han view of the world. How does a Uyghur farmers wish for a little space out of the suffocating grasp of the CCP affect the average Zhou more than the illegal seizure of land by local authorities, or consuming poisonous food and breathing poisonous air?
Your myopic view of what ill's China does both you, and the country a disservice.


November 27, 2008 3:06 AM

Sure, why not provide support for every single independent movement in the world? Why is it always China single out?
Why not asking for other countries to give up land to any separatist movement?
Hypocrite and don't come with the communist BS excuse!


November 27, 2008 5:23 AM

There are way worse things in this world. I don't want to enumerate those. Why do they have to in "Business" Week? Simply because you caught something bad about China.

I agree with Jcage, and suggest this magazine change its title to Politics Week.


November 27, 2008 5:32 AM

Calm down. The UN report criticized the use of torture, so unless you think it's acceptable, then we are on the same side. Any government that uses torture deserves to be criticized. This includes China, no matter how frail your ego may be, or how willing you are to accept it.
And how exactly is taking the position that torture is wrong "support for every single independent movement in the world"?
That fact is that most of the torturing is being perpetrated by Han, on Han ,so spare us the indignant posturing, and irrelevant references to separatism.
The last part about "communist BS excuse" just highlights your defensiveness and insecurity.
At least your 50fen is increasing in value over the USD, so console yourself with that.


November 27, 2008 6:57 AM

First, I am shocked by the evil intent in MyViews comments, I am deeply concerned for you, you sound like a very disturbed person, I hope you can find some goodnes in your heart before it is too late. I believe the item to be extremely relevant, China is the biggest trading country in the world today. Therefore it is relevant just on that issue, but further when another country trades with them and brings money into their system, they are then using those funds to suppress, torture, murder, extract organs and what ever evil they wish to administer. I think that not only are trading partners financially supporting these evil acts but they are saying that they are happy for extreme human rights abuses to exist. One further thing is that this UN report in no way attacks the Chinese people, but the ruling Communist party who control all aspects of life in China. These are strong words from the UN, and they are necessary as the ruling party in needs to be brought into line if it wants to continue to be accepted by the rest of the world.


November 27, 2008 3:19 PM

The UN report this time invloves China. No nations is immune of how it treats its citizens. Conducting business with China should be done so with some sense of responsibility. It is simple. The Chinese government should honor its committment to the UN Convention Against Torture.


November 27, 2008 8:27 PM

China is not perfect. So is US. I believe many sources, including UN, have criticized about US's torture imposed on Iraq people. Whatever happend there is definitely not Human RIGHT, but Hitler's racial extinction. Then what did US do? How is the Human right in IRAQ lately? US is definitely the missionary of HUMAN RIGHT, but its mission is to ravage it, not help it.

James Mason

November 27, 2008 10:20 PM

Did the UN ever criticise the Bush administration and the US for their resort to torture in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and through extraordinary rendition to complicit countries? No/ I thought so. Gutless wimps can pick on China but have no courage to do the same to the US.

Bruce Einhorn

November 27, 2008 10:49 PM

This is Bruce, the writer of this blog item. Thanks for the comments. James Mason, a quick Google search shows that your assertion that UN has never criticized the U.S. for Guantanamo etc. is incorrect. See this item from Amnesty International from 2006, for instance:
As Amnesty writes, "This document welcome the findings of the United Nations Committee Against Torture that the United States authorities ought to prohibit, prevent and punish all acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment at home and abroad; to close Guantánamo; to end secret, incommunicado and indefinite detention; to prevent 'disappearances'; and to stop the practice of 'rendition'."


November 28, 2008 2:06 AM

^the question should be: why is china's (unsurprisingly poor) record on torture be brought up, whereas the US' (surprisingly bad) record be routinely ignored in the american media? unless we're all ok with righteously condemning others while turning a blind eye toward our own government's indiscretions, it's difficult to justify these articles.

Dirty Harry

November 28, 2008 2:46 AM

What is torture? and what is interogation? Can interogation be effective without torture? For some, being locked up is torture enough.

Is torture acceptable if it helps to get information to catch Osama? Is is desirable if it could have prevented 911 from happening? Is Western standards of torture realistic in every country in the world?


November 28, 2008 1:34 PM

This isn't a new story. Whatever the Chinese government does, it will always get some harsh criticism. China is not the same country as it was 30 years ago. There isn't much difference between China and the rest of the world. It's not a democratic coutry yet, but it will come to a completely democratic contry sometime this century. On the other hand, it is a democratic country in many aspects. It isn't a country dictated by tyranies any more. The central government is composed of nine people all of who have equal power and play the same role to form the country's top policies. You might recall there was only one persom who decided everything for the country 30 years ago. China is an extremely complicated society not only because of its long history, also because of its complicated population. Simply applying other's rule and law to China won't work in China. I don't agree what these hawkish people say. They are always critical to China no matter what it does. It is true China still lacks behind US and other western countries in terms of legal system and human rights. No country is perfect even if US and the developed EU countries. If you consider that how far the Chinese has come along in recent years, you will not say too much. It has lifted more than 200 million people from proverty. This is unprecedented and no any other countried can do this. China is the biggest contributor to the world economic growth, exceeding US as the engineer for the world growth. It is the 3rd largest country just behind US and Japan. But it is expected it will replace Japan to become the 2nd largest economic power. It is the 3rd giggest country for trade. I can imagine it will the biggest country in the world in every aspect in the near future. When talking about human rights, only people have the basic needs including food and clothing then the political freedom can be mentioned. If no food and clothing can be guaranteed, then there is no freedom at all. For example, India is a fully democratic country in sharp contrast to China since it had been colonied by Btitian before it became independent. Btitian has the most effects to its society including the political system. But I don't see any advangate that Indian governmetn can offer. It could drag on and on for a tiny thing since the government is not very efficient when excuting the crucial policy. Having said all these positive things for China, I do agree there there are still many things the government can do or should do. It won't happen overnight and it will take some time to do this. It's not appropriate to criticise other people just based on one side of the story. On the other hand, this is a free world and everyone is entitled to express his/her opinio. I do suggest the you should this with caution.

When America tortures, why not for China?

November 29, 2008 2:59 AM

If the model democracy and defender(?) of civil right America can torture, why not for China? Isn't it more natural for Chinese to torture without being reported? You will be tortured both in America and in China. The difference may be that in America, you will get more technically more sohistcated torture than in China.

sam repriovisk

December 5, 2008 1:31 AM

well i think it will be more relevant if the editor puts more of business articles and stop this kind of political ones. if i need political news i could have subscribed for a different magazine. wake up and give us some worthy articles. dont just fill the pages.

David King

December 5, 2008 1:51 AM

First I want to get it out, I do not support torture and know that US is not perfect.

My Chinese friends and colleagues have told me many stories of abuses they suffered.

They usually laugh at me when I criticize US government and compare US H.R. records with China's records.

They say "You do not know how evil the communist government is and have no idea what totalitarian mean"


December 6, 2008 3:43 AM


This article is only for self-righteous people such as the author of this article and hypocrite such as yourself to mouth off to feel big! It make you feel big and powerful to be able to stand to China! Any countries has separatist movement and they can become a force if the money and political and propaganda support by done by this news and by you!
The people in Kashmir, Sikkim, Assam and Khalistan voice need to be heard of if you are bringing the Tibetan movement!


December 4, 2009 4:59 PM

Stop projecting. To previous comment.

If a child hits, hurts, mouths back, steals, cheats, destroys, That child is repremanded and not rewarded.
We keep patting CHINA on the back with one hand and throwing in a 1/2 baked reprimand with the other. That child (CHina) will turn into a tyrant! Thanks to us. Thanks for trading with him and expecting him to change. If I did this to my kid I'd be co creating an egomaniac!

C. H. Ng

December 5, 2009 1:56 PM

Torture comes in many forms and we human beings are the only specie in this living world who can really turn it into an art form. The people who perfected it are sicked in their minds; the victims are sicked from pain, agony & suffering.

From ancient time to the present, every rulers / governments / kingdoms had & still have been praticing some forms of torturing when they are in power. It's only to what extend. For those who have spoken out against China in this subject, may I ask you what about your own country/government? Can you dare to say your country/government is totally clean on this subject? Or better still, can you honestly say YOU youself never ever commit some kind of torturings such as mental torture to your spouse during & after a quarrel in your life before? It also can be considered a torture, right?

The point here is that it's a very well known fact torturing is practised in many, if not all countries in this world. Why just singled out China alone? China's record is bad. There is no denying about it. But so are many other countries with even worse records. Why never mention them? Is our UN blind or just simply biased?

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