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Torture Under Scrutiny

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
November 1, 2008
South China Morning Post


As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is important to note that the administration of justice in China is increasingly being exposed to world opinion. While recent US policy and practice have made Guantanamo  and Abu Ghraib  symbols of unacceptable abuse, China's torture problems are far more pervasive and systemic.

 Ignoring Beijing's  warning,  last week the European Parliament awarded its famed Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought  to Chinese activist and commentator Hu Jia , focusing international attention on the repressive aspects of China's remarkable development. After a farcical trial,  Hu is serving a 3½-year prison sentence for publishing essays and interviews that "incited subversion of state power". During several months of pre-trial police detention, he suffered a broad range of physical and mental tortures, some of which have continued in prison.

Twenty years ago, China ratified the UN's Convention Against Torture (CAT), which requires state parties to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture in their territory. Next week, CAT's committee of 10 experts, including specialists from China and the US, will question a Chinese delegation at a hearing to review the degree of compliance concerning the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau. In 2006, Beijing  submitted compliance reports, and this September it submitted a 52-page  response to 40 detailed questions that the committee posed after reading the initial reports.

The committee  will also take account of information presented by some 15 non-governmental organisations, as well as the scathing condemnation of mainland  criminal justice issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture  following his 2006 visit to China.


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