The United Nations has designated 26 June as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and today marks the 13th anniversary of the day.Attaching importance to this anniversary, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) commemorates the day to stand in solidarity with the victims of torture and recognize the pain and suffering of victims and survivors of torture throughout the world. The day reminds us that torture is a crime and provides us with an opportunity to stand united and voice our opinion against torture, a cruel violation of human rights and human dignity.
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1984, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) entered into force on 26 June 1987. It was an important step in the much-needed process of globalizing human rights and acknowledging that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal and should not be condoned. There can be zero tolerance for torture. In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly decided to mark this historic date and designated 26 June each year as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on 12 December 1986 and 4 October 1988 respectively. Yet, torture and ill-treatment continue to be endemic and a regular feature in the Chinese administered network of prisons and detention centres across the Tibetan plateau.
Torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment appears to have become a central element of state agents’ treatment of Tibetans perceived as being in opposition to the Communist regime and those attempting to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Tibetans who voiced their support for the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama or have divergent views to those of the Communist regime have been primary targets of torture, ill-treatment or other forms of human rights violations. Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) are repeatedly using torture as a means of intimidating, investigating and extracting information or confessions from real or perceived offenders and detainees. Over the years,TCHRD has recorded numerous cases of Tibetans having died directly as a result of torture. The Centre has also documented cases of suspected extra-judicial killings at the hands of Chinese security forces, as well as many Tibetans having died shortly after being released from Chinese custody, during which they were subjected to inhumane torture. The Centre is highly concerned about the well-being and safety of the prisoners of conscience and detainees involved in the recent spate of protests.
Recently China issued new rules that make it clear that evidence with unclear origins, confession obtained through torture, and testimony acquired through torture and threats are invalid in criminal prosecutions and such evidence would be thrown out in death penalty cases that are under appeal. This is the first time that Beijing has explicitly stated that evidence obtained under torture or duress is illegal and inadmissible in court. The government issued two new sets of procedures-the first covers evidence in cases subject to the death penalty, and the second governs evidence obtained under duress in all criminal cases. However, recent cases illustrate that convictions in the Chinese court system are strongly dependent on confessions, motivating police forces to use torture. For instance, Karma Samdrup, a Tibetan environmentalist once praised and named philanthropist of the year in 2006 by state broadcaster CCTV, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, deprivation of political rights for five years and fined 10,000 yuan ($ 1,500) on flimsy charges of grave robbing and dealing in looted antiquities. In his statement to the court, he said that during months of interrogation, officers beat him, deprived him of sleep for days on end, and drugged him with a substance that made his eyes and ears bleed, all part of an effort to force him to sign a confession. His wife estimates he lost at least 40 pounds in police custody. This latest case highlights official rampant use of torture to extract confession despite the official pronouncement of a new regulation to invalidate such evidence. Such continued use of torture and ill-treatment in the conviction of suspects calls into question the efficacy of the new regulation.
The CAT requires states to make torture illegal and provide appropriate punishment for those who commit torture, however, in Tibet and in China torture takes place unabated amidst a political culture of impunity. The use of electric prod, pricking cigarettes on the body, beating, hand or thumb cuffs, feet manacles, aerial suspension, exposure to extreme temperature, long periods of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, violent beating, forced labour and forced exercise drills are few of the commonly used techniques employed by the Chinese authorities from the time of arrest to the detention centre. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. A subtle form of mental torture is being used on prisoners in Tibet. Some typical debilitating symptoms of psychological torture include: sleeplessness, headache, fatigue, chronic musculoskeletal pains, gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders and sexual dysfunction. The long term psychological effects of torture may be manifested by symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and substance abuses. Disturbing cases of suicides due to excessive mental humiliation and psychological trauma continue to surface.
TCHRD demands the government of the PRC to implement the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to eradicate torture and “to ensure torture survivors’ right to full reparation with special attention to medical and psychological needs.” The Centre also calls on the government of the PRC to take the necessary steps to sign without delay and thereafter effectively implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Centre expresses its support for the universal prohibition against torture and ill-treatment and respect for human rights.