Use of Torture still endemic in Chinese occupied Tibet

TCHRD commemorates the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

AS 26 JUNE 2007 marks the tenth anniversary of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) commemorates the day in support of victims of torture throughout the world.

Torture is one of the severest forms of human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families across the globe. In Chinese occupied Tibet, torture is endemic in the network of prisons and detention centres across the plateau. According to TCHRD documentation, the Chinese authorities’ systematic use of torture has resulted in the death of 89 known Tibetan political prisoners since 1987.

According to TCHRD’s database, there are currently 116 known Tibetan political prisoners languishing in various prisons in Tibet. Torture being a regular feature in the Chinese administered prisons and detention centres, the Centre is highly concerned about the well-being and safety of the political prisoners upon whom the worst of torture is afflicted.

Electric shocks, pricking cigarettes on the face, beating, hand or thumb cuffs, feet manacles, aerial suspension, exposure to extreme temperature, long period of solitary confinement, deprivation of food, water and sleep, forced labour and forced exercise drills are few of the commonly used techniques employed by the Chinese authorities to defeat the nationalist spirit of the Tibetans and to break down an individual’s personality. 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 former political prisoners in Tibet. Life after prison for these prisoners are made extremely difficult as they are denied readmission into their monastery or nunnery, ostracized socially, are constantly harassed by officials and have no prospect of finding employment. Many Tibetan torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks.

In 1984, the General Assembly adopted the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which entered into force on 26 June 1987. It was an important step in the much-needed process of globalising human rights and acknowledging that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal. In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly decided to mark this historic date and designated 26 June each year as 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.

As of June 2007, the Convention has been signed by 74 States. These States parties are required to report to the UN Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions.

The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment since 1988. The Chinese constitution does not contain an express prohibition of torture. The relevant provisions of the constitution in this context are Article 37 and 38 that protect the personal dignity of Chinese citizens. Chapter two of the constitution of the PRC covers several fundamental civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights but contains no explicit prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Although PRC outlawed certain forms of torture in the revised Chinese Criminal Procedure Law that came into effect in 1997, systematic torture is still endemic in the Chinese administered prisons and detention centres in Tibet.

UN member states which sign the Convention render themselves accountable under international law to take action to prevent torture and to support the victims when torture takes place. In order to uphold the principle of accountability for the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses, the culture of impunity should be eradicated and perpetrators should be brought to justice. Clearly therefore a country like PRC under the communist rule, which resorts to torture routinely as a measure of coercive control over minority population, is not going to accept the principle of accountability, let alone agree to support and succour the victims.

In view of the current situation, TCHRD urges 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 urges the PRC to release Jigme Tenzin , Jigme Gyatso, Lobsang Tsultrim (all serving lengthy sentences and currently imprisoned in Chushul [Ch:Qushui] Prison) as per the appeal of the UN expert since they have “been convicted of a political crime, possibly on the basis of information extracted by torture”. No tangible progress has been reported since the UN expert’s report (E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.6 dated 10 March 2006) and the aforementioned prisoners of concern still remain incarcerated. The Centre also urges the international community to pressure the PRC to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.


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