A report by Amnesty International November 2015


Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment) have long been prevalent in all situations where authorities deprive individuals of their liberty in China. The Chinese government itself has acknowledged the extent of the problem and has increased attempts to address it. Over the past five years, the government has introduced a number of measures to curb the use of torture in the criminal justice system, including regulations, law amendments, judicial opinions and procedural rules, which it claims have been successful in curbing torture. This report examines what real impact these efforts have had in stopping the use of torture so far, in particular the use of torture and other ill-treatment to extract forced “confessions”.

Though China ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in 1988, it has failed to bring domestic legislation in line with the obligations of the treaty. The Committee Against Torture (CAT), the expert UN body charged with overseeing the treaty’s implementation, has repeatedly raised concerns about a number of issues in China including: the lack of a definition of torture in domestic laws that accords with that of UNCAT; exclusion at trial of evidence obtained through torture and other ill-treatment; arbitrary detention where there is a high probability of torture and other ill-treatment; torture and other ill-treatment of human rights defenders; and the lack of independence of judges and lawyers. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who visited the country in 2005, addressed similar concerns in recommendations to the Chinese government.

A fundamental problem remains in that the public security, China’s police authority, still wields too much power within the judicial system and that as a result few perpetrators of torture are held to account. But in the short and medium term, the deep rooted practices of the criminal justice system may prove the greatest hurdle in authorities’ efforts to eradicate the practice of extracting forced “confessions”. The system still overly relies on “confessions” as the basis of most convictions, providing an almost irresistible incentive for law enforcement agencies to obtain them by any means necessary. This, in turn, considerably increases the risk of miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions.

Lawyers are integral to any serious effort to curb torture, especially in the criminal justice system. They can play a critical role in preventing torture if they are allowed to meet their clients in detention. Lawyers can be a driving force to ensure that fair trial standards are met and they are almost indispensable for individuals to be able to seek redress for human rights violations.

Despite their weak institutional status—there are no independent lawyers’ organizations in China—Chinese lawyers have been at the forefront of efforts to raise claims of torture in court and to seek accountability for torture and other ill-treatment. Yet, they face extraordinary difficulties operating in the Chinese criminal justice system, particularly when they take on cases involving government accountability and sensitive issues such as torture, but also corruption, religious freedom and freedom of expression. Worse still, since 2006 the most active human rights lawyers have increasingly become targets of government crackdowns, and face disbarment and harassment at the hands of authorities. As this report details, a number of them have themselves become victims of torture. ViewThe Full Report