On December 2, 2005, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Mr. Manfred Nowak, condemned the Chinese Communist Party's use of torture at a press conference at UN headquarters in Beijing.
The Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture is one of the human rights institutes under the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has passed many pacts or declarations dealing with the topic of torture. According to these pacts, the UN has established and appointed special investigators and committees to monitor governments in countries around the world to apply related agreements and human rights standards dictated by these pacts. These special investigators and work committees are under the umbrella of United Nations human rights organization.
These special investigators and committee members are for the most part well-respected experts in the fields of human rights and law. They work for the UN on a voluntary basis and have outside jobs. They perform their UN work in addition to their normal work. Their work is independent and not restricted by any government. Because these people are professionals and also volunteers, governments and human rights organizations hold their work in high regard. Because local authorities have no influence on their investigations, their findings are considered to be most authoritative.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture is usually in charge of investigating torture in various countries and commands great influence in the UN Human Rights Committee. Usually, renowned human rights activists around the world recommend an individual for this specific task. The special rapporteur serves a four-year term and is permitted to work for more than one term.
Although the Chinese Communist Party has bribed many governments to evade condemnation of its human rights record by the UN Human Rights Committee, the Party cannot do anything about the special rapporteur on human rights. Many rapporteurs devote a large part of their annual report to criticizing the CCP's human rights violations. In recent years, reports on the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners have taken up a substantial portion of the report. In their reports, three different rapporteurs on torture have sternly condemned the CCP's widespread use of torture.
Since the use of torture by the CCP has been on the rise, in 1995, then torture investigator Mr. Nigel Rodney asked to conduct an investigation in China. Because of the respectability of the UN special investigators, many world governments permit them to conduct investigations at any time. But the CCP, in hopes of covering up their activities, did not want to allow the investigator to freely investigate; on the other hand, they could not completely deny the request. Therefore, it did what it does best--it constantly created some "special situations" in China to refuse or delay the visit.
At first, the Party tried to force the investigator to accept unreasonable constraints as a prerequisite for the visit. For example, the investigator would only be allowed to visit a few designated prisons. According to UN policies, the investigator should not be subjected to any limitations when investigating human rights in any country. He should be able to go to any prison without notifying the government; he can interview anyone subjected to torture without the presence of government officials, and the interviewee and his family should not be subject to retaliation from the government. The investigators firmly refused to accept the unreasonable conditions the CCP proposed. The commission firmly upheld international standards and chose not to make the trip rather than to accept the CCP's conditions. I witnessed firsthand the last investigator, Theo van Boven, arguing with CCP officials, insisting he must follow international standards.
Year after year, UN investigators upheld their principles. While the CCP dragged its feet for a long time, they attracted tremendous international pressure, because everyone knew why the CCP was delaying the visit. Without a choice, the CCP finally agreed to let the investigator conduct an investigation according to international standards, but it also arranged obstructions to further delay the visit. For instance: in 2003, the CCP tried its best to cover up the SARS epidemic at first, and then turned around and used the SARS issue to prevent the investigator from going to China. Last year, the CCP purposefully arranged Mr. Theo van Boven's visit for July 1. Right before Mr. Boven set off, the CCP told him, "Sorry, the whole country is celebrating a 'holiday' right now; we cannot let you come."
The CCP thought it had gained the upper hand, while it actually had become a laughing stock around the world. During the March human rights conference in Geneva, Mr. Boven said that his visa and plane ticket were still in his briefcase, but he was not allowed to make the trip. The Chinese representative answered, "In 2003 we had SARS; last year, we were celebrating the holidays." Laughter broke out in the room.
Under tremendous international pressure, the CCP accepted the investigator's request to conduct an on-site investigation in China this year, in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to not propose a motion condemning China's human rights record. This was the first on-site investigation on human rights and torture conducted by the UN and members from the international community in China.
Manfred Nowak, a law professor from Austria, is the new special rapporteur of torture this year. He is the first independent investigator in the history of the UN to go to China to investigate human rights issues. Major media and political experts call it an investigation of historic significance.
The CCP of course had its schemes: it pretended to be "willing to cooperate with the international community" by allowing the UN investigator to carry out an investigation in China. It enticed and pressured officials at UN headquarters in Geneva, and carefully planned the trip. It thought that since professor Nowak was a newly appointed investigator and not familiar with the interpersonal relationships within the UN office, professor Nowak would not be able to proceed on his own after he arrived in China. Professor Nowak was cordial and diplomatic during his discussions with CCP officials. He showed an understanding and cooperative attitude toward the Chinese government, which sharply contrasted with his predecessor, professor Van Boven. The CCP thought it was in control of everything.
The CCP made the mistake of taking this as a weakness.
Investigation and interference
Professor Nowak started his official visit on November 21. The CCP filled his hotel with National Security agents; they tapped professor Nowak's and his delegation's phone-lines and watched their every move. The CCP knew ahead of time about the places the investigators were going. They threatened and intimidated the torture victims and the families with whom the investigators were going to speak. They tried to disrupt some of their plans and arranged many official meetings for professor Nowak, with the intention of reducing his time to investigate.
The interference from the CCP, both in China and inside the UN, did obstruct professor Nowak's investigations. He was forced to cancel his trips to Jinan City and Yining City. However, professor Nowak took note of the CCP's schemes while persevering in carrying out his investigations under adverse conditions. He exposed the CCP's abuse and torture to the world two weeks later.
Professor Nowak ended his two-week investigation in China on December 2. He held a press conference on the same day at the UN headquarters in Beijing. Several hundred media from around the world reported this event.
At the press conference, professor Nowak exposed the CCP's attempts to obstruct his investigation. In particular, the China National Security Bureau and Ministry of Public Security officials obstructed or restricted his activities during his visit. Professor Nowak pointed out that any form of interference is against the rules. The CCP not only sent people to follow, watch and harass the commission members; they also threatened and intimidated people and their families who were going to provide evidence for the investigating team.
The special investigator pointed out that, unlike other governments, the CCP authorities refused to issue him a permit and stonewalled his attempt to go to any prison he wanted. They sent an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs to "accompany" him. The visits are to be carried out without prior notice, yet the investigation team was told to notify the foreign affairs official one hour before any visit, and the official in turn notified the prisons and labor camps where these visits would occur.
The special investigators exposed the CCP's false promises to follow international standards that they made prior to the trip. They also exposed the tactics the CCP employed to obstruct the visit.
The investigator also pointed out that the prison authorities restricted interview times with the excuse of limited work time, which reduced the number of places that could be visited and the number of detainees with whom the investigator could speak. Professor Nowak was even repeatedly asked to present his passport and hand over all electronic devices. He was forbidden to bring a camera into the prison, although taking photographs is one of the basic duties of an investigation. Nowak tried to enter prison cells on a random basis to prevent his conversations with inmates being overheard. Sometimes, the detainees refused to meet with him because they feared retaliation and persecution. Several other detainees asked him to keep their conversations confidential.
Regarding his conversation with the detainees, Nowak pointed out that he saw obvious fear and self-censorship, which he had never encountered in other countries. Nowak called it "a culture of fear" and said he has never seen this in other countries.
Despite the CCP exhausting its means of interference and limiting the investigators and the committee's movement, the special investigators still saw serious evidence of the CCP's widespread use of torture. At the press conference in Beijing on December 2, Nowak said torture is used throughout China, including Beijing, where people consider the "administration of law" is better than other places. He had enough evidence to prove that, to a large extent, the Chinese judicial system still relies on coercion to extract confessions. China has the largest prison system in the world. Torture has been used to extract confessions, to punish people or to brainwash people. Nowak said that China has no appeal system for the victims. Officials of the so-called monitoring system are not the best candidates watch over the guards and police, because they also follow orders from the government and have the same goals as the police and guards. Torture is widespread in Chinese labor camps, and the guards, who are rarely checked, are administering such torture.
Nowak said his predecessors received many complaints regarding torture and other forms of mistreatment in China and have turned them over to the Chinese government for its investigation and opinion. The tortures are systemic and long lasting. They target Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, members of the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang, political dissidents, human rights activists, and members of house churches.
Nowak listed some methods of torture such as beating, shocking with electric batons, burning with cigarettes, handcuffing or shackling for extended periods of time in solitary confinement, submerging detainees in water or sewage, or exposing them to extreme heat or cold, forcing the prisoners to stay in an uncomfortable position for a long time, such as sitting, squatting, lying down, standing or with his arms supporting his body; putting things underneath the detainee's body and not allowing him to eat, drink or sleep; long-term solitary confinement; no treatment or medicine during illness; heavy labor, and being hung up by handcuffs. Sometimes there is a name for a specific torture, such as the Tiger Bench; sitting on a small, ridged stool several inches tall without moving; "flying an airplane," where the detainee is forced to bend forward with his legs tightly together and arms raised high above his body; "Stewing the eagle," where the detainee is forced to stand on a tall stool and is beaten until the guards are exhausted. According to information collected during the investigation, Nowak said all these methods are used in China.
At the same time, Nowak condemned the CCP for using psychiatric facilities to torture persistent dissidents in order to damage their minds and dignity. He met many people who suffer from mental trauma or physical injuries that left no visible scars. He pointed out that Falun Gong practitioners in particular were singled out by the authorities for the most brutal treatment. The government often incarcerates them in labor camps without trial and tries to brainwash them. The Falun Gong practitioners are forced to stay in a painful position for a long time. A democracy activist who also suffered from this torture and was interviewed by Nowak called it "killing with a soft knife."
Nowak called on China to repeal the "labor reeducation" system, abolish all labor camps and stop using psychiatry as a torture method. The Chinese government must give suspects the right to remain silent and completely abolish extraction of confessions through torture. The Chinese government must follow basic international human rights principles and the UN constitution. Unless the Chinese government carries out major legal reforms and allows the establishment of an independent judicial system, Mr. Nowak said that torture in China would not be effectively controlled.
He said the "culture of fear" is prevalent. Some prisoners, even those who wrote letters to his office alleging torture, said during the investigation that they were not tortured, or they said they could not remember details of the torture. Nowak said that one could feel the fear and self-censorship.
Nowak also said that China should abolish the concept of political dissidents along with the charges of "jeopardizing national security" and "disrupting social security" because these charges give the Chinese government too much room for interpretation. He also emphasized that brainwashing through forced labor or other forms in prisons, custody centers, mental hospitals and other places should be abolished.
According to international human rights laws, the government can intervene in the expression of political opinions, religious beliefs, moral values, or minority opinions only when such actions incite hatred and violence, or if they directly threaten the state or public security. State-oriented monitoring and severe punishment through "labor reeducation" of citizens holding differing opinions do not accord with the core values of a society built on a humanitarian culture. Such monitoring will result in fear, obedience, self-censorship and a "culture of fear," which will violate "the right to avoid being subjected to inhumane or insulting treatment or punishment."
Every society has the right to uphold or administer article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person...Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as non-convicted persons...The penitentiary system's essential aim shall be the treatment of prisoners with the goal of their reformation and social rehabilitation."
The "labor reeducation" system in China and the policies at prisons and detention centers contradict measures to help detainees repent for their crimes, because the systems' goal is to destroy the detainees' will and alter their humanity. These measures violate Article 7 and Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 1 and Article 16 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which protect people's self-esteem, dignity and humanity, as well as other core aspects of human rights. Forced labor itself not only constitutes a severe violation of personal freedom, a basic human right, but is also seen as systemic inhumane treatment and even torture. Therefore, similar measures should be abolished from labor camps, prisons, detention centers and mental hospitals.
Nowak will turn in an official investigation report to the UN Human Rights Committee next year.
After the press conference, many media in Beijing quickly published the result of the investigation in different languages. Titles of some of these articles include "UN: Torture in China Still Widespread;" "UN Assails China's Widespread Use of Torture" and "China Needs Major Reform to Curb 'Widespread' Torture--U.N." Radio and TV stations in many countries broadcast Nowak's speech and broadcast pictures of torture and of Chinese labor camps. The UN investigation of torture in China has become top news on many websites. The CCP is now linked with torture.
Confronted with severe criticism, the CCP didn't know how to react at first, which sharply contrasted with its speedy response after the staged self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square.
Of course, the CCP has denied the truth and claimed that Nowak has limited knowledge on torture issues in China. The CCP vehemently denies the special investigator's conclusions, which will only bring more pressure upon itself. If the CCP thinks Mr. Nowak does not know much about the issue, why did it obstruct and interfere with his investigation?