China: End Impunity for Torture & Provide Justice for Victims

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China: End Impunity for Torture & Provide Justice for Victims

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders—June 23, 2016) – In the run-up to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, CHRD reiterates its call for the Chinese government to end impunity for torturers and provide justice for victims of torture. China is obligated to prevent and stop torture and provide state compensation to victims as outlined in the international Convention against Torture, to which China has been a party since 1988. However, the government has not lived up to its treaty obligations, including provisions under Article 14, under which torture victims have the right to fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation. Instead of taking steps to ensure justice for victims, Chinese authorities often retaliate against them or their families for seeking redress, an issue that CHRD highlighted in a report it submitted to the UN Committee against Torture last year.

As a consequence of not holding perpetrators accountable and other failings, torture remains a systemic problem in China, and CHRD has documented hundreds of cases of mistreatment of human rights defenders since 2012. In November 2015, the Committee against Torture (CAT) again expressed its concern that torture and ill-treatment remain deeply entrenched in China’s law-enforcement and criminal justice systems. An essential element of the UN guidelines and principles on providing remedies for torture and other rights violations committed by state agents is the guarantee of non-repetition; in other words, redress for torture victims requires that torturers be held criminally responsible.

China’s State Compensation Law, the country’s main legislation dealing with redress for victims of torture and other abuses, does not protect victims and contains loopholes for perpetrators to evade responsibility. The law includes a two-year statute of limitations for filing claims that allege torture by police or security agents (Article 32), beginning from when a court declares an act of torture unlawful. But obtaining such a court ruling is an almost unsurmountable obstacle, as those who seek justice are often stone-walled or forced for years to navigate unresponsive channels. In its review of China’s implementation of the Convention against Torture in 2015, CAT recommended the government lift unreasonable restrictions written into the law that impede victims’ efforts to seek redress.

More seriously, China’s justice system lacks political independence to implement provisions in the State Compensation Law, which requires conducting impartial investigations of accused state torturers and holding them criminally to account. The judiciary largely serves the interests of the one-party-ruled government, and political forces often intervene to shield state agents accused of torture from criminal investigation and prosecution.

Most compensation cases in China—including those that involve mistreatment of citizens in police custody—are settled outside the courts and with offers from police or prosecutors, a system that appears to lack any official procedures or formal oversight. According to Chinese government data submitted to the UN (para. 30), from the beginning of 2009 to June 2015, mainland courts accepted only 12 criminal compensation cases involving bodily injuries or death caused by using torture to extract confessions. This is a remarkably low number considering how rife torture is believed to be in China—and if keeping in mind the number of known cases of injuries and deaths due to torture—and it also shows how difficult it is for torture victims to get their cases heard.

In fact, many torture victims have been incarcerated as a direct result of seeking redress, particularly those who have been held and abused in extralegal detention facilities, such as Re-education through Labor (RTL) camps, psychiatric hospitals, and “black jails.” This sort of retaliation is partly due to government denials of the existence of “black jails” and authorities’ persistent use of psychiatric institutions to illegally detain critics of the government. Even in abolishing RTL at the end of 2012, the government stated that past RTL punishments would remain valid, thus building a barrier for victims of the camps from seeking redress. Unable to secure investigations into abuses in extralegal facilities, most victims have been left with little choice but to turn to the ineffective petitioning system, which makes them highly vulnerable to reprisals.

Provisions to rehabilitate torture victims in China are practically non-existent, a problem that CAT has urged the government to address by providing rehabilitation services or by funding non-governmental groups to run such programs. Rehabilitation is urgently needed for former detainees of the past RTL camps, victims of trauma and abuse from the bloody suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and many more in China who have suffered police brutality, torture to coerce confessions, and other kinds of ill-treatment at the hands of state agents.

The challenge for tortured prisoners of conscience to obtain state compensation is even greater. This is mainly because police and other security personnel—who may be both the alleged perpetrators and the official investigators of torture accusations—continue to act outside of the law, and on behalf of the state to suppress and silence dissent. The pattern of entrenched torture as tool of retaliation is evident in the deprivation of medical treatment of human rights defenders in detention centers and prisons as well as violence against human rights lawyers. In all such cases, accusations of torture and ill-treatment are systematically denied, covered up, or even justified by the state’s political priority for maintaining “national security” or “social and public stability.”

CHRD highlights below several cases that are emblematic of various types of torture and also the challenges that torture victims face when seeking redress:

  • The case of activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) reflects the persistent torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders. Guo has been serving a six-year prison sentence since November 2015 on two criminal charges over peaceful protests he organized in 2013. Guo, whose real name is Yang Maodong (杨茂东), has faced torture and ill-treatment in pre-trial detention and in prison. Since April 2016, Guo’s health has deteriorated to such an extent that his family fears for his life, and they believe officials have purposefully withheld medical treatment as a form of political retaliation. Police severely tortured Guo during a previous period of incarceration, from 2006 to 2011; however, no state agent has ever been held accountable for this mistreatment, and Guo has never received any form of redress.
  • Huang Yan and Guo Hongwei are among many Chinese torture victims who are currently incarcerated.

    Huang Yan and Guo Hongwei are among many Chinese torture victims who are currently incarcerated.

    Jilin petitioners Guo Hongwei (郭洪伟) and his 76-year-old mother, Xiao Yunling (肖蕴苓), received prison terms of 13 years and six years, respectively, in February 2016. A Siping City court convicted both on charges of “extorting the government” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Guo and his mother had attempted to use China’s State Compensation Law to seek damages for Guo’s previous five-year prison sentence, a punishment that they felt was unjust. Guo and his mother have reportedly been further subjected to torture and ill-treatment in pre-trial detention and prison. Guo Hongwei has received the longest known prison sentence for “extorting the government” among over 20 compensation-related cases documented by CHRD in which individuals were imprisoned for this alleged crime.

  • The women of the Masanjia Re-education through Labor camp: Liaoning authorities sentenced eight women who had been abused in the notorious Masanjia camp to prison terms of 12 to 18 months in June 2014. The women had demanded accountability and state compensation for torture and ill-treatment committed by officials and guards at the camp, which had been exposed in state media in early 2013. Authorities continue to prevent the victims of RTL from receiving redress, with police detaining a Masanjia victim as recently as February 2016.
  • Guangdong activist Huang Yan (黄燕) has not received necessary medical treatment for diabetes and ovarian cancer since being seized by police in November 2015, causing her health to severely deteriorate. Her daily medicines were confiscated after she was taken to Shunde District Detention Center. During a lawyer visit in April 2016, Huang said that she had recently undergone a medical examination which showed that the cancer had spread. An officer at the detention center has told her husband that Huang would be sent to a military hospital if she is in critical condition, but that, if she dies there, her death would be considered “natural.” Huang was criminally detained on suspicion of “deliberately disseminating terrorist information” before being formally arrested for “obstructing official duties” in December 2015.

In order to protect the rights of victims of torture, CHRD calls on the Chinese government to:

  • Establish an effective and independent oversight mechanism to ensure prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into all allegations of torture, and ensure that all acts of torture are punishable by appropriate penalties in line with their severity;
  • Hold criminally responsible state agents who commit acts of retaliation against torture victims who report on or seek redress for mistreatment;
  • Ensure implementation of legal standards in the State Compensation Law, and revise relevant provisions in the law to comply with Article 14 of the Convention against Torture; and
  • Provide timely, fair, and adequate compensation and rehabilitation to victims who were subjected to torture in extralegal detention facilities and the past Re-education through Labor camps.


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at], Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens[at], Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve[at], Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD

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