BEIJING – The U.N. envoy on torture arrives in China on Monday as Beijing grapples with a series of cases in which people have been wrongly convicted after giving forced confessions, a practice that rights' groups says happens too often.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, will stay for about two weeks and visit Beijing, Tibet and the restive western Muslim region of Xinjiang. He is also scheduled to visit detention centres.
China says it does not condone torture or forced confessions, and has asked courts to think twice before handing down the death penalty lest judgments be based on confessions forcefully extracted in prison.
This summer, China's parliament passed a bill mandating punishment for policemen who torture detainees during interrogation and other offences.
But rights groups criticise Chinese courts for their arbitrary verdicts and say Beijing must take its commitments to crack down on torture seriously.
China is home to the world's biggest prison population and has a legal system the U.S. State Department says is characterised by mistreatment of prisoners and an “egregious” lack of due process in the use of the death penalty.
“Given the prevalence of torture nationwide, I think anybody who comes into contact with the criminal justice system could be at risk, but we have documented particularly serious forms of torture in Xinjiang,” said Amnesty International's Mark Allison.
“The key thing that we want is that China actually pays heed to the recommendations that are made, because it's not just good enough to invite UN mechanisms to come visit,” Allison added.
In one widely publicised case in April, a Chinese man was freed after serving 11 years in jail for his wife's murder after his wife turned up not only alive but with another husband.
The man said he had been tortured into admitting the crime, sparking outrage within China over police brutality.
China's foreign ministry said in a brief statement to Reuters that it paid “great attention” to Nowak's visit.
“We believe that with joint hard work by both sides, the visit can be successful,” it said without elaborating.
Several of China's most high-profile political prisoners have been Tibetan or Uighur, ethnic minorities accused of instigating separatism in the southwest and west and who rights groups say are often torture victims.
“Successive torture rapporteurs have been seeking this visit for 10 years, and it takes place at a time when China claims to be serious about addressing torture,” said Alison Reynolds, director of the Free Tibet Campaign.
“However, the continuing and consistent reports from exiled Tibetans…suggest it is a deeply ingrained problem that will be hard to eradicate,” Reynolds said, adding they had given Nowak a list of Tibetans who had died in custody.
China signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, a cornerstone of global rights law, in 1998 but has yet to join over 150 other countries in ratifying it.