China: Put a stop to torture and reprisals


When the UN reviews China’s law and practices on torture this month, the Chinese government should ensure the full participation of civil society in the review, and should commit to real reforms to prevent torture and hold perpetrators accountable. Anything less is just window-dressing. 

Chinese official report and ISHR reprisals handbook

(Geneva) - A new session of reviews by the Committee Against Torture (CAT), which will include review of China’s torture record on 17-18 November, begins today in Geneva.

‘Active contribution of information from civil society, both ahead of the review and during, is essential to the treaty body review process. The Committee experts have an interest in understanding issues of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment – as well as practices that make human rights defenders and others vulnerable to torture - from a range of perspectives,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, East Asia programme manager at ISHR.

Civil society has already provided inputs that shaped, first, the list of issues to which the government was requested to respond. This document helps frame the dialogue in Geneva by identifying key questions related to laws and policies on torture, with a particular focus on implementation. The second opportunity came earlier this fall, when civil society organisations and others from within China and abroad submitted alternative reports, highlighting individual cases and gaps between the international legal framework, Chinese national legislation, and – most chillingly – the pervasive practice of torture on the margins of the Chinese judicial and security system.

Despite the Chinese government's reluctance to engage substantively on key allegations, the important concerns repeatedly raised by civil society and UN experts are expected to be addressed during the formal review, including:

  • legal pre-trial detention periods up to 37 days (and often, in practice, longer) and new configurations of detention, such as ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’
  • the abuse of the State Secrets Law and other national security legislation to deprive individuals who express dissenting views of their rights
  • denial of access to a lawyer, adequate, independent medical treatment, and family notification to defenders in detention.

ISHR contributed this submission to the CAT, focusing on barriers to participation and the need to protect human rights defenders and lawyers as key actors in the prevention of torture. The ISHR submission highlights changes to the Criminal Law that are expected to muzzle independent lawyers; refusal of the government to provide access to information to individuals seeking to engage with the CAT review process; and a set of recommendations on how the Committee can help keep defenders safe in Geneva and upon their return home.

‘That we, even today, still see cases of reprisals against individuals who participate in the review is deplorable,’ said Ms Brooks. ‘The Chinese government has an obligation under various articles of the Convention against Torture to facilitate and encourage civil society participation. To undermine or attack individuals for their participation is unacceptable’.

Cases of intimidation and reprisals by China against activists participating in a range of UN mechanisms have been well-documented, including by ISHR and in the report of the UN Secretary General

‘The new reprisals policy of the Committee is one step towards better protection. But other governments need to send a political message as well about the costs of reprisals to China’.

Governments have a stake in China becoming a responsible member of the international community, and they have applauded Xi Jinping for agreeing to tackle climate change. But as long as torture still happens in black jails, it doesn’t matter how green the economy is – the changes are just window-dressing.

Contact: Sarah M Brooks, East Asia Programme Manager, ISHR, on


  • Asia
  • Human rights defenders
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • China