UN Committee Against Torture
The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) is a body of 10 independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties i.e. those states which have signed up to the Convention. China signed the Convention on 12 December 1986 and ratified it on 4 October 1988.
This means that, like all other State parties, China is obliged to submit regular reports to CAT on how the Convention is being implemented. States must make an initial report one year after signing up to the Convention and then continue to submit reports every four years. These are known as periodic reports.
There are a number of steps in the reporting process and opportunities for NGOs to get involved.
State Party Report
At the start of each reporting cycle, the state in question submits their periodic report, which is published on the UN website. China’s fifth periodic report was due on 21 November 2012, received by CAT on 20 June 2013 and published on 3 April 2014. Once the report has been received and published, CAT invites concerned NGOs to submit written information and comment on the periodic report.
List of Issues
Tibet Watch compiled a report (Torture in Tibet - February 2015) together with Gu Chu Sum and Free Tibet and this was submitted in February 2015. Once CAT has received all of the NGO submissions, it pulls out the key issues and creates an official List of Issues which is adopted during a formal meeting, published on the UN website and communicated to the government in question.
The List of Issues for China was adopted during the 54th session, which was held between 20 April and 15 May 2015. The document was then published on 15 June 2015. The document picked up on each of the cases Tibet Watch and our partners had raised and listed each Tibetan prisoner by name.
State response to List of Issues
The state being reviewed is then given the opportunity to respond to the List of Issues in writing. China's response was published on the UN website on 1 October 2015.
Second NGO Report
At this stage NGOs are given a second opportunity to submit written information, which should focus on new information which has come to light since the first report was written. Tibet Watch and our partners compiled a second report (Torture in Tibet - October 2015) which was submitted at the end of October 2015.
NGO Briefing Session
The NGOs which have engaged with CAT and submitted written information are invited to attend a briefing session in Geneva prior to CAT’s meeting with the state delegation.
The briefing session for China took place on 16 November 2015 at the Palais Wilson, the headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Tibet Watch’s Director and Research Manager attended the session and met with the other NGOs involved as well as the Committee. Golog Jigme, who gave evidence for our first report, was also present and had the opportunity to address the Committee.
State Party Review
CAT’s formal review of China took place on 17 and 18 November 2015. The session was streamed live online and China's opening statement was published on the UN website.
CAT had clearly taken on board the issues raised by Tibet Watch and other NGOs. They asked China some difficult questions and repeatedly pressed for answers on issues where China was reluctant to respond.
The concluding observations were published on 9 December 2015. As usual, they were written in very diplomatic language but the content was certainly a vindication of our own submissions. CAT described torture as “deeply entrenched in the [Chinese] criminal justice system”. In doing so, CAT made it clear that they had found torture to be institutional in China and not something which could be dismissed as the unauthorised action of over-zealous individuals.
CAT opened and closed the document with their concerns about Tibet. The first paragraph of the recommendations noted that China has still not accounted for “events in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and neighbouring Tibetan prefectures and counties” dating back to the previous review in 2008. The document went on to criticise a number of failures, noting that many of them are repeat failures, and again highlighted all of the key issues that were raised by Tibet Watch, Gu Chu Sum and Free Tibet in our joint submissions.
Furthermore, CAT noted and rebuffed China’s attempts to discredit our reports as “groundless” “allegations”, emphasising that they had “received numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans”. They called for independent investigations into all reports of custodial deaths, disappearances, allegations of torture or ill-treatment, and use of excessive force against Tibetans. They also pointed out very clearly that that are “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” that can justify the use of torture.
The two reports which Tibet Watch and our partners submitted as part of the review process are available on our website. In addition, all formal documentation relating to the CAT review is available on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.