China, North Korea Among Asia’s Worst Culprits for Torture: Report

By Rachel Vandenbrink
china-torture-protest-2011.jpg Activists in Hong Kong protest methods used by Chinese state security police, August 2011.

China and North Korea are among the Asia-Pacific region’s worst culprits for torture, according to a new report by rights group Amnesty International which also sees many other countries in the region failing to meet obligations to protect against and punish the horrific abuse.

A poll by the group revealed that 30 years after the Convention Against Torture was adopted by the U.N., almost half of the world’s population still does not feel safe from torture and other forms of ill treatment used “as a favored tool by the forces of repression.”

Amnesty, which released the report for the launch of a global “Stop Torture” campaign, said it had recorded incidents of torture in 141 countries in the past five years, including in 79 of the 155 signatories to the convention.

The group’s 21-country poll of 20,000 people found that 44 percent feared they would be abused if taken into custody.

“Torture is not just alive and well—it is flourishing in many parts of the world,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement for the launch.

“As more governments seek to justify torture in the name of national security, the steady progress made in this field over the last thirty years is being eroded,” he said.

“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture—prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice.”

'Missing the mark'

In the Asia-Pacific region, many countries are “widely missing the mark” on preventing and punishing torture, Amnesty’s report said.

Some of the world’s most appalling cases of torture can likely be found in prison camps in North Korea, where hundreds of thousands of people are held in “extremely inhuman” conditions, the report said.

In China, authorities torture detainees to extract forced confessions and punish activists for their human rights work by denying them medical treatment, the report said, citing the case of activist Cao Shunli who died of organ failure in March.

Chinese individuals continue to be arbitrarily detained in brutal conditions despite the official abolition of the country’s “re-education through labor system” last year, which produced changes that were largely only “cosmetic,” it said.

In Vietnam, dozens of activists are held in “extremely harsh conditions” to prevent them from promoting human rights, with some of them beaten, denied adequate food and health care, and held in isolation, the report said.  

Police forces in Myanmar and a host of other countries in the region are known to torture individuals during interrogation and pre-trial detention to obtain forced confessions, sometimes to the point of death, it said.

“Lack of justice on cases of torture and ill-treatment is the rule across the Asia-Pacific region,” it said.  

Clear rules wanted

Amnesty said not enough progress has been made on preventing and punishing torture worldwide in the three decades since the U.N. adopted the Convention Against Torture in 1984, pointing to a need for clear rules against the practice.

“The pervasive and pernicious nature of this abuse demonstrates that a global ban is not enough,” Shetty said in the report.

“Our worldwide poll also shows that the overwhelming majority of people want clear rules against torture.”

Amnesty said its poll found global public opinion is in favor of international rules against torture, citing 82 percent of respondents in its survey who said they believed “clear rules” are “crucial” because any use of torture is immoral and weakens international human rights.

But more than a third of respondents said they believe torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.

“Overall, we can see broad global support amongst the public for action to prevent torture,” said Caroline Holme, director at GlobeScan, the company that conducted the survey.

Fear of torture

The survey found that fear of torture was highest in Brazil and Mexico and lowest in the UK, Australia, and Canada, of the countries polled.

In China—one of a handful of Asian countries in the survey—72 percent of respondents said they would feel safe from torture if taken into custody, while a quarter disagreed.

Seventy-four percent of Chinese respondents said they felt torture was sometimes justified—one of the highest rates in the survey alongside India.

Amnesty called on governments around the world to implement protective mechanisms including proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent checks on places of detention, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, and the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.

The group won the Nobel Peace prize in 1977 largely because of its work fighting against torture, and the new two-year campaign is an attempt to revisit one of its core issues.

The campaign focuses on five countries where torture is a particular problem and where the group believes it can have the most impact: Mexico, the Philippines, Morocco and Western Sahara, Nigeria, and Uzbekistan.


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