China has legal provisions and rules against all kinds of torture methods except the death penalty, according to Dr. Xia Yong, deputy director of Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Opposing torture is a fundamental principle of Chinese legislation, and the Constitution, criminal law and criminal procedure law have specific provisions protecting citizens’ personal rights, said Xia during an interview with China Internet Information Center.
As torture used to be a common tool in human societies, especially utilized by a state to punish offenders, it cannot be totally banned in reality in China, as well as in other countries in the world, he noted, citing an example of the seamy side of American prison life that has received wide international media coverage.
The reason could lie in the theory of public good, Xia explained.
Nevertheless, he said, China has made tremendous progress in the effort to eliminate torture during the past two decades.
In 1986, it signed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishments and the legislative body ratified the treaty in 1988. This means that China began to fulfill its commitment to the eradication of torture, and its attitude in this respect has always been positive and firm, Xia noted.
What is more encouraging is that the anti-torture campaign has evolved into a human rights issue, with the government officially calling for its close study, according to Xia. With the development of theoretical research over the past decade, the Chinese people have learned to think of everything from the angle of human rights and take actions in line with anti-torture practice and conception universally applied in the world. “This is a remarkable progress,” he said, citing the fact that in the 1980s, most Chinese still turned to their work units for help instead of to the courts when they were maltreated. But now, the public resort more to law in the search for justice.
What also merits praise is the progress made in specific legislation, Dr. Xia said.
In 1996 and 1997, China respectively amended the criminal procedure law and the criminal law, which were first promulgated in 1979, focusing on rescinding illegal privileges and assuring citizens' rights. The new laws stipulate that judicial bodies must collect evidence according to legal procedures, ban the use of torture to extort a confession, and enhance the role of lawyers in protecting the legal rights of criminal suspects.
A confession used to be taken as the major source of proof in trying criminal cases in China. But now, the revised Criminal Procedure Law sets out the “presumption of innocence” principle, according to which a suspect is supposed innocent when the interrogation begins and will not be convicted unless there is clear proof of his guilt, creating a radical change to the traditional judicial concept in the country.
In November 2000, a procuratorate in Fushun, of northeast China’s Liaoning Province, announced a newly-issued regulation stipulating that procurators should prosecute suspects based on proof other than a confession in criminal cases, guaranteeing people’s right to remain silent and entitling suspects to defend themselves against accusations or keep silent during a criminal interrogation. This is the first time for China’s judicial system to officially adopt the right of silence for suspects.
In addition to legislation, China’s administrative and judicial departments have adopted forceful measures against torture. Relevant regulations adopted by the State Council in 1996 and 1997 have played a significant role in preventing policemen from torturing criminal suspects and punishing them for such acts.
People can also resort to the State Compensation Law if their legal rights and interests are infringed upon by government employees who are on duty, said Dr. Xia.
Despite all these legislative endeavors, however, he noted that China, as in other countries, needs to build up an effective judicial and social mechanism in order to thoroughly eradicate torture. This means enhanced supervision over public security offices by the courts, checks on corruption in the judicial sector, supervision by the media and non-governmental organizations, and publicity activities to promote knowledge of human rights and laws.
With China ready to ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights it signed in 1998, it will gradually reduce and eventually abolish the death penalty, Xia said.
(CIIC by Chen Qiuping, 03/02/2001)