UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Highlights Overall Lack of Progress in China

December 7, 2005

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has released the report on its September 2004 mission to China. On their first visit to China since 1997, Working Group representatives visited police stations, prisons, and other detention facilities in Beijing, Chengdu, and Lhasa. They interviewed more than 70 pretrial detainees, convicts, and administrative detainees under terms of reference set by the Working Group. The 23-page report provides a detailed assessment of China’s criminal justice and administrative detention systems as well as updated information on numerous detainees whose cases the Working Group has considered.

While noting several positive developments, the report offers an overwhelmingly negative assessment of detention in China. Citing the government’s failure to adequately define crimes of "endangering state security," pass legislative measures to exempt peaceful expression from criminal liability, or create real judicial oversight of administrative detention, the report notes that "none of the recommendations that the Working Group formulated in its earlier report have been followed." It concludes that "rules and practices concerning judicial deprivation of liberty are not in keeping with international standards,” and that there is “no genuine right to challenge administrative detention." It also identifies China's use of "state secrets" exceptions as an area of concern, noting that they improperly interfere with access to defense counsel. Among the positive developments that the report notes are improved cooperation with the Working Group by local authorities, legislative and constitutional changes that place greater emphasis on human rights protection, and the central government’s decision to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Among its numerous recommendations, the Working Group calls for independent judicial review of detentions and arrests, improved access to defense counsel, a major overhaul of China’s administrative detention system to bring it into conformity with international standards, and a halt to the use of vague criminal provisions such as "endangering state security" and “subverting public order” to punish peaceful expression, assembly, and religious practice.