China and the Refugees: The Torture Convention Angle

February 27, 2012 7:00 AM

We have always argued that China is in violation of its obligations under the Refugee Convention (most recently here.) However, a recent overview of the China-South Korea standoff in Yonhap reminds us that there is a second international legal leg to stand on: the 1987 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or just the Convention Against Torture.

China signed the Convention on December 12th, 1986 and ratified it (“adopted” it) on October 4th, 1988. Needless to say, North Korea has not ratified the CAT. Surprise, surprise.

Article 3, in full, states:

“No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

An unfortunate feature of international human rights conventions is that an increasing number of states are entering reservations to them. China entered two reservations with respect to the CAT. The Chinese Government does not recognize the competence of the Committee against Torture as provided for in article 20 of the Convention, which deals with external investigation of alleged abuses. And it does not consider itself bound by paragraph l of article 30 of the Convention, which deals with disputes under the convention and the role of the International Court of Justice. China has also not to our knowledge undertaken the positive declaration with respect to Article 20 that would permit direct standing on the part of individuals before the Committee on the convention.

In short, there is nothing that we can see that suggests that China is not obligated under Article 3 of the CAT, unless it does not believe that there are substantial grounds for believing that persons returned to North Korea would in fact be in danger of being subjected to torture.

We put in our two cents on that issue in Witness to Transformation, where we found that among the group reporting incarceration, 90 percent witnessed forced starvation, 60 percent deaths due to beating or torture, and 27 percent executions.

But if you can stomach less sanitized accounts, there are numerous credible ones a mouse-click away.


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