IBAHRI urges China to uphold lawyers’ rights and implement UN recommendations to eradicate torture

Lawyers in China continue to face improper interference in their professional work and serious violations of their rights. In this context, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on China to implement the latest recommendations made by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN Committee) and to respect in full the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. 
On 9 December 2015, the UN Committee published its concluding observations on the fifth periodic report received from China. To safeguard lawyers’ rights, the UN Committee recommends that China:
1. stop sanctioning lawyers for actions taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, which should be possible without fear of prosecution; 
2. ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of all the human rights violations perpetrated against lawyers, and ensure that those responsible are tried and punished in accordance with the gravity of their acts; and
3. adopt the necessary measures without delay, to ensure the development of a fully independent and self-regulating legal profession, enabling lawyers to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, harassment or improper interference.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret) Hans Corell commented: ‘Lawyers play a pivotal role in the eradication of torture. It is therefore alarming that the UN Committee finds that lawyers in China may be deterred from raising reports of torture, for fear of legal sanction.’
Ambassador (ret) Corell added: ‘While the IBAHRI recognises that China’s engagement with the UN monitoring process is a positive step, China must address all remaining legal and practical obstacles to preventing unlawful treatment in places of detention, and this includes ensuring that the legal profession can practise freely without interference.’
IBAHRI Co-Chair, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC remarked: ‘The unprecedented number of lawyers targeted while attempting to promote human rights in China is a blight on the country’s international reputation. That lawyers face torture is wholly unacceptable. At a time when prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is on trial for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and Yu Wensheng, a vociferous critic of the government crackdown on human rights activists, is alleging torture while in police custody, the IBAHRI urges the authorities in China to investigate immediately all complaints of torture and heed the UN Committee’s recommendations.’
Notes to the Editor
  1. On 22 July 2015, the IBAHRI published an open letter to His Excellency Mr Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, to express its deep concern at the unprecedented number of lawyers, human rights activists and support staff who faced arrest, questioning and detention in China since 9 July 2015. The IBAHRI urged His Excellency to take all possible measures to ensure that lawyers can carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment or interference, in accordance with international human rights standards. To read the IBAHRI letter click here.
  2. China ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (UNCAT) on 4 October 1988.  Pursuant to Article 19 of the UNCAT, States Parties are required to submit periodic reports to the UN Committee, a body of ten independent experts, setting out measures taken to give effect to obligations under the UNCAT. The UN Committee summarises concerns and presents recommendations to the State under review in its ‘concluding observations’.
  3. To access the UN Committee’s concluding observations (advance unedited version) on the fifth periodic report of China see here.
  4. To access the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers see here.
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, United States of America, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  6. Twitter handle: @IBAHRI
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