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China refuses to answer questions on its human rights record

November 11, 2008

FRANK JORDANS
The Associated Press
November 10, 2008

GENEVA - China refused Monday to answer questions from a U.N. human rights panel about the alleged torture and disappearance of dissidents, or provide official figures on the mistreatment of detainees in its prisons.

Campaigners have long criticized the country for failing to live up to a 1984 U.N. anti-torture accord, citing the secrecy of its courts and the persecution of lawyers who highlight abuses.

Li Baodong, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said his government had "zero tolerance for torture" and was making progress in stamping out abuse.

"The concept of prohibition of torture is gaining widespread recognition among the judiciary," he told a public meeting of the U.N. Committee Against Torture.

But Li and 31 other members of China's delegation rejected requests for detailed information on issues such as forced disappearances and prisoner abuse.

Three years ago, the U.N.'s torture investigator said inmates told him they were forced to lie still for weeks, faced beatings with electric batons or sticks, or faced other ill-treatment. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also have documented cases where they say torture was committed by state officials.

Felice Gaer, one of the U.N. panel's 10 members, said she had hoped to receive more specific answers from China during the two-day hearing, which began Friday.

"The problem is not the absence of statistics but the inability to make these statistics public," she said.

Gaer also cited individual cases that China had been asked to explain, including the disappearance and prosecution of religious figures, human rights campaigners and lawyers.

Chinese officials addressed only one case, that of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who in 1995 was chosen by the Dalai Lama to become the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest ranking figure.

Nyima, who was six years old at the time, disappeared with his family soon after and has not been heard from since. Human rights groups say Nyima, now 19, is being held under house arrest by the Chinese authorities.

"Choekyi Nyima and his family are leading a normal life and they don't want to be disturbed," Shen Yang, an official with China's Ethnic Affairs Commission, told the committee.

The U.N. committee will issue a list of findings and recommendations on China later this month.
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