U.N. criticizes China for ‘black jails,’ tolerance of ‘gay conversion’

George Tugushi, of Georgia, is one of the U.N. Committee against Torture’s experts on China.
George Tugushi, of Georgia, is one of the U.N. Committee against Torture’s experts on China. McClatchy

A U.N. panel investigating human rights abuses in China on Wednesday accused that nation’s security apparatus of widespread violations including rape and the killing of prisoners in secret “black jails.”

The panel also said China was guilty of pressing a policy of forcibly trying to “convert” gay people, harassing lawyers and activists and torturing ethnic minorities.

In a 16-page report, the U.N. Committee against Torture called the practices “deeply entrenched in the criminal just system.” It said China “has not furnished any information” on investigations into the secret detention locations or the rapes and killings alleged to have taken place in those facilities.

“That’s a huge issue,” said George Tugushi, a member of the 10-member panel from the country of Georgia who was one of the two lead investigators into Chinese human rights abuses. He said China had refused to provide information on alleged instances of abuse to U.N. investigators, citing national security.

“No one has access to monitor what goes on” in the secret facilities, he said. “That’s why they are called black jails.”

The committee’s probe of China is part of the U.N.’s effort to force compliance with the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, a compact that China signed on to in 1988.

In assessing China’s compliance with the agreement, the committee said it was concerned that psychiatric institutionalization was being used “to detain suspects without accountability” and it blasted the country’s tolerance for private and publicly-run clinics that offer “gay conversion therapy” to change the sexual orientation of lesbian and gay men.

Such therapy, the committee said, included the administration of electroshocks. The committee called on China to prohibit the practice.

The U.N. Committee also criticized “the unprecedented detention and interrogation of, reportedly, more than 200 lawyers and activists” since July. Of those, the committee said 25 remain under “residential surveillance.” Four, it said, are unaccounted for.

The report also said that Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, all ethnic minorities, had been subjected to “torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances.”

The committee offered some praise for China, saying amendments in 2012 to the country’s criminal procedures law had prohibited the use as evidence of confessions obtained under torture and required audio or video recording of interrogations in major criminal cases.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.