Types of torture and other ill-treatment in internment camps
Every former detainee Amnesty International interviewed was tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (in this report referred to as torture and other ill-treatment) during their internment. Torture and other ill-treatment are constitutive elements of life in the internment camps. The torture and other ill-treatment that detainees experience in the camps falls into two broad categories.
The first category includes the physical and non-physical (that is, mental or psychological) torture and other ill-treatment experienced by all detainees as a result of the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps. This treatment includes:
- being made to sit, kneel, or stand in stress positions for hours every day;
- sleep deprivation; and
- insufficient food, water, exercise, healthcare, sanitary and hygienic conditions, fresh air, and exposure to natural light.
This category also includes various forms of psychological abuse, including:
- “re-education” under threat of severe punishment itself;
- not knowing when their detention will end;
- not being able to communicate freely with their family or anyone outside the camp;
- not being able to speak in their native tongue;
- living under the constant threat of violence and other abuse; and
- being made to see and hear other detainees being tortured or otherwise ill-treated.
The combination of these physical and non-physical measures, in conjunction with the total loss of control and personal autonomy in the camps, is likely to cause mental and physical suffering severe enough to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
The camps are in fact designed to ensure that these types of torture and other ill-treatment are an inescapable aspect of daily life for every detainee. The overall environment and setting in the internment camps leads to a total absence of any safeguards against torture or other ill-treatment, which in itself is a violation of a state’s duties to protect and prevent people deprived of their liberty from violations of the absolute prohibition of such treatment in international human rights law.
The second category of torture and other ill-treatment includes physical torture and other ill-treatment that occurs during interrogations or as punishment for misbehaviour by specific detainees (this type of torture is detailed in Chapter 5). Torture methods used during interrogations and as punishment included beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, the unlawful use of restraints (including being locked in a tiger chair), sleep deprivation, being hung from a wall, being subjected to extremely cold temperatures, and solitary confinement. Amnesty International documented one account of a death in an internment camp caused by torture.
Amnesty International interviewed many former detainees who were tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment during interrogations or punishments in internment camps. Amnesty also interviewed former detainees who witnessed the torture or other ill-treatment of other detainees or spoke with other detainees – usually their cellmates – who informed them that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogations or as punishment.
Former detainees and witnesses described a broadly consistent pattern of treatment of detainees by staff and officials in the camps. Some of this treatment reflects patterns of torture and other ill-treatment that Chinese security forces have carried out in Xinjiang and other parts of China for decades, such as severe beatings, forced “confessions”, being shackled or cuffed for extended periods of time, and being punished in a tiger chair. [[[Amnesty International, No End in Sight: Torture and Forced Confession in China, 2015 →; Human Rights Watch, Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses: Police Torture of Criminal Suspects in China,” 2015 →; UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, A/48/44(SUPP) paras. 387-429, January 1, 1993; UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, A/51/44(SUPP) paras. 138-150, January 1, 1996; UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, CAT A/55/44 (2000) paras. 123-130, January 1, 2000; UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, CAT/C/CHN/CO/4, December 12, 2008.]]] According to former detainees, the torture and other ill-treatment was carried out both by camp guards and by domestic security police officers (Guobao) who came to the camps for the purposes of interrogating detainees. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]
The treatment of detainees during interrogations and punishments in internment camps documented in this report constitutes torture and other ill-treatment, in violation of international law. It also constitutes the crime against humanity of torture (see Chapter 7).