November 9, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China – After attending
the IBJ China staff retreat in Beijing, IBJ’s International Program
Director Sanjeewa Liyanage took his final evening in China to give a
lecture at the Beijing Normal University Criminal Law School. The
lecture was made possible by Professor Wang Xiu Mei, a leading
international criminal expert in China. Mr. Liyanage spoke to a room
filled with attentive Masters and PhD law students, highlighting the
need to end torture around the world, and in the criminal justice
system, in particular.

Sanjeewa Liyanage and Professor Wang Xiu Mei

Mr. Liyanage began by giving a comprehensive description of where
torture is brought up in international law, and eventually went on to
define torture, citing the UN Convention Against Torture. He explained
how the Convention prohibits investigative torture, detailing torture
clauses in various international treaties and statutes. He described how
freedom from torture is non-derogable, meaning there are no exceptional
circumstances whatsoever that may be invoked to justify torture,
including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public
emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, and any form of armed

From there, bringing the argument back to the students in the room, Mr.
Liyanage highlighted that torture is prohibited in several countries in
Asia, including China, and in particular under Chinese criminal law and
criminal procedure law.

IBJ’s International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage and Beijing Normal University

Mr. Liyanage also spoke at lengths about the current global torture
situation. He mentioned where, when, and how torture is practiced, and
that torture still regularly occurs in countries where it is expressly
prohibited by law. He then posed the contradiction that there are
several organizations around the world that work on torture issues, but
they, for the most part, address the problem after the torture has
already occurred. Instead, Mr. Liyanage argues, the most effective way
to prevent torture from happening is to provide the accused with early
access to competent and committed counsel. That way, with the presence
of a lawyer at the time of arrest, a collaborative dialogue with
stakeholders in the justice sector, and public awareness of individuals’
rights, we can prevent torture before it begins. He backed this argument
by juxtaposing it with concrete examples of how IBJ programs have
contributed significantly to reducing torture as an investigative tool
in many countries and localities where IBJ lawyers are actively engaged
in safeguarding basic legal rights of ordinary people.

Finally, Mr. Liyanage concluded with an optimistic pronouncement that
the solution is before us, and that torture can, indeed, be ended during
the 21st century. He argued that, at one point, slavery and the
apartheid were viewed as something that could not be easily brought to
an end. But relentless and strategic efforts by social movements have
ended these practices. He explained that to end torture we need to have
the will to do so and a viable strategy, remarking that the strategy
employed by IBJ could be expanded to reach this goal.

Masters and PhD Law Students at Beijing Normal University

The lecture was very warmly received, and the students confidently posed
questions.  Many of the law students were so impressed, that they
wondered how they could get involved with IBJ efforts in China.