Diplomat: China to Allow Visit by U.N. Torture Investigator

China will let an investigator from the United Nations look into allegations of torture carried out by police and prison officials, the head of a European Union human rights delegation said Friday.

Beijing also is considering allowing a U.N. visit to examine religious freedom, said Michael Goblet d'Alviella, a Belgian diplomat.

Goblet d'Alviella was speaking after a semiannual meeting of Chinese and EU officials to discuss human rights. He said officials also discussed the crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, China's frequent use of the death penalty and labor rights.

Chinese police are often accused of extracting confessions with beatings and mistreatment. Falun Gong supporters say scores of followers have been tortured to death by police trying to get them to renounce their beliefs.

Goblet d'Alviella called torture an area of "common understanding" where China seemed ready to carry out reforms. He said officials asked whether European governments could provide training to police and prison employees.

"We were very encouraged by this," said Goblet d'Alviella. He said torture would be a subject of a Chinese-EU seminar in December in Belgium, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

The European officials said they did not know when the U.N. investigator would visit or what the probe would cover. Officials of China's Foreign Ministry weren't immediately available for comment.

The 13-hour meeting Thursday was the 11th in a series begun in 1997 between China and the European Union.

Beijing routinely rejects human rights criticism as interference in its affairs. But it has carried on such dialogues since the mid-1990s with the European Union, the United States and other governments.

Human rights activists say the meetings produce little, while muting official criticism of China.

Goblet d'Alviella said the Europeans had told Chinese officials that they were looking for "tangible improvements." He called China's agreement to a U.N. investigation a "positive sign."

"I think it's that they have a wish to ... get closer to the U.N. in the area of human rights," he said.

The EU diplomats reported no major progress on other issues, including labor rights, Falun Gong and the death penalty. The Europeans also said Chinese officials did not offer statistics on executions, despite repeated requests in previous meetings.

Thousands of people have been put to death during China's 5-year-old "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign for offenses ranging from murder to tax evasion and bribery.

"I don't foresee a reduction in the use of the death penalty in China in the near future. But I do foresee a reduction in number of crimes for which it is used," Goblet d'Aviella said.