Beijing, November 21 - The United Nations special rapporteur for torture began a visit to China Monday, as a Tibetan support group called for an investigation into 42 deaths in custody and other alleged abuses in China's Tibet region.
UN rapporteur Manfred Nowak arrived Sunday and will spend 12 days in China. He plans to visit Beijing, Tibet, the eastern province of Shandong, and the far western, Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, UN officials said.
The visit follows years of wrangling over the terms for the rapporteur's examination of the use of torture, including safeguards for victims who speak to Austrian-born Nowak.
Reports of police using torture to extract confessions are still common in China, despite attempts by the central government to curb the practice.
"Successive torture rapporteurs have been seeking this visit for 10 years, and it takes place at a time when China claims to be serious about addressing torture," Alison Reynolds, director of the Free Tibet Campaign, said in a statement.
"However, the continuing and consistent reports from exiled Tibetans - with experience from both sides of China's judicial system - suggest it is a deeply ingrained problem that will be hard to eradicate," Reynolds said.
The Free Tibet Campaign said it wrote a joint letter to Nowak, with two other Tibetan support groups, "urging investigations into allegations of torture of individual political prisoners in Tibet, and 42 deaths in custody".
The group highlighted the deaths of five young nuns in Tibet's Drapchi Prison in June 1998, following uprisings in the jail.
China claimed the nuns committed suicide, but the group said it had testimony from a fellow prisoner who said they all died after brutal torture by prison guards.
China announced in July a plan for further revisions to its Criminal Procedural Law to prevent the use of torture to extort confessions.
The announcement followed high-profile state media reports this year of the use of torture to extract confessions in several cases that led to miscarriages of justice.