He said that while it was encouraging that local authorities had stopped admitting new detainees while they awaited more concrete reforms from Beijing, the central government could reverse its proposals at any stage.
"As far as Human Rights Watch is concerned, the only way forward is to put a definitive end re-education through labor, not to shift detainees to another arbitrary system of detention, or establish a new system to warehouse minor offenders, petitioners, government critics, sex workers and offenders below the age of 18," Bequelin said.
Backlash over exposed cases
Two high-profile cases that became public last year generated a massive backlash, forcing the government to address the thorny issue of RTL.
In one case, a mother was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp for "disrupting social order" after she repeatedly petitioned officials to execute men convicted of raping her 11-year-old daughter. In another case, a young village official was sent to a labor camp for two years for re-tweeting Weibo posts that were deemed seditious.
While even Guangdong's progressive administration has stopped short of attacking the system, saying that it was "not opposed to the use of coercive power and punishment by public security organs," recent official announcements have offered guarded criticism of RTL.
"The system was designed to maintain social order, prevent and reduce crimes by reforming people who committed minor offenses but were not punishable by the penal code," read one Xinhua editorial. "It did play an important role in maintaining social order in specific periods, however, with the development of society and the legal system, its defects have become more and more evident."