Wednesday, May 13, 2009

National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) and China's Political Future

The Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued the "National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010)" on April 13. It responds to Recommendation 5 of the "Report of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of China" issued on March 3 which calls on China to publish and "swiftly implement" a human rights action plan "as soon as possible." It was also issued in the context of the high degree of publicity given inside and outside China to the "Charter 08" a manifesto signed by over 303 prominent Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists to promote political reform and democratization in the People's Republic of China released in December 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Plan is strong on promotion of economic, social and cultural rights indicating that the Government of China "strives to ensure that all the people enjoy their rights to education, employment, medical and old-age care, and housing." The document also acknowledges "the principle that all kinds of human rights are interdependent and inseparable." Thus, the Action Plan "encourages the coordinated development of economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights." But while China signed the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998, progress to ratification has been very slow. Moreover, the Action Plan makes no concrete reference to future Chinese Government intentions with regard to issues that had been highlighted in Charter 08 such as movement to genuine electoral democracy, independence of China's judiciary, true freedom of the press, or the right of citizenship to participate in freely formed organizations including trade unions, religious organizations, and associations who function to influence public opinion on issues including environmental and ethnic concerns. In mid-January, China's number 4-ranked official, Jia Qinglin published an article in the theoretical journal Qiu Shi that the Chinese Communist Party should "build a defensive line against interference by erroneous Western ideas" rejecting the suitability of a multiparty system or separation of powers for China.

Nevertheless the Action Plan does include some concrete commitments such as "Effective measures shall be taken to prohibit such acts as corporal punishment, abuse, insult of detainees or the extraction of confessions by torture. All interrogation rooms must impose a physical separation between detainees and interrogators. The state establishes and promotes the system of conducting a physical examination of detainees before and after an interrogation."

The above example notwithstanding, in general while this Human Rights Action Plan is short on specific commitments, it does empower human rights discourse in China by the simple fact of the existence of a such an authoritative government statement on human rights to which the Government of China can be held accountable. Hopefully the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) will lead to greater respect for the rights of citizenship of people in China by political authorities at all levels in China in years ahead.

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