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Push for new developments in China’s human rights

Updated: Dec 24,2014 9:09 AM     Xinhua

China has been working effectively toward goals set by the National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-15), with most quantitative targets at least half fulfilled in the past two years, a senior official said on Dec 23.

“China has made considerable progress in human rights protection,” said Cai Mingzhao, director of the State Council Information Office, at a meeting during which an interim review of the action plan was conducted.

Last year, the disposable income of urban residents grew by 7 percent, while per capita net income of rural residents rose by 9.3 percent, and the country’s poor rural population decreased by 16.5 million compared with 2012, according to Cai.

In 2013, the ratio of elected deputies to represented population in the National People’s Congress, the national legislature, was the same for rural and urban areas for the first time.

Meanwhile, the interests and rights of ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly and disabled have been better protected, and international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights have also progressed, Cai said.

The Chinese government publicized the National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015) in June 2012. The plan promises to address challenges and work for the happiness and dignity of every citizen.

The plan is China’s second national plan for human rights protection and serves as a policy document for advancing the country’s human rights.

All targets and tasks set by the previous action plan, which covered 2009 and 2010, were fulfilled as scheduled.

The following is an excerpt from the speech by Cai Mingzhao, at the Mid-term Assessment Meeting on the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2012-15) on Dec 23, 2014.

In June 2012, with the approval and authorization of the State Council of China, the Information Office of the State Council issued the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2012-15) (hereafter, called the “Action Plan”). China’s second national plan on the theme of human rights, it has received wide attention and loud praise from many, both in China and abroad. For the past two years, under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and its General Secretary Xi Jinping, the Action Plan has been substantively implemented, and China has accomplished substantial progress on human rights in the course of realizing the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

First, guided by the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, China has made new progress in its human rights development.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress was convened, the CPC Central Committee and General Secretary Xi Jinping have led the Party and people of all ethnic groups nationwide on a new journey toward deeper reform, opening-up and modernization. Correspondingly, the country’s approach to human rights has entered a new era. Soon after the new CPC leadership took the helm, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, first expounded the concept of the Chinese Dream, which calls for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation during his visit to the “Road to Rejuvenation” exhibition at the National Museum of China. The Chinese Dream, above all, is the dream of the people: Xi has defined the Chinese Dream as the aspiration and realization of people enjoying better education, steadier employment, more satisfactory incomes, more reliable social security, better medical services, more comfortable living conditions and a more beautiful environment. Xi has also defined the dream as helping our children to grow better, work better and live better, while allowing everyone to develop himself or herself, make contributions to society, achieve a vibrant life, participate in achieving the dream, and share the fruits of development. The Chinese Dream not only vividly summarizes and reflects the goals of China’s human rights project, but also points to a new direction and infuses new meaning into the cause of human rights in China, showcases the new prospects for China’s human rights advancement and provides a potent source of motivation and momentum for the implementation of the Action Plan.

1. People’s living standards have continuously improved. Thanks to a series of important policies and measures that the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have formulated and implemented to pursue structural readjustment, steady growth and further reform, people’s livelihoods have continually improved. Both urban and rural residents have seen advancements in their incomes, employment, housing, medical care, education, public cultural services and their rights to subsistence and development. People’s economic, social and cultural rights have all been better guaranteed. In 2013, the average income of China’s urban residents rose by 7 percent, while the average income of rural residents rose by 9.3 percent. The employed population in urban areas increased by 13.1 million, while the registered unemployment in cities and towns remained at 4.1 percent. The poverty-stricken population in China’s rural areas was reduced by 16.5 million. The growth in the incomes of urban and rural residents outpaced the growth of China’s GDP, and the incomes of rural residents grew faster than that of urban residents. In addition to increasing improvements to China’s basic social security system, the national basic endowment insurance system has been extended to all rural and urban residents, and the national medical insurance system has been further improved. China has put together a framework for the largest social security system in the world.

2. The democratic rights and freedoms that the people enjoy according to the law have been further expanded. In China, electoral democracy and consultative democracy complement each other, and the principle that “the people are the masters of the country” has been further integrated into our political and social lives. During the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) held in 2013, the NPC deputies were elected at the same rate in both urban and rural areas for the first time, the number of deputies from the lower rungs of society increased, and the number of representatives of migrant workers multiplied. The number of worker and farmer deputies was 5.18 percent higher than it was at the previous NPC. The institutional development of consultative democracy has constantly progressed. The quality and effectiveness of democratic oversight has greatly improved. The members of more than 98 percent of village committees in China were directly elected. Important steps toward building integrity in government have also been taken. Since its inauguration, the new State Council administration has decentralized and canceled 690 items requiring administrative approval. China has broadened channels for redress of rights violations and fully opened online petition platforms so as to actively respond to public appeals. By June 2014, the number of netizens in China had reached 632 million, and the Internet was being used by 46.9 percent of the country’s population, higher than the target of 45 percent designated in the Action Plan.

3. The legal guarantees for human rights have been further strengthened. Since 2012, China has been revising major laws including the Criminal Procedure Law and the State Compensation Law, formulating regulations such as the Provisions on Issues Concerning the Implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law and the Decision on Repealing Legislation on Re-education through Labor. By September 2014, 242 laws, 738 administrative regulations, and some 9,000 local regulations had come into effect in China. The people’s basic rights have been better guaranteed by law. The country continues to deepen reforms aimed at speeding the construction of a just, efficient and authoritative socialist judicial system. Crimes that seriously infringe upon citizens’ personal rights have been made punishable by law, and a system preventing and rectifying cases in which people are unjustly, falsely or wrongly charged or sentenced has been enhanced. Many measures have been simultaneously taken to guarantee the personal rights of suspects, defendants and detainees, thus maintaining social fairness and justice. Furthermore, the coverage of the legal aid system has been expanded, increasing the quality of investigation and legally guaranteeing the human rights of vulnerable groups.

4. Rights of ethnic minorities have been better guaranteed. The state has continued to adopt preferential policies for ethnic minorities and has increased funds for accelerating socioeconomic development in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. Significant progress has been made toward guaranteeing human rights for ethnic minorities in China in all aspects. In 2013, the central government arranged 46.4 billion yuan ($7.58 billion) in transfer payments to ethnic minority areas, an increase of 10.5 percent over 2012. On average, the GDPs of the Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia, and Xinjiang autonomous regions and Guizhou, Yunnan, and Qinghai provinces, which all have large numbers of ethnic minority inhabitants, grew by 10.4 percent, faster than the national average. The State continues to strengthen poverty reduction efforts in areas inhabited mainly by ethnic minorities. In 2013 alone, the central government allocated 16.61 billion yuan in poverty-reduction funds to the above-mentioned eight provinces and autonomous regions, comprising 43.76 percent of the total volume of funds received for this purpose from all sources, representing a 16.8 percent increase over 2012. The rate of poverty reduction in these eight provinces and autonomous regions reached 17.9 percent, surpassing the national average during the same period.

5. The system to protect the rights of women, children, the elderly, and the disabled has been further improved. China has further fulfilled the basic national policy of equality between men and women and the principle of giving priority to children’s welfare and enhanced protection for the rights of women and children. The country has modified laws such as the Law on the Protection of Minors, the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Moreover, it plans to formulate and enact the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, the draft of which has been published to solicit public opinions. In the meantime, China has taken action to crack down on trafficking in women and children. Public services for disabled people have been further improved. The Chinese government has helped improve access to services for 280,000 poverty-stricken families with one or more disabled members, and more than 15 million disabled people have been rehabilitated to various degrees, fulfilling the country’s final target of 13 million set in the Action Plan well ahead of the deadline.

6. Remarkable achievements have been realized in human rights education, training and research. China has made efforts to raise public awareness and spread knowledge of human rights. The popularity and professionalization of human rights education has been continuously improved. Adhering to the principle of combining human rights education with legal rights education, China has integrated human rights education and the spread of governance through law with the promotion of laws, school education, and specialized education, thus greatly enhancing awareness of human rights throughout society. China is also focusing on strengthening human rights education and law-related education for officials and public servants. The state is encouraging colleges and universities to establish new academic disciplines and departments related to human rights education and training. The country has built five new national human rights education and training bases, fulfilling the tasks set forth in the Action Plan ahead of schedule. Also, China has conducted rigorous academic research on human rights. Notable achievements have been made in research on socialist human rights theories with Chinese characteristics.

7. New progress has been achieved in international exchanges and cooperation regarding human rights. China has taken an active part in the United Nations’ multilateral human rights meetings, has conducted constructive dialogues with various human rights treaty bodies. China earnestly performs the duties assigned to it by the international human rights conventions it has joined, and the country has conscientiously and responsibly submitted to periodic reports and undergone reviews of its implementation of relevant human rights conventions. In 2013, China passed its second Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council and was re-elected an HRC member state. In May 2014, when examining China’s second report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights praised China’s actions as an “exemplary implementation of international human rights conventions”. China has held more than 20 human rights dialogues with the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and other countries. China has successfully held the fifth, sixth, and seventh Beijing Forums on Human Rights.

In general, after more than two years of efforts, all the objectives set forth by the current phase of the Action Plan have been fulfilled. A majority of the overall targets set in the Action Plan have been at least halfway completed. Yet while acknowledging our achievements, we must also be clearly aware that we still face difficulties and challenges in the course of implementing the Action Plan. On one hand, as a large developing country that is fraught with problems from unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development, China still suffers from insufficient economic and social development and significant imbalance between different regions and between urban and rural areas. All of these problems constrict the improvement of human rights protection in China. On the other hand, China is currently facing the completion of a critical phase in the construction of an all-around prosperous society, and the country’s process of reform has entered a “deep-water zone,” in which we will confront many protracted difficulties. Catastrophic accidents and public health or social safety emergencies are becoming more frequent, and there are still many violations of the socialist principle of governance through law and infringements on people’s rights and interests. More efforts are needed to achieve all the goals set forth in the Action Plan within the prescribed time.

Second, upon in-depth review of its successful attempts to advance the cause of human rights, China will unswervingly follow the path of developing socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics.

Respecting and safeguarding human rights is an important principle that the CPC has adopted in administering the governance of the country, and it is also an important part of adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics. We have adhered to the socialist concept of human rights with Chinese characteristics for many years, continuously deepening our understanding of the process of constructing human rights in new circumstances, taking China’s actual conditions into account while learning from the experiences of foreign countries. In the face of new circumstances and new tasks, we must doubly cherish our hard-earned achievements and experiences and correctly understand the scientific connotations of the path to develop socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics so as to constantly advance the cause of human rights in China.

1. We must continue to follow the leadership of the Communist Party of China to ensure that human rights in China develop along the right track. The CPC is the leader of and the advocate for the cause of human rights in China. The CPC’s leadership in this area is unique to China, and it is a huge political advantage in the development of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics. It has been proven that only by sticking with the leadership of the CPC can the country’s approach to human rights develop on the right track and penetrate into all aspects of the work of the Party and the government.

2. We must continue to combine the universal principles of human rights with an awareness of China’s current conditions in order to guarantee people’s rights to subsistence and higher-level development. Full enjoyment of human rights has long been an ideal cherished by all mankind, but there is no universally applicable method or path of human rights development. A country’s basic national conditions determine which road it takes to develop its approach to human rights. It has been proven that giving top priority not only to people’s rights to subsistence and development but also to ensuring that those rights steadily improve in step with the country’s conditions is fundamental to China’s human rights development. This is a prerequisite and foundation for safeguarding and promoting other human rights in addition to being the greatest aspiration of the Chinese people.

3. We must adhere to governing the State through law to ensure that the cause of human rights develops along the road toward rule of law and institutionalization. Rule of law is the key to safeguarding and promoting human rights. China attaches great importance to safeguarding human rights through the rule of law in order to accelerate the development of the cause of human rights. China has formulated and improved a series of laws, regulations and rules governing various aspects such as legislation, administration and judicature to form a complete legal system supporting human rights with Chinese characteristics. Furthermore, China has incorporated legal education on human rights into legislation, law enforcement and judicial practice so as to spread knowledge about laws on human rights, punish those who infringe human rights and enhance public awareness about the rule of law and its relationship to human rights.

4. We must continue to stress key points while advancing all-round development to facilitate the coordination of human rights’ development with other undertakings. In the course of the development of its human rights, China has paid special attention to combining long-term planning and short-term objectives, pragmatically and responsibly setting tasks appropriate to different stages of development and completing those tasks step by step in a well-planned way. Currently, we view economic and social rights as key aspects of human rights protection, and we have consequently focused on addressing issues concerning the livelihoods and vital interests of the people. Meanwhile, with the understanding that different types of human rights are interdependent and inseparable, we have simultaneously pushed forward the development of human rights and economic, political, cultural and social development so as to lay a solid foundation for the long-term development of human rights.

5. We must adhere to the principles of inclusiveness and mutual learning in order to inherit and promote traditional Chinese culture while absorbing and learning from the beneficial achievements of human civilization as a whole. Traditional Chinese culture is rich in political wisdom and moral resources, serving as an inexhaustible source of contemporary Chinese ideas on human rights. While we have looked to our national conditions and historical and cultural traditions, we have also always been open to absorbing the wisdom offered by achievements in the development of human rights made by other countries. The cause of human rights in China can only thrive and contribute to the accelerated development of world human rights when the country can make use of, inherit and promote its traditional culture in addition to absorbing and learning from valuable achievements in human rights made throughout human history.

Third, by holding fast to the spirit of the 18th CPC National Congress and the Third and Fourth Plenary Sessions of the 18th CPC Central Committee, China will endeavor to improve the overall development of its human rights project.

In the next phase of the implementation of the Action Plan, we will act on the spirit of the 18th CPC National Congress and the Third and Fourth Plenary Sessions of the 18th CPC Central Committee; uphold the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics; follow the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important theory of the “Three Represents”, and the Scientific Outlook on Development and deepen the implementation of the spirit of a series of important speeches made by Xi Jinping. We will also earnestly implement the strategic plan of the CPC Central Committee to comprehensively deepen reform and advance the rule of law. In accordance with the requirements of the Action Plan, we will focus on fulfilling key tasks in the development of human rights and the rule of law, promoting innovations in the theory and practice of human rights and boosting international exchange and communication on human rights in order to better promote social fairness and justice, increase people’s well-being and advance the development of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics to new heights.

1. We will emphasize guaranteeing the completion of key tasks so as to meet all objectives set out in this phase of the Action Plan on schedule. Departments and units at various levels should thoroughly review the relevant objectives and their implementation schedules and formulate timetables and road maps for unfinished tasks based on each unit’s respective conditions so that these tasks can be fulfilled one by one. The key to improving civil and political rights is to further improve the construction of the democratic system, to diversify the forms of democracy, to broaden the channels for democracy and increase citizens’ orderly participation in politics. We will hasten to open government affairs and broaden the scope of people’s right to be informed about laws, regulations and policies. We will also strengthen restrictions on and supervision of the exercise of power, and we will intensify administrative accountability. We will pay greater attention to broadening the scope and variety of social security, increasing the quality and level of social security and guaranteeing balanced development across different areas and different groups. China will strictly enforce its accountability system for major environmental and pollution accidents. In order to protect human rights in the judicial system, we should ensure that all criminal, civil and administrative litigation is performed properly by protecting citizens’ legal rights from infringement and providing access to effective judicial aid.

2. We will comprehensively advance rule of law and strengthen the guarantee of human rights by law. We should take the application of the spirit of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee as an opportunity to accelerate the development of human rights based on rule of law, providing an essential, universal and lasting institutional guarantee for the long-term development of the cause of human rights. We will strengthen human-rights-related legislation in key sectors and build a legal system that perfectly realizes equality in rights, opportunities and rules in order to protect citizens’ personal rights, property rights and basic political rights from infringement and guarantee the fulfillment of citizens’ economic, cultural, social and other rights. We will improve the restriction and supervision system for law enforcement and judicial powers to prevent the infringement of people’s lawful rights and interests through the abuse of law enforcement and judicial power, ensuring fairness and justice in every case.

3. We will promote human rights education so as to spread awareness of and respect for safeguarding human rights in Chinese society. We should attach great importance to publicizing information about human rights and increasing the level of human rights education so as to build positive momentum in the field of human rights and lay a broad social foundation for China’s human rights development. We will vigorously publicize human rights information, spread human rights awareness, and foster a social culture that respects and safeguards human rights. We must also recognize the importance of officials as role models of respect for human rights and make this a cornerstone of promoting human rights awareness. Furthermore, we will strengthen human rights education in primary and middle schools. We will make sure that human rights education is integrated into relevant courses by carrying out activities designed to suit juveniles that promote human rights. Colleges and universities are encouraged to develop human-rights-related disciplines and majors and support the study of human rights theories. China will encourage and promote the spread of human rights knowledge in enterprises and public institutions in order to develop corporate cultures that honor and protect human rights. China will also encourage the dissemination of human rights knowledge via the media, thus creating a stronger feeling of social support for human rights awareness.

4. We will revamp our human rights discourse system and enhance our international human rights communication skills. Since the 1990s, we have actively publicized our ideas on human rights throughout the world and endeavored to win the war for public opinion. We have reformed our international communication methods, and we have formulated the important idea that the rights to subsistence and development are the most fundamental human rights, a concept which has exerted a positive influence on the international community. However, in view of the great progress of the cause of human rights in China and the changes in international public opinion on human rights, there is still much work to be done to develop our human rights discourse system. In this context, we should take the initiative to construct new human rights concepts and expressions that can both reflect contemporary Chinese values and act as bridges between China and foreign countries on issues such as China’s achievements in human rights development, the development of international human rights and grave concerns over China’s human rights. By doing this, we aim to effectively impact and guide international human rights affairs and international public opinion on human rights. We should look to human rights research agencies and the colleges, universities and research institutions to which they belong, as well as to national human rights education and training bases to conduct in-depth studies of major theoretical and practical issues concerning China’s human rights development. We should also enhance publicity about our human rights theories and practice worldwide, and tell better stories about China’s human rights to foreigners in order to increase the international community’s understanding of the true situation of human rights in China and win the war of international public opinion. We should actively try to make as many friends as possible in the world through increasing our international communication and conducting extensive exchange and cooperation with human rights organizations affiliated with the UN and with other countries, especially the governments, parliaments, political parties and mainstream societies of major Western countries. We will continue to conduct bilateral human rights dialogues founded on principles of equality and mutual respect with the United States and the European Union in addition to deepening human rights negotiations and cooperation with developing countries to expand common interests and shared discourse. Moreover, China will fully participate in multilateral human rights platforms such as the UN Human Rights Council and commit itself to increasing the fairness of international human rights forums. China will continue to earnestly fulfill its obligations to adhere to the international human rights conventions to which it has acceded, and the country will readily undergo reviews of its implementation of these conventions. The country will also hold constructive dialogues with human rights treaty bodies and take the initiative to promote the effective implementation of relevant conventions within its borders.

5. We will raise the level of systematic implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan by strengthening organization and instruction. The National Human Rights Action Plan is both an important national project and the Chinese government’s solemn commitment to promoting the development of human rights. The Chinese people are full of anticipation for the implementation of the Action Plan. Departments and units at various levels should increase their sense of mission and responsibility, and substantially strengthen organization and instruction so as to propel the implementation of the Action Plan and fulfill all set objectives to the letter. We should also improve the Joint Meeting Mechanism for the Action Plan and allow it to fully realize its coordinating and guiding role. All members of the Joint Meeting Mechanism should work together in a coordinated fashion to exchange information and strengthen communication with each other, thus forming a united force to promote the development of human rights in China.

The development of human rights cannot be perfect, but it can be better, and the cause of human rights has no perfect tense, only a progressive tense. Let’s rally closely round the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the general secretary to fulfill the tasks set for us in the Action Plan on schedule, enthusiastically, practically and meticulously, thus pushing China’s human rights to new heights and making greater contributions to the realization of the two centenary goals and the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.