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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

China Releases Human Rights Plan

April 15, 2009

The New York Times (USA)
April 14, 2009

HONG KONG -- China’s cabinet released on Monday
what it called the country’s first national human
rights action plan, a lengthy document promising
better protection of a wide range of civil
liberties enshrined in the Constitution but often
neglected and sometimes systematically violated.

The two-year plan promises the right to a fair
trial, the right to participate in government
decisions and the right to learn about and
question government policies. It calls for
measures to discourage torture, such as requiring
interrogation rooms to be designed to physically
separate interrogators from the accused, and for
measures to protect detainees from other abuse,
from inadequate sanitation to the denial of medical care.

There are also specific protections for children,
women, senior citizens, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

Human rights activists applauded Beijing
officials for showing an interest in the issue.
But they cautioned that any implementation would
require years of work by local, provincial and
national government agencies, many of which have
shown little interest in initiatives that may limit their power.

"It’s a step forward, I think -- it’s also good
there are some concrete benchmarks with 2010 as a
deadline,” said Roseann Rife, the deputy program
director for Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty
International, while adding, "There are very
serious abuses omitted from the plan.”

Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor
who specializes in China’s legal system, said
that the action plan was the result of growing
worries in the Chinese leadership about public
dissatisfaction with security forces and even
outright hostility to police officers. That
hostility was visible in public support last year
for a man who attacked a police station and
killed six officers in revenge for what the man
described as a beating at the station.

The police denied any beating and the man, Yang
Jia, was executed on Nov. 26. Two days later, the
Communist Party Politburo met to discuss ways to
improve the public standing of law enforcement
officers, part of a continuing effort that helped
lead to the plan released Monday, Mr. Cohen said.

"There is a concern growing even at the Politburo
level about the rising dissatisfaction of the
people against the public security authorities," he said.

The release of the plan by the Information Office
of China’s State Council, or cabinet, suggests
that the plan is designed partly with public
relations in mind, Mr. Cohen said. But if widely
circulated in China -- and the report received
considerable attention in the Chinese state-run
media on Monday — it could contribute to changes.

Lawyers and others in China have been
increasingly assertive in recent years regarding
rights already promised under the Constitution.
The plan’s release could help these individuals
by providing guidance to local and provincial
governments about the long-term direction of national policy.

The plan’s release comes as China has also found
itself under international pressure from several
directions to improve its human rights record.

Groups like the United Nations-affiliated
Committee Against Torture have been calling on
governments around the world to release action
plans for improvements. The Beijing Olympics last
year brought greater global scrutiny of China’s human rights record.

This year brings two sensitive anniversaries that
have refocused attention on that record. Last
month marked the 50th anniversary of a failed
uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, while
June will bring the 20th anniversary of the
military suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Xinhua, the official news agency, said: "The
government admitted that ‘China has a long road
ahead in its efforts to improve its human rights situation."’

The document does not phase out China’s extensive
and controversial system of administrative
detention, which gives broad powers to local law
enforcement officials, including the ability to
send people to prison camps for "re-education through labor” without a trial.

While the document guarantees a wide range of
rights to detainees and petitioners, there is no
promise to close the unregistered jails set up by
municipal and provincial governments to detain
petitioners who want to present grievances to higher levels of government.

The "National Human Rights Action Plan of China
2009-2010" emphasizes economic and social rights
instead, such as a “right of urban and rural
residents to a basic standard of living."

The plan does call for China to go considerably
further in areas where it has begun making
changes, such as in releasing more information
about government decision-making, and to extend
to the countryside policies that so far have mainly benefited cities.

"Governments at town and township levels shall
make public the implementation of relevant state
policies regarding rural work, their revenue and
expenditure and their use of various kinds of special funds," the plan said.

While the plan calls for public opinion to play a
larger role in decisions, the document does not
set out any specific goals for turning China into
a democracy in which the people have a say in choosing their country’s leaders.

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