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How China Protects the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
June 28,2017   By:CSHRS

How China Protects the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

LIU Huawen*


Development and human rights are closely related. In China, economic growth, social development, and the protection of human rights are pursued simultaneously. China’s remarkable success in human rights protection is attributable both to the country’s Reform and Opening-up policies and a perspective on development that keeps pace with the time and puts people first. As far as disability rights are concerned, particularly after the Chinese government approved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, China has achieved constant breakthroughs and development in the protection of disability rights.

China prioritizes the rights to survival and to development, which characterize the Socialist views on human rights with Chinese characteristics. The right to development is not only an abstract term, but also specific actions that promote human rights. This needs a down-to-earth approach to actions and practices. This paper discusses China’s role in facilitating the making of the Convention, its domestic implementation, and international collaboration and explains how China protects disability rights in its unique way: integrating the right to development and human rights, prioritizing the right to development, and protecting disability rights.

I. China Facilitated the Making and Approval of the Convention: Advocating Both Human Rights and the Right to Development

China has been actively contributing to international and regional human rights affairs. Since the 1980s, China has supported and implemented the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. China actively facilitated the holding of three events for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities (1993-2002) and committed itself to regional exchanges about disability affairs and the establishment of collaborative mechanisms.

Since the 1990s, China has advocated the making of a convention on disability rights and exchanged views with then Secretary General Kofi Annan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and those in charge of the European Union’s human rights affairs. In March 2000, China invited the World Blind Union, the World Federation of the Deaf, Inclusion International, and Disabled People’s International and representatives of disabled persons’affairs from over 10 countries to the World NGO Summit on Disability. At the Summit, the delegates passed the Beijing Declaration, calling on the United Nations to make an international convention on disability rights. The Beijing Declarationhad a large impact internationally and facilitated the UN’s efforts in developing the convention.

China is one of the sponsor countries for the Convention. China emphasized the protection and full realization of disability rights and took an active role when the Convention was in the drafting stage. At the end of 2003, China submitted its draft to the United Nations, advocating that the Convention should prioritize both human rights and social development and should make sure that the rights are indeed protected through relevant measures. The Chinese government also sent a delegation to the meeting and, in line with the spirit of the relevant resolutions of the UN special committee on establishing the Convention and considering social development, human rights and anti-discrimination, advocated the making of a comprehensive convention that protected and promoted disability rights. However, the Chinese government also maintained that variance in the conditions of different countries should be taken into account when drafting specific clauses and that the gradual nature of human rights improvement should be understood so that the Convention could be widely accepted and performed to promote and protect disability rights. 1 It can be seen that from the very beginning of making the Convention, China integrates development into human rights protection.

China contributed greatly to the making of the Convention by playing a constructive role in the formation and coordination of the Convention’s text and facilitation of compromises among various parties. Based on its own experience in programs for people with disabilities, China submitted proposals which were eventually reflected in the Convention. For example, China maintained that the Convention is not only a law that protects disability rights, but also a law that promotes the programs for the disabled, believing that disability rights should be realized through development and that human rights are tangible and universal. The emphasis on the right to survival and the right to development is identified by many countries, which makes the Convention more comprehensive.

On March 30, 2007, at the open signing ceremony of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the UN Headquarters in New York, Wang Guangya, Permanent Representative of China and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United Nations, signed the Convention on behalf of China. LüShiming, Executive Vice-Chairperson of China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF), attended the signing ceremony and spoke on behalf of China at the afternoon high-level dialogues. LüShiming said that China attached great importance to the protection of the rights of 82.96 million people with disabilities in China and made a substantial contribution to the smooth adoption of the Convention. China is ready to strengthen friendly exchanges and collaboration with other countries and thus promote the universal improvement of the well-being of people with disabilities.2

The Chinese government joined the Convention as the 33rd signatory state on June 26, 2008. The Convention took effect on August 31 that year. Yang Jia, Vice Chairperson of China Association of the Blind, was overwhelmingly voted Vice Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).3

The great efforts and achievements of China has won universal approval from the international community. CDPF and other Chinese organizations have received more than 10 awards, including the UN Peace Messengers Award, the special award of the United Nations Decade of Persons with Disabilities, UN-China Outstanding Contribution Award of 25 Years’Collaboration, and the special award of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities from the United Nations and other international organizations. In 2003, Deng Pufang, the then chairman of CDPF, became China’s and the world’s first ever disabled person who received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.

As the writer sees it, one of the key features of the Socialist views on human rights with Chinese characteristics is that China never approaches human rights per se. Instead, China puts them into social perspectives, integrating human rights into development, human rights, and rule of law, which are all closely related. The emphasis on the right to survival and the right to development means that human rights and development are inseparable from each other, which is a known social fact. This is clearly borne out in the protection of disability rights: focus on people and achievement of human rights through development.

II. China Domestically Implements the Convention: Focusing on People’s Livelihood and the Right to Development for People with Disabilities

After having become a signatory state, the Chinese government took a series of legislative and administrative measures to perform the general obligations under the Convention. These include promoting all the human rights and basic freedoms for people with disabilities, particularly the right to development and the freedom from any kind of discrimination. The purposes and principles of the Convention are fully recognizedin relevant Chinese laws and regulations and are implemented in practice.

China actively promotes the Convention and has published the Braille version of the Convention that is available online and in print form. The Chinese government agencies work with organizations for people with disabilities to conduct various research and investigation projects.4

In April 2008, China amended the Law on Protection of Disabled Persons, introducing the prohibition of discrimination based on people’s disabilities, highlighting the concept of “focus on disability rights”, and stressing rehabilitation services, equal rights to receive education, work and participate in social life and social security benefits. This creates a favorable environment in which people with disabilities can participate in social life on equal terms and increases the legal responsibilities involved in infringing disability rights.

The Chinese government promulgated the Regulations of Education of Persons with Disabilities, the Regulations of Employment of Persons with Disabilities, the Regulations on Construction of a Barrier-Free Environment, and other regulations, which provide clear and specific rules for education, employment, rehabilitation, and barrier-free environments for people with disabilities.

The Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on the Promotion of the Programs for Persons with Disabilities issued in March 2008 put forth the general thoughts, guiding principles, objectives, and key measures of the Chinese government on the promotion and protection of disability rights. Authorized by the State Council, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) issued the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) (April 2009), the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2012-2015) (June 2012), the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2016-2020) (September 2016), which all have special sections for the protection of disability rights and set out milestones to be achieved. In March 2010, the State Council issued the Guiding Opinions for the Construction of Social Security and Service Systems for Persons with Disabilities, which requires that the social security and service systems should be established in 2015. It also establishes that by 2020 the two systems should be more comprehensive and that basic public service, basic livelihood support, basic medical service and rehabilitation service, education, and employment for persons with disabilities should all be improved significantly.

The Chinese government has successively implemented six National Five-Year Plans for the Programs for Persons with Disabilities to ensure the implementation of relevant laws, regulations, and policies to protect the basic rights of persons with disabilities. The 11thFive-Year Plan’s Development Outline for the Programs of Persons with Disabilities (2006-2010), in line with the principles set out in the Convention, provided a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation, education, employment, poverty reduction, social security, protection of rights, culture and sports, barrier-free environments, and organizations for people with disabilities.

In June 2011, the 12th Five-Year Plan’s Development Outline for the Programs of Persons with Disabilities formulated by the State Council’s Work Committee on Affairs of Persons with Disabilities was approved by the State Council and distributed to provincial governments and relevant authorities for implementation. According to the Development Outline, the programs should be “led and supported by the government and driven by the market, with participation by the society, coordination, and guidance based on categories, to provide grassroots-level services and serve the masses”so as to improve the social security and service systems for persons with disabilities. The main objective set out for the programs during the 12thFive-Year Plan is as follows: The living standards of persons with disabilities should reach the “moderately prosperous”level, with better participation and development conditions; the social security and service systems for persons with disabilities are established, with better protection and service; the legal and policy systems are improved to protect their political, economic, social, cultural, and educational rights; their organizations and training of personnel are strengthened; the use of technologies and IT solutions in the programs are widened; systematic prevention efforts are made to prevent disabilities from happening or getting worse; humanitarian attitudes are promoted and more favorable conditions are created to ensure equal participation in social life and share the benefits wrought by economic development. 

During the 12th Five-Year Plan, particularly after the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the rights protection system has been improved, the basic public health system has been initially established, and their living conditions have also improved.

A special investigation of the country’s national basic service conditions and needs started on January 1, 2015. Within three months, more than one million investigators conducted one-on-one investigations of registered persons with disabilities and about 30 million children who apparently suffer from disabilities but have not been given disability certificates. The investigations were conducted to find out more about the status of the current services and the catch-all service needs including life aids, social security, rehabilitation, assistive devices, education, employment support, nursing and caring, poverty reduction, housing, barrier-free environments, and rights protection.

This national investigation was different in many ways from previous ones. In 1987 and 2006, respectively, China conducted two sampling investigations of the country’s population with disabilities and accumulated relevant experience. The investigation in 2015 was conducted in a new social environment, where economic and social development could help China provide people with disabilities with better support.

The disability rights are an integral part of China’s cause of human rights. As a large developing country, China still faces the daunting task of reducing poverty. Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that China would eliminate poverty by 2020. The country has now entered a new stage of targeted poverty reduction efforts to tackle the most challenging aspects. In such efforts, the persons with disabilities are a priority.

In February 2015, the State Council issued the Opinions on Speeding up the Progress of the Life of Persons with Disabilities towards the Moderately Prosperous Society, which requires that a catch-all mechanism should be established to ensure their basic livelihood, with greater social support, and subsidies for the life of needy persons with disabilities, nursing care subsidies for those with severe disabilities,  rehabilitation support for children with disabilities, and universal participation in basic old-age pension and basic medical insurance.

In 2015, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and CDPF jointly issued the Notice on the Implementation of Vocational Skills Improvement Plan for Persons with Disabilities (2016-2020), which aims to provide at least one employment skill training program to persons with disabilities who are new on the labor market and to provide at least one job-specific skill improvement training program or one skill training program for highly qualified personnel.

In September 2015, the State Council issued the Opinions on Establishing a Comprehensive Subsidy System for the Livelihood of Needy Persons with Disabilities and for the Nursing Care for Persons with Severe Disabilities. This was the first such national subsidy system, which benefits 10 million needy persons with disabilities, 10 million more persons with severe disabilities and serves as a key catch-all mechanism.

In August 2016, with approval from Premier Li Keqiang, the State Council issued the 13th Five-Year Plan Outline for Speeding up the Progress of the Life of Persons with Disabilities towards the Moderately Prosperous Society, which aims to lift all the poor rural population out of poverty by 2020 and makes the growth rate of the average household disposable income for them faster than the social average and increase the annual growth rate to over 6.5%. In this way, the persons with disabilities can have universal access to basic housing, old-age pension, basic medical service, basic rehabilitation, livelihood support, domestic nursing care, and convenience of travel. The Outline points out that the persons with disabilities remain the most difficult part of the country’s drive to build a moderately prosperous society. The objectives set out for persons with disabilities in the Outline include a complete system for rights protection, an improved public service system, a better relationship between the overall economic and social development and the life of the persons with disabilities, significantly better social security and basic public services, and their access to the benefits provided by the moderately prosperous society. The Outline prioritizes rural populations with disabilities and prescribes for category-specific, targeted poverty reduction efforts to ensure that the poverty elimination objective can be achieved as scheduled. 5The Outline not only sets out general objectives, principles, and measures, but also provides specific and quantitative goals, which brings tangible benefits to persons with disabilities. For example, the Outline calls for better education for persons with disabilities. The children and young adults with disabilities from needy families will have access to free 12-year education including compulsory education and senior high school education.

It can be seen that disability rights in the form of legal regulations and policy decisions are included in the mainstream of China’s national and social development and that their right to development is prioritized in rights protection.

III. China Facilitates the Inclusion of Disability Rights in International Agendas: China is the Leader of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Though human rights are a priority at the United Nations, disability rights as a priority, particularly their inclusion in international agendas, are new to the United Nations. Unfortunately, disability rights are not mentioned in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The inclusion of disability rights in international development agendas has gradually become part of international consensus. China, which has always prioritized the right to survival and the right to development, is the active advocator, the supporter, and the enabler of this new trend.

At the beginning of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development was held on September 23, 2013 at the UN headquarters in New York, with more than 800 representatives from UN members and organizations of persons with disabilities, including heads of state and heads of governments. This was the United Nations’first meeting on disability attended by heads of state. Zhang Haidi, Chairperson of China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) who headed the Chinese delegation at the meeting, pointed out that the issue of disability transcends cultures and countries in this era of globalization. Only by international and regional collaboration can the common goals be achieved. She proposed the following four points regarding the strengthening of regional and international collaboration on disability issues. First, South-South cooperation should be strengthened in addition to the traditional South-North cooperation, with the issue of disability being included in the major agendas in the world’s economic and social development goals; second, the right to survival and the right to development in developing countries should be prioritized in international exchanges and collaboration; third, the international community should attach great importance to regional and sub-regional collaboration; and fourth, the international development agencies and developed countries should provide developing countries with more aid that benefits those with disabilities.6

After more than two years of negotiations, 193 member states of the United Nations reached consensus in August 2015 about the Post-2015 Development Agenda. On September 1, the UN General Assembly decided in a resolution to submit the Post-2015 Development Agenda to the United Nations Development Summit for consideration and approval. On September 25, at the Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, the United Nations’Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was officially adopted as the Summit’s chair, Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen banged the gavel. The disability rights were finally and officially written into the new development agenda, which mentions “disability”and “persons with disabilities”11 times when it discusses non-discrimination, empowerment, education, employment, urban and community building, and international collaboration.7 By realizing the human rights for persons with disabilities through development, their rights are emphasized and implemented in the form of the right to development. The right to development in abstract terms has now been transformed and extended to specific actions.

The next day, September 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who attended the Development Summit, delivered a speech titled “Towards a Mutually Beneficial Partnership for Sustainable Development”. He pointed out that “[w]e have seen both the sweeping rise of developing countries and the lingering imbalance between the North and the South. While elated at the fact that more than 1.1 billion people have since been raised from poverty, we cannot but feel deep concern that more than 800 million still go to bed every day with an empty stomach.” 8The Post-2015 Development Agenda adopted by this summit draws up a new blueprint for global development and provides fresh opportunities for international cooperation, he said. We need to ensure equitable development for all. We need to ensure open development, to deliver its benefits to all parties. We need to ensure all-round development to make the foundations more solid. We should uphold equality and social justice and achieve harmonious coexistence between man and society and between man and nature. We need to ensure innovation-driven development to release the potential to the greatest extent possible.9

As a responsible major developing country, China prioritizes development and considers the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as part of the performance of its international responsibilities. On March 15, 2016, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired the first inter-ministerial coordination mechanism meeting for the implementation of the Agenda and discussed how China would implement it. The meeting was attended by 43 member organizations including the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Commerce, and China Disabled Persons Federation. Wang Yi pointed out that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was the key framework document for sustainable development after the Millennium Development Goals. The international community has already begun to implement the Agenda. Universally recognized as the country that has performed the best in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, China will continue to lead the world in development by being the first to complete the Agenda and build a constructive image.10

On April 19, 2016, China issued China’s Position Paper on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This document was also distributed to member states at the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations. This also marked the beginning of China’s full implementation of the Agenda. The Position Paper includes five sections (Preamble, General Principles, Key Areas and Priorities, Means of Implementation, and China’s Way Forward), which elaborates on China’s principles, position, and proposition regarding the implementation of the Agenda and explains China’s development ideas, development policies and the achievements of the implementation. The Position Paper points out that “[s]afeguard equity and justice. Improving people’s well-being and promoting all-round human development should be the starting point and objective of development. Countries should put people first, strive to eradicate inequality in opportunity, distribution sharing and institution building, and ensure that development gains are fairly shared by all. Efforts should also be made to advance gender equality, empower women in all aspects, and earnestly strengthen protection of the rights of vulnerable groups including women, minors and the disabled. ”11

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs further action. The world’s inclusive and interconnected development were key topics at the G20 Hangzhou Summit held in September 2016. Led by China, the G20 not only has regard for its own benefits, but also commits to driving the progress of the world’s development. The G20 Hangzhou Summit achieved two “firsts”in its history: for the first time, the G20 highlighted the issue of development in the world’s macro policy framework; and for the first time it decided on action plans for the implementation of the Agenda. For the Agenda, the G20 Hangzhou Summit serves as pioneer and provides leadership by taking the crucial first step towards its implementation worldwide.12

As the writer sees it, the formulation and implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda is an ideal that combines human rights with development. China, which has made an outstanding contribution to the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals and the making of the new Agenda, will also play a crucial role in the new Agenda’s implementation in the future.

On October 28, 2016, China was re-elected as member of the Human Rights Council with 180 votes. It is the fourth time China has ever sat on the Council. This reflects the eager expectation of the international community that China should play a constructive part in international exchanges and collaboration in the area of human rights. Over the past year, it can be seen that China has played a positive, leading role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda from the fact that China has made implemented the Agenda at a domestic level and facilitated the making of a road map for the implementation of the Agenda at G20 and other international occasions.

In summary, domestically, China constantly strengthens the protection of disability rights; and internationally, the country has actively called for closer exchanges and collaboration, particularly the facilitation of the realization of the United Nations’Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The emphasis on and the realization of the right to development in China has been well demonstrated in the method and results of what the country has achieved in the protection of disability rights. This reflects the combination of development and human rights and the prioritization of the right to development, which characterize the Socialist views on human rights with Chinese characteristics.

 *LIU Huawen ( 柳华文 ), executive director at Center for Human Rights Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

1Websiteof Ministry of Foreign Affairs of P.R.C., “China’s Participation in the Negotiations and Drafting of the Legal Instruments of International Human Rights”, accessed September 4, 2013, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_chn/wjbxw_602253/t129649.shtml.

2Website of Permanent Mission of P.R.C. to the United Nations, “China Signed the Conventionon the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, accessed September 4, 2013, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/ceun/chn/zgylhg/jsyfz/shfz/t307719.htm.

3See the Chinese Academy of Sciences website, Yang Jia, “It is both an Honor and an Obligation to be a Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)”, accessed December 16, 2013, http://www.cas.cn/spzb1/yjxjsjbgh/zbzy/201104/t20110422_3120262.shtml.

4The UN document: A/63/264.

5For a discussion of targeted poverty reduction for persons with disabilities, please see Jia Yujiao, “Targeted Poverty Reduction in Rural Areas”; Xu Qian, “From Targeted Poverty Reduction to Targeted Support to Persons with Disabilities”. The two articles are published in Chinese Social Sciences Today(CSST), August 17, 2016.

6Xinhua News Website, “The United Nations’Attention to One Billion People with Disabilities”, accessed October 1, 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/gongyi/2013-09/25/c_125442358.htm.

7The UN document: A/RES/70/1.

8See Xinhua News Website, Xi Jinping, “Towards a Mutually Beneficial Partnership for Sustainable Development - Speech at the UN Sustainable Development Summit”, accessed July 30, 2016, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2015-09/27/c_1116687809.htm.

9Ibid.

10Website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of P.R.C., http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1348073.shtml, accessed August 19, 2016.

11For full text, please see the websiteof Ministry of Foreign Affairs of P.R.C., http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/ziliao_674904/zt_674979/dnzt_674981/qtzt/2030kcxfzyc_686343/t1357699.shtml, accessed August 19, 2016.

12See Zhang Haibing, “Taking a Key Step towards an Integrated Development Agenda”, People’s Daily, August 19, 2016, page 22.