Home > China's White Paper on Human Rights

Rights progress reflects 'people first' policy
April 1, 2004 -- On Tuesday the central government issued a white paper entitled "Progress in China's Human Rights Cause in 2003." It has been applauded by many experts and scholars as the best testament to the government's dedication to prioritizing "people first" principles.
 
Liu Nanlai, an expert on human rights with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said the 16,000-character white paper offers convincing proof of that dedication by reviewing specific facts and figures on the country's goals and achievements in promoting, protecting and developing human rights over the past year.
 
In 2003 the central leadership headed by President Hu Jintao formulated a scientific view of development characterized by "putting people first" and "promoting overall development of the society and the people."
 
"In practice, the government has adopted a series of epochal measures for respecting and safeguarding human rights, including reflecting the people's will, reducing their burdens and promoting democracy. These have resulted in a marked improvement in China's human rights conditions," Liu said.
 
As a developing country, China has always given top priority to quality of life, health and basic human rights, he added, noting that citizen's rights to subsistence and development are listed in the first part of the white paper.
 
Last spring's sudden outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)and the spread of the highly infectious bird flu earlier this year tested the government's capacity to provide for people's health and safety and marked important milestones in China's human rights progress.
 
According to the white paper, the central and local governments earmarked over 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) during the SARS period for the purchase of medical equipment, drugs and protective gear, and to reconstruct hospitals. SARS patients, both farmers and urban people who had financial difficulties, were treated free of charge.
 
En route to eradicating bird flu, the government offered reasonable compensation to poultry raisers and provided related enterprises with support in the form of loans, bank interest discounts and taxation.
 
"These measures, a result of the government's human-centred and practical working style, have helped maintain the livelihood of the people, especially the farmers," said Feng Zhuoran, a professor with the Beijing-based Capital Normal University.
 
China has never neglected its 900 million rural population. Last year the State promulgated the newly amended Law on Agriculture and enacted the Law on Rural Land Contracts. The issuance of the Proposals on Several Policies to Increase Farmers' Incomes this February also resulted in widespread public impact. China is currently in the process of drafting a new law to protect farmers' rights and interests, the white paper stated.
 
"Premier Wen pledged in this year's government work report to cancel agriculture taxes in five years. China has listed the settlement of problems concerning farmers, agriculture and rural areas as its top task," Feng said.
 
Migrant workers, an expanding army among the rural population, have seen unprecedented attention paid to their rights and interests over the past year.
 
According to the white paper, the government helped migrant workers retrieve more than 24 billion yuan (US$2.9 billion) in overdue wages between November 2003 and February 2004. The State Council also issued the Notice on Properly Carrying Out the Work of Managing and Serving Rural Migrant Workers in Urban Areas, which clearly stipulates guarantees concerning their employment, defaulted payment, schooling of their children and job training.
 
"People won't forget the scene when the premier shook hands with Xiong Deming, a 42-year-old farmer in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, last October and promised to help get back the delayed wages for her migrant worker husband. It later triggered a nationwide campaign for retrieving defaulted payments," said Mu Xian, an expert with the China Foundation for Human Rights Development.
 
The brutal murder of Sun Zhigang in a Guangzhou detention house last March sparked drastic reforms in the country's decades-old system of holding and extraditing the urban homeless. Meanwhile, the police, judicial and procuratorial departments all carried out measures to prevent extended detentions and to facilitate and benefit the people last year, the white paper stated.
 
"All these policy changes reflect the government's respect for the life, security and dignity of individual citizens," Feng Zhuoran said.
 
Dong Yunhu, vice-chairman and secretary-general of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, considers the enshrinement of human rights in the Constitution a milestone in China's pursuit of human rights - one which further reinforces the prominence of those rights in the country's legal framework and development strategy.
 
Issued two weeks after China enshrined "the State respects and safeguards human rights" into the Constitution, the white paper proves the government is practising the principle of "people first" and is willing to expose itself to public scrutiny, said Feng Jianchang, a researcher with the Ministry of Justice.

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