China pledges to improve human rights … with Chinese characteristics

Published on The Telegraph.co.uk, by Peter Foster in Beijing, 13 Apr 2009.

China released its first “action plan” on human rights on Monday, but made clear that its citizens’ right to earn a living, educate their children and see a doctor would come before Western ideas of freedom of speech, assembly and a fair trial.

Launching its lengthy “Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010)”, China’s ruling Communist Party said it would “give priority” to people’s rights to participate fully in China’s rapidly developing economy …

… Despite the emphasis on economic and social rights, the report did promise to do more to prevent prisoner abuses, following a wave public outcry over several recent “accidents” in Chinese jails, including one prisoner who died “playing hide and seek”. In an apparent nod to that public concern, the plan calls for a physical barrier between detainees and interrogators and mandatory physical examinations for detainees before and after they are questioned. 

Human rights groups said the report, while falling far short of what was required to bring China up to international standards, represented a small positive development in the attitude of China’s government to such issues.

Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based human rights group, said the plan did contain more input from academics, activists and other elements of civil society than previous human rights reports, but criticised the government for setting ’soft targets’ for itself.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the document could go some way to giving ordinary Chinese a better understanding of their rights, but added that too many of the major issues had simply been ignored.

“Our concern is that many of the key abuses … really aren’t addressed in this document,” said Phelim Kine, a researcher with the organisation. (full text).

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