Eyebrows raised as Chinese launch ‘human rights’ plan

Dec 9, 2011
Hollie Clemence

Chinese government state the importance of civil liberties - but activists struggle to agree

What’s happened?

THE CHINESE government revealed today that it is drafting a new national “human rights action plan” for 2012 - 2015 to promote “the all-round development of its civil liberties”, according to the state newspaper, China Daily.

What does it mean?

If you ask Dong Yunhu, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, China was “the first among the world powers” to distribute and implement a national plan on human rights protection. That was a 52-page document, published in 2009, pledging the right to a fair trial, participation in government decisions and permission to question policies.

“Respecting and safeguarding human rights is the important content and purpose of China's political democracy,” Dong said in a speech published in full by China Daily.
But ask a 70-year-old Tibetan monk, now forced into exile, and you get a different answer. By chance, in a Guardian interview published today, Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche talks about life in Tibet - indiscriminate arrests, police camping in monasteries and an ideological re-education campaign in which 2,500 monks, confined to their cells, were forced to repeat statements such as “I oppose the Dalai clique” and “I love the Communist party”.
The Guardian reminds readers about the 12 Tibetan men and women who have doused themselves in oil and set themselves on fire in the last three years in protest against their treatment at the hands of the Chinese government.
Five Nobel Peace Prize winners might also disagree with Dong. Today they launched a campaign urging the release of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, also a Nobel laureate, who is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Liu co-authored a manifesto in 2008 calling for an end to single-party rule in China, and was imprisoned later that year, according to The Daily Telegraph.
What's next?

Will the new “action plan” be nicely packaged rhetoric or will it have a tangible impact on human rights in China? China-watchers are not holding their breath.
“The Chinese government produces lots of good-looking documents but the feeling on the ground among some civil rights activists and lawyers is that the country is becoming increasingly repressive,” said Kerry Brown, head of the Asia programme at the foreign affairs think-tank Chatham House.
There are some areas of progression for civil liberties, such as improved rights to information, he said, but the broader picture is of “extreme cautiousness and stagnation – maybe even regression”.

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