On June 8, China issued a white paper on human rights within its borders, the 12th such report since 1991.
The report, published by the State Council Information Office under the title Progress in China's Human Rights in 2014, details the steps China has made in protecting people's rights over the past year.
The paper comprises nine categories: Right to Development; Rights of the Person; Democratic Rights; Right to Impartial Trial; Rights of Ethnic Minorities; Rights of Women, Children and Senior Citizens; Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment; Foreign Exchanges and Cooperation.
"The tremendous achievements China has made in its human rights endeavors demonstrate that it is taking the correct path toward human right development that suits its national conditions," says the white paper. "The fundamental purposes of the blueprint are to protect civic rights, to defend human dignity and to put basic human rights into practice."
The white paper starts with progress in living standards.
"China's GDP for 2014 increased by 7.4 percent over 2013, and the economic growth in central and western China was faster than that in the east," says the report. "The Chinese Government promoted development concepts and innovative systems and adopted effective measures to guarantee citizens' access to fair development."
The mid-stage assessment of China's National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-15), conducted in December 2014, showed most of the targets set had been reached and a larger part of the quantitative indices had been achieved by half or more.
"The right to development is still the most important human right in China, the world's largest developing country," said Liu Huawen, Secretary General of the Center for Human Right Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "For ordinary Chinese, easier access to health care service, better housing conditions, stable jobs and higher income are all tangible improvements."
China's anti-corruption campaign, according to Liu, is also a solid contribution to human rights protection as cleaner governments and more diligent officials will take better care of people's rights and welfare.
"The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the Chinese Government are unswervingly improving their work practices, adopting a zero-tolerance approach toward corruption and further improving governance by law," says the report. "We have improved efforts to pursue offenders who have fled overseas and recover their ill-gotten gains, strengthened bilateral and multilateral cooperation, launched the Sky Net and Fox Hunt campaigns, released the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption and established the Network of Anti-Corruption Authorities and Law Enforcement Agencies."
"The campaign against corruption has had a profound effect on human right protection in China," said Chang Jian, Executive Deputy Director of the Center for Human Right Studies at Tianjin-based Nankai University. "Anti-corruption is intended to safeguard human rights as corrupt officials use the power given by the public to violate the interests of its citizens."
Guarantee of educational equity has also been improved. Approximately 92.6 percent of children of school age have received the nine-year compulsory education and 86.5 percent were enrolled in senior high schools.
Freedom of speech is being better protected in China as well. By the end of 2014, the population of netizens in China was 650 million, according to the white paper. "The public can voice their opinions, and raise criticisms and suggestions freely through the news media, and discuss problems of this country and society.
"China has made great efforts to create and maintain a cleaner cyberspace for its netizens," said Chang. "It is very important as cyberspace has become a popular place for the public to get information and make their voices heard."
The mechanisms for people to exercise state power are also being improved, according to the document.
"Take the draft amendment to the Administrative Procedure Law as an example. From August 31 to September 20, 2014, over 2,300 pieces of advice were offered by 1,586 people on the second review draft," the document said.
The document further noted that China is also steadily developing its consultative democracy, actively promoting the power list system, making greater efforts in improving Party conduct, upholding integrity and combating corruption, and promoting the construction of core socialist values and the role of social organizations.
As for the protection of the disabled, 19 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government adopted the policy of granting living expense subsidies to persons with disability and financial difficulties, and 15 had adopted the policy of granting nursing subsidies to those suffering from a high degree of disability.
Unlike previous reports, this year's white paper has a chapter dedicated to protecting the people's right to an impartial trial. In the past, this was usually covered within another section of the paper.
"Legal reform has been one of the most notable areas of progress for human right protection in China in the past two years," said Zhu Liyu, Deputy Director of the Center for Human Right Studies of the People's University.
In October 2014, the CPC leadership adopted a comprehensive plan to promote rule of law, which is considered to be an instigator of China's legal reform.
Zhu revealed that a number of new measures were made to improve the transparency and efficiency of judicial departments, empower them to better supervise administrative power and protect civic rights. "In the case that a person's rights are violated by administrative power, the judicial system will be the last resort. Without the legal system, it is impossible to protect human rights," said Zhu.
In 2014, courts nationwide reheard 1,317 cases and corrected a number of wrongful ones, according to the report.
In 1996, an 18-year-old man named Hugjiltu was convicted and executed with the crimes of rape and murder. Eighteen years later, he was acquitted of the crimes. This was a high-profile case of a wrongful conviction being redressed in 2014.
The Supreme People's Court established a website for litigants to follow the progress of their cases and to disclose judgment papers. In 2014, a total of 6.29 million judgments were published through the website.
In 2014, China also revised the Administrative Litigation Law, expanding citizens' rights to sue the government and easing the procedure.
December 4 was officially designated as the national Constitution Day in 2014. "This is to promote citizens' more awareness of the principles of the Constitution and civic participation," said Li Zhongxia, Deputy Director of the Law School of Shandong University.
(All chart statistics courtesy of Progress in China's Human Rights in 2014)
Copyedited by Kieran Pringle
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