Human rights progress as a matter of fact

Updated: 2013-02-16 08:12

By Shen Tong (China Daily)

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In its World Report 2013, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international non-governmental human rights group, has distorted China's judicial system and judicial reforms by twisting or ignoring some basic facts.

Turning a blind eye to the progressive amendments China has made to the Criminal Procedure Law and the Mental Health Law in March and October and ignoring the fact that the country has raised the level of its judicial guarantee for human rights, the report, published on Jan 31, criticizes China by saying that its legal reform has been at a standstill. "When challenged by its citizens, repression or tactical retreat rather than systemic reform remains the Chinese government's default response," the report says.

However, it is an established fact that 2012 marked a milestone in China's judicial reforms, for significant progress was made in that field last year. In terms of steady advancement of the reform and opening-up policy, China has achieved a series of major breakthroughs in recent years in its bid to reform its judicial system.

Following a notice issued by the leadership of the ruling Party at the end of 2008, which outlined a wide range of tasks aimed at strengthening the country's judicial system and working mechanism, the Supreme People's Procuratorate promulgated a program in February 2009 to deepen procuratorial reforms (2009-12). Concurrently, the Supreme People's Court released the third five-year outline for court reforms (2009-13).

By the end of 2012, all judicial and procuratorial reform goals outlined by the country's top judicial and procuratorial bodies had been basically realized.

An amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law, passed by China's top legislature, included stipulations such as "respecting and protecting human rights". The amendment, to a large extent, legalized the significant fruits China's judicial reforms have borne in recent years. They include explicit stipulations on the prevention of illegal evidence collection and full-time video recordings of interrogations of suspects in major criminal cases.

The amendment to the Civil Procedure Law, which took effect on Jan 1, has further streamlined the way civil disputes are handled. According to the amendment, agencies or organizations can sue those whose acts undermine public welfare by polluting or infringing consumers' interests, a move widely believed to be a major step toward creating a public interest litigation system in China.

Aside from clauses forbidding judges to accept gifts or services from interested parties or their attorneys, the amendment also highlights a new arrangement to allow small claims for debts or damages to be handled more efficiently. All these stipulations are aimed at creating a litigation system that can better protect human rights.

In 2012, China launched court and procuratorate reforms in the railways, too, which is a relatively independent domain. Other sweeping judicial reforms have also been launched, including measures to improve the commutation and parole system, strengthen the work of judicial suggestion and set up a judge's oath system, all of which will help make the country's judicial system more open. In the prosecution domain, the reforms launched are aimed at improving the open review procedure of criminal cases and the archives query mechanism on bribery, and optimizing the risks prevention system for clean governance.

Reforms in the field of justice administration were also launched in 2012, and they ranged from promulgation of regulations on administrative detention and setting up of criminal records to measures to improve the community-based correction system and reform the controversial labor education system.

China published a white paper on its judicial reform in October 2012, reviewing its judicial system and reform process and expounding efforts to maintain social fairness and justice and protect human rights. On protecting human rights, the white paper generalizes the effective measures China's judicial bodies have been taking to deter and prohibit extraction of confessions through torture, better protect the rights of criminal suspects and defendants, and protect attorneys' right to exercise their duties.

Apart from stating China's approach of controlling and prudently applying the death penalty, the white paper also stipulates that measures should be taken to improve the State compensation system and set up a mechanism to offer assistance to victims of crimes.

No country can claim to have the best human rights conditions. And just like other countries, China too has to improve its judicial system. But foreign organizations and think tanks should not ignore the remarkable progress China has already made in judicial reforms and human rights protection.

The deliberate distortion of China's human rights record by Human Rights Watch to give the country a bad name will ultimately boomerang on the New York-based organization.

The author is a researcher at the School of Laws in Tianjin-based Nankai University.

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