China's Human Rights Plan: A 'Triumph of Form over Substance'

China's Human Rights Plan: A 'Triumph of Form over Substance'
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Orwellian doublespeak? Does China's latest human rights plan mark significant progress or reflect a gap between rhetoric and reality?

The announcement of China’s new human rights action plan has not impressed some in the international community who say the country has a record of failing to deliver on its commitments to key civil and political rights.

China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) yesterday published its third national action plan on human rights protection. State media said human rights protection in China has “moved up to a new level" but that problems remain.

“The rule of law in safeguarding human rights needs to be further promoted and more efforts are required to realize higher levels of human rights protection,” state-run Xinhua quoted from the report.

A SCIO official told Xinhua that the four-year plan promises “more resources and policy support for rural, remote and under-developed areas and aims to ensure equal access to public services.”

The plan included measures to protect “the lawful rights and interests ethnic minorities, women, children, elderly people and the disabled,” Xinhua said, as well as ensuring environmental protection. It also outlined that China would “continue to fulfill its obligations to the international human rights conventions.”

The latest plan follows two earlier iterations which covered the 2009-2010 and 2012-2015 periods.

New York-based Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, says the Chinese government’s multiple National Human Rights Action Plans have been triumphs of form over substance.

“The government has largely failed to deliver on commitments within those plans to protect key civil and political rights,” Kine told The News Lens International.

The plan follows a major crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, which began in July 2015 and saw 300 lawyers and activists detained or questioned by police. The “confessions” of several lawyers have since been broadcast on state media and several have been jailed on charges of “subversion.”

Last week, Xia Lin (夏霖) a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for fraud. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) described the sentence as “a severe retaliation against a human rights advocate who defended the rule of law.”

“The fact that the government releases these action plans while simultaneously tightening its repression of key human rights and targeting human rights activists with unremitting harassment, intimidation, detention, arrest or enforced disappearance underscores the horrific gap between rhetoric and reality that these action plans represent,” Kine says.

However, he does not rule out the possibility that the plan could have a positive impact on Chinese society.

“If these plans had been vigorously pursued — and had not been accompanied by a slew of government-tolerated abuses — it could have marked a real change in the Chinese government's human rights performance,” he says. “But the government's failure to implement these action plans make clear it they are more of a cynical public relations exercise than a meaningful tool for protecting and promoting human rights for the people of China.”

In April, China hit back at criticism, releasing its own report of the U.S.’s human rights record. Xinhua said at the time that “the U.S. government refuses to hold up a mirror to look at itself, it has to be done with other people’s help.”

It said U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq were “gross violations of other countries’ human rights,” while listing gun violence, racial discrimination, drone strikes, government surveillance and political corruption among the key human rights failings of the U.S.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole


Tags: