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Human rights action plan to protect detainees
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-14 07:33

Full Text: National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010)

The country's first-ever human rights action plan promises to treat detainees better and ban extraction of confessions by torture.

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The National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-10) also prohibits corporal punishment or abuse of detainees, following reports of several unnatural deaths of people in police custody recently.

According to the plan released  by the State Council Information Office:

There must be a physical barrier between detainees and interrogators during questioning.

Detainees shall be subject to physical examinations before and after interrogation to prevent abuse.

Detainees and their families must be told about their rights as well as law-enforcement procedures.

Police, prosecutors and jail guards shall receive training on how to respect human rights.

If detainees have complaints, they can report through the complaint box set up in their cells; or ask for a meeting with the procurator stationed in a prison or detention house.

The measures closely follow a series of deaths of inmates at detention houses nationwide, suspected to have been caused by bullying or torture.

Since Feb 8, at least six prisoners have reportedly died while in detention awaiting trial, the youngest only 18 years old, the media reported earlier.

The latest instance was on Saturday in Fuzhou, Fujian province, in which drug addict Chen Hongqiang was found dead in a detention house, Xinhua reported. Chen had been sentenced to 10 days in detention for using drugs.

Fan Chongyi, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said the measures, particularly the physical barrier between detainees and interrogators, and the physical examination, can "effectively" prevent torture.

"The measures are also in line with the constitutional stipulation that the State respect and protect human rights," he said.

Fan said the eventual solution is to put detention houses, now operated by police, in control of third-party authorities.

In addition, the plan reiterates the strict control over the application of the death penalty, and calls for open and fair trials.

A national complaint system and a national office to deal with such complaints will also be set up to make petitions easier, according to the plan.

The plan admits that China still confronts many challenges and has a long road ahead in its efforts to improve the human rights situation.

"While respecting the universal principles of human rights, the Chinese government, in the light of the basic realities of China, gives priority to the protection of the people's rights to subsistence and development," said an introduction to the document.

The plan also says the government will seek "equality in right to basic health services", a big challenge in a country with a widening wealth gap between the urban rich and the rural poor.

The 54-page document makes China one of the 26 countries that have responded to the United Nations' call to establish a national human rights action plan, said Chen Shiqiu, vice-president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies.

"The plan is a big step forward in human rights protection," he said.

Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager at the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based human rights group, said the plan was significant because it seems to have more input from academics, activists and other elements of civil society compared to the government's previous reports.

He said issuing a plan with benchmarks, instead of a report summing up past progress, was an "important step" but added that the plan should have included more specifics.

Teng Biao, a Beijing human rights lawyer, said the paper should have delved more into reforms to make the judiciary system more independent.

Fan, however, said judicial reform is complicated and should be implemented incrementally.