End legal black hole

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-01 07:08
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The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) has scheduled the first reading of the proposed law on correction of illegal acts for its 30th meeting in October.

The proposed law first appeared on the 10th NPC Standing Committee's agenda in 2005. Back then, the lawmakers underestimated the complexities of such a law.

Although there was a general consensus on the need for a law to replace the half-century-old reeducation-through-labor system, its delivery has been bogged down in disputes.

Debates linger among its drafters as well as jurists on issues such as the length of correction.

Rushing an immature draft into law is not in our interest. But we cannot afford any more foot-dragging on this one. We badly need a substitute for the reeducation-through-labor mechanism.

Through its existence since 1957, reeducation-through-labor institutions have contributed to maintaining order and preventing crime. The system's inadequate concern for civil rights as well as lack of jurisprudence protection have made it increasingly out of step with the country's progress in protecting human rights.

Reeducation through labor is a Chinese invention that applies to minor law violations that do not constitute crimes or qualify for criminal punishment.

Since police authorities can independently decide to send a citizen for such reeducation and the terms of reeducation can be as long as four years, there have been legitimate worries as well as examples of abuse.

Although the reeducation system was designed for minor offenses that do not deserve penalties prescribed in the Criminal Law, reeducation through labor can be more severe than what the law stipulates for crimes. This is a major injustice that has to be resolved.

The largely unrestrained latitude of the police in deciding the term of reeducation, the lack of oversight, and absence of clearly defined procedures make suspects of minor offenses vulnerable. Some would rather face trial and serve a criminal sentence than be sent to reeducation.

We strongly hope the widely anticipated draft can appear before the national lawmakers as scheduled. It is an imperative legislative task.

Disagreements are no reason for keeping it from legislative scrutiny. The NPC Standing Committee is the best place to address different opinions.

(China Daily 03/01/2007 page10)