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Human rights situation improved in China
Updated: 2004-12-12 17:18

Chinese media have been exposing human rights violations in an unprecedentedly bold way this year, after the country inserted a clause declaring "the state respects and safeguards human rights" into its Constitution.

Why were HIV carriers not allowed to register for civil service examinations? Why have some big-name international companies refused to establish trade unions? Why are migrant workers' salaries always in arrears? Why were innocent people held in illegal custody for more than three years? These questions were all raised by Chinese media in 2004.

Do these outright slams on human rights violation by Chinese media mean that China's human rights situation went backwards? Of course not.

On the eve of "Human Rights Day 2004," Liu Wenzhong, a professor at the Foreign Affairs College and executive council member of China Society for Human Rights Studies, said the media'ssharp criticism demonstrates that the human rights protection awareness of Chinese citizens and media have been enhanced and the country's governmental affairs have become more transparent.

"The media exposed problems and then government tried to solve the problems. During the process, China's human rights cause made progress," said Liu.

In November, the Ministry of Personnel revised its physical examination standards for public servant candidates, lifting the ban on HIV carriers.

On Dec. 1, the Regulation on Safeguarding Labor's Legitimate Rights took effect, saying that companies and factories will be severely fined if they failed to pay workers on time.

Since May, the Supreme People's Procuratorate has launched a nationwide campaign to crack down on power abuse crimes. By the end of October, China had eliminated illegally prolonged custody in 22 provinces.

Earlier this year when the clause saying "the state respects and safeguards human rights" was written into the Constitution, Liu Hainian, director of the Human Rights Institution under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, interpreted "human rights protection" as "protecting every human being's every right."

At the end of this year when human rights experts reviewed the country's human rights status in 2004, they found that a series of measures taken by the Chinese government, upholding its new position of putting "people first," exactly echoed Liu's interpretation of "human rights protection."

In 2004, the Chinese government announced it would slash agricultural tax rates by one percentage point this year and would eliminate all agricultural taxes within five years. It means the total tax volume of Chinese farmers will be reduced by 7 billion yuan (843 million US dollars) a year.

And thanks to a package of favorable policies for agriculture, enshrined in the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's "No. 1 Document," 2004 saw the income of Chinese farmers increase by a double-digit rate.

"Because the majority of China's population is farmers, the improvement of their standard of living is the most significant human rights protection," said Chen Weidian, executive council member of China Society for Human Rights Studies.

The Chinese government has always maintained that the right to subsistence is one of the most important human rights.

To curb HIV/AIDS spread in China, the central government earmarked 810 million yuan (97.6 million US dollars) for HIV/AIDS control and prevention this year, twice as much as last year. In 2004, the government began offering free treatment for AIDS patients in poverty-stricken areas. So far, more than 10,000 patients have benefited from the policy.

In key AIDS-striken areas, the government also began providing free blood testing for local citizens and giving free education to AIDS orphans.

On Nov. 30, Chinese President Hu Jintao came to Beijing You'an Hospital, conveying greetings to AIDS patients and shaking hands with two of them. "The landmark handshakes fully demonstrated the Chinese government's resolution to control HIV/AIDS," said a WTO official.

In 2004, a regulation on prison inmate behavior was revised, lifting restrictions on inmates' hairstyles. The Administrative Licensing Law also came into effect this year, aiming to return more rights to citizens by limiting government power.

"Although progress has been made, China's human rights cause isstill facing up to severe challenges," Chen said. "A large number of miners died in a variety of coal mine accidents this year, poorfood safety still worries Chinese people and power abuse crimes still exist." He said, however, he believed the Chinese government will strengthen its efforts to further protect every citizen's every right in the future.

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