Op-Ed Contributors

Debate: Attacks on students

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-19 07:53
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Why have so many people become desperate? Why are they killing schoolchildren who have nothing to do with anyone? Two professors answer these and many other questions.

Just judiciary can ease social angst

Debate: Attacks on students

Ma Chao

The deadly attacks on students have shocked the entire nation and left people wondering what made so many people take innocent children's lives. He Weifang, a Peking University professor, says that we should look at the underlying social reasons, especially the flaws with the judicial system, for the answer.

The attacks have taken place when the country is undergoing a profound social transition, when conflicts of interests abound and social anxiety is abundant, He says. Disadvantaged people usually get the short shrift when they compete against privileged social groups and are rarely treated fairly when their interests clash with others'. The lack of a foolproof welfare network, too, makes many people feel anxious and helpless.

All these factors have contributed to the social angst and indifference we are seeing today. In such an atmosphere, some disadvantaged people could lose their mental bearing. And even if the break with sanity is temporary, they could vent their anger on easy targets such as schoolchildren.

To make matters worse, our society doesn't offer enough outlets where the disadvantaged could lodge their grievances, He says. Since government or other social organizations don't redress their grievances, their sense of bitterness is likely to grow. And when this bitterness overflows, some of them resort to violence and could even attack innocent children.

He says that sometimes the judiciary is not able to settle the conflicts of interests in a just manner. The disadvantaged people, who don't have the money or connections to get legal help to seek justice, or don't trust in the judicial system, often appeal to the government or the media for help. But more often than not their appeals go unheard. With little hope of getting justice, some adopt extraordinary ways, including violence, to vent their anger.

After the attacks on students, the government has beefed up security in and around schools and kindergartens. It has posted more police and guards to protect the students. But these measures are effective only in the short term; they do not address the root of the problem.

To prevent such violent attacks, we need to build a system that would handle social conflicts in a fair and just manner, he says. First of all, we should try not to sweep social conflicts under the carpet and pretend everything is fine. Social conflicts are normal in any country. They are not a matter of shame. So there is no need to hide them from the public. Acknowledging the social conflicts and making them public is the first step toward addressing them fairly.

Second, we should take measures to ensure that public opinions are expressed through institutional channels. Once the disadvantaged start getting legal help to seek justice their anger will subside even if their problems are not solved. But if people are not allowed to express their feelings social tension will rise.

Third, a mature and righteous judicial system can serve as a regular channel to resolve social conflicts. Courts can shore up people's confidence by handling cases strictly in accordance with the law. If all cases are processed and dealt with in a just manner, everyone will look to the courts to get justice and not resort to violence to let their voices be heard. Society would then become more fair and harmonious.

Fourth, national and local people's congresses should play a more active role in addressing social problems, He says. For example, the National People's Congress (NPC) could form a special committee to deal with grave social issues, such as the attacks on school and kindergarten students. According to Article 71 of the Constitution, the NPC and its Standing Committee can form committees to inquire into specific issues and adopt resolutions according to their reports. In reality, however, the NPC has never taken such action.

The most important of the four measures is building a fair and robust judicial system, He says. As a first step, the courts should be free of all other government institutions. They should enjoy the rights of independent jurisdiction, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. For this to happen, it is important that court personnel, as well as budgets, are reformed. In short, the executive should not be allowed to intervene in court procedures and judgments.

Second, court verdicts should be strictly based on the law. In fact, law should be the ultimate code of the courts, which should not be swayed by higher officials of other departments. Third, judges should not only have the power to pass judgments independently, but also take responsibility for their judgments. If this happens, judges will be more cautious while giving verdicts. Fourth, courts should examine all evidence minutely and should not depend blindly on public security departments for them. And if police gather evidence through illegal means, courts must resolutely reject them.

As Premier Wen Jiabao said last Friday, we should address the real causes behind the attacks on children, He says. If we build a sound judicial system to resolve social conflicts, the anger and anxiety among the disadvantaged would subside to help build a truly harmonious society.

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