Full Coverages>China>2004 NPC & CPPCC>Constitutional Revision

Human rights in amendment significant
By Shao Zongwei and Hu Qihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-09 16:58

The expected amendment of the Constitution declaring China's new determination to promote human rights will greatly impact the nation's governing philosophy in this most populous country on Earth, according to experts on human rights.

"When the principle of human rights promotion is enshrined in the Constitution, it becomes an obligation for government, Party and judicial departments to respect and protect human rights," said Dong Yunhu, vice-president and secretary-general of the China Society for Human Rights Studies.

Expecting the amendment to spur government officials to make human rights protection their "ultimate goal," Xu Xianming, president of the China University of Political Science and Law, defines the aims of the legislature, law-enforcement and judiciary as expressing, carrying out and providing remedies to people's rights.

"The amendment will bring about changes to the State's values," said Xu, who is a deputy to the 10th National People's Congress.

The draft amendment to the Constitution adds a clause stipulating that the State respects and protects human rights. The current Constitution, which took effect in December 1982, clarifies the basic rights of Chinese citizens without mentioning the phrase "human rights."

Premier Wen Jiabao, in a February speech addressing senior officials across the country, stressed that officials should respect and protect the political, economic and cultural rights of citizens.

"The draft amendment clarifies China accepts the moral standards of human rights," said Xu. "(Under the principle,) the public power that respects and guarantees human rights will be supported, while the disdaining and trampling on human rights should be corrected."

Founded shortly after the start of the Cold War, the People's Republic of China (PRC) used to take sides with socialist countries which used to label the term "human rights" as bourgeois.

"As China opens more and more to the outside world, Chinese are increasingly aware of the term human rights and regard it as an important outcome of development in human civilization," said Dong, adding that including the principle of human rights protections into the Constitution is the natural result of China's development.

Gui Xiaofeng, a member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body, noted that while during the early years after the PRC's founding, major efforts were placed on basic aspects such as people's livelihood, including food, clothing and ownership of means of production, now the need to respect the rights of human development has become increasingly important.

"(If passed), the amendment that includes human rights protections will provide a solid legal basis for broader space of human development," said Gui, hailing the amendment as a significant progress in the history of the protection of human rights in China.

The differences in the under-standing of human rights have led to discords between China and some Western countries .

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003 issued by the US State Department last month again blasted China's human rights conditions.

Dong, highlighting the progress made in China's human rights conditions in recent years as the "mainstream," admitted that this large developing country still has its human rights problems. He cited as examples unemployment, the lack of protection on farmers' rights, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and abuses of power.

"The Chinese Government is not turning a blind eye to them," said Dong. "They are exploring every means, including better mechanisms, laws and stronger material support, to resolve them."

While some observers caution that a principle enshrined in the Constitution is not enough, both Xu and Dong stressed the importance of its application in judicial practices and relevant law-making to ensure it can be turned into deeds.

Xu said that the amendment is significant in that it sets down a principle for judicial departments to act in favour of human rights in cases in which laws have not clearly defined the rules.

"China's legislative efforts will better reflect the idea of respecting and protecting human rights," said Dong. "Laws and regulations must reflect this spirit. Ideas have to be turned into laws and regulations to get implemented."

Embracing the idea of human rights protections, China's law-makers have made significant amendments to the country's Criminal Procedure Law and Criminal Law in 1996 and 1997.

Other laws that have contributed to better human rights protections include the State Compensation Law, the General Principles of Civil Law and the laws on the protection of women, minors and senior citizens.

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