Mainland rolls out action plan on rights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2008, 12:00am

Sceptics doubt move will make a difference

China is working on an 'action plan' in an unprecedented move to address some of the country's contentious human rights issues, but critics remain sceptical over how much change the plan will bring.

Quoting the Information Office under the State Council, Xinhua said yesterday the State Action Plan on Human Rights was a step towards creating a blueprint for the country's human rights development in the next two years.

The decision on the action plan comes three months before the United Nations Human Rights Council makes its universal review of the status of human rights. China has signed both international human rights covenants enshrined in the United Nations Human Rights' Charter but has refused to ratify an agreement on safeguarding civil and political rights.

Zhao Zhengqun , deputy director of Nankai University's Centre for Human Rights Research, said the action plan was working towards the country's eventual ratification of the covenant.

Professor Zhao, also on a panel working on the action plan, said the government's announcement reflected a sea change in China's attitudes towards human rights issues.

'The safeguarding of human rights had long been regarded as a liability brought by international treaties, but the action plan indicates that the government is now committed to that cause,' he said. 'The country shows more willingness to accept the concept of human rights.'

Joshua Rosenzweig - Hong Kong representative of the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based rights advocacy group - said the action plan appeared to be a welcome step and probably the first of many China would take to improve on human rights.

'It's historic, but we need to see how ambitious the plan is and whether it will truly bring about a great deal of change,' he said.

Mr Rosenzweig said that among other things, he was interested in whether the plan would bring about substantial changes in safeguarding political rights.

The country came under intense scrutiny in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in August because of its heavy-handed approach towards aggrieved petitioners and rights activists. The European Parliament also showed its disapproval of China's human rights record by awarding its prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this year to Hu Jia . The rights activist was sentenced to 31/2 years in jail in April for 'inciting subversion of state power'.

Beijing-based human rights lawyer Teng Biao said the action plan was an apparent response to rising international pressure over the country's poor human rights record and escalating social conflicts caused by rights violations.

The Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will lead the charge in drawing up the plan. More than 50 government departments and non-government organisations as well as major universities will also have a say in the plan.

But Mr Teng said the Foreign Ministry's central role in pushing ahead with the plan indicated it was just another gesture to the international community.

'Without an overhaul of the system, without an independent judicial system, without freedom of the press, people should not expect to see much improvement in human rights in the country.'