Goals fall short on issues surrounding Sichuan earthquake

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 April, 2009, 12:00am

The mainland's first human rights action plan promises to protect the rights of Sichuan earthquake victims. But it makes no mention of helping activists held for collecting information on the number of students who died, or parents harassed for protesting against shoddily built schools.

A section in the plan is dedicated to the victims of the quake, which ripped through Sichuan on May 12. And although it looks ahead and decrees that rebuilt schools should be of high quality, it does not look back at the issue of accountability for schoolchildren killed by buildings - a major source of protests by quake victims.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, the number of students killed in the schools is still unknown, prompting artist Ai Weiwei and some volunteers to launch an online campaign to compile such data.

One week after the earthquake, Sichuan officials said 6,376 students had died, without saying how many of them were killed in schools. The figure has never been updated since then.

On the sidelines of the National People's Congress last month, Sichuan officials said the authorities were still compiling the figure. They also blamed the collapse of the schools not on poor construction quality but on the severity of the magnitude 8 quake.

Until recently, victims' families were harassed by the authorities for their petition attempts, and no court would accept their lawsuit submissions. Two activists, Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren, have been detained, apparently in relation to their efforts to help the parents.

The human rights plan also promises to secure permanent jobs for about 1 million people in quake-hit areas and to allow urban disposable incomes to bounce back to their pre-earthquake levels. The authorities will keep up with efforts to scrutinise the distribution of donations to make sure the money and goods are used properly, according to the action plan.

The government has said it will move all quake victims into new homes before the end of the year.