Beijing's action plan lacks detail on enforcing people's political and civil rights, experts say

Raymond Li

China's first human rights action plan lacks concrete enforcement details, particularly in areas of political and civil rights, analysts say.

Joshua Rosenzweig, senior manager of research and Hong Kong operations for the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based rights advocacy group, welcomed the plan as a step for the country to set up goals regarding rights improvement. However, he said more concrete targets were desired, particularly in areas of political and civil rights, such as torture, illegal detention and the rights of minorities to religion freedom.

He said the authorities might be using the plan to distract the public from contentious issues as pressure comes from the international community over the country's poor human rights records, particularly a review by the UN Human Rights Council in February.

Mr Rosenzweig said the plan showed that China had a particular understanding of what human rights were and which human rights were more important than others, putting economic rights before civil and political rights on the ground that the country has its own specific circumstances.

'That interpretation of human rights is not shared by all,' he said.

China has given much emphasis to economic rights, while remaining vague in political and civil rights

Mr Rosenzweig noted that the government had stressed its efforts to fight torture and to protect freedom of religion, but it should also ask itself why previous measures had yielded little.

'Without acknowledging that those efforts so far have not been able to stop [abuses] from happening, the problem with a plan like that is always that no matter how good its intention is, it's always going to be [evaluated] in terms of implementation,' he said.

'So how we're going to get from step A, which is today seeing what China intends to do, to two years from now, when China says we've accomplished XYZ and how we're going to know XYZ are accomplished.'

Wan Yanhai, director of Beijing Aizhixing Institute, an NGO advocating rights for people living with HIV/Aids, said the action plan was clich?-ridden and insincere. He argued that government officials never held any genuine discussions on 'real human rights issues' and he called the action plan a document 'without human rights'.

He doubted whether it would benefit the vulnerable groups his NGO is helping.

'I don't see how they're going to provide adequate education to kids orphaned by HIV/Aids or help to students who are denied access to education over hepatitis B,' Mr Wan said.

Mr Rosenzweig said it was time for China to improve its human rights image.

'I think there could be a lot of room for making progress clear and being more transparent over what progress has been made, and I'm certain that would benefit China's image overseas,' he said. 'Whether that's important to the leadership, that's a matter of question.'