Chinese Human Rights Plan Must Address Past Failings to Succeed

Human Rights Watch’s Phelim Kine examines the record of China’s 2009-2010 National Human Rights Action Plan—which the government boasts was a terrific success, with “all measures … put into practice … all goals achieved and tasks fulfilled”—and the prospects for its successor from 2012-2015. From Jurist:

The Chinese government’s demonstrable disdain for human rights over the plan’s two year duration speaks volumes about its intentions. In 2009-1010, the government systematically continued to violate many of the most basic rights the plan addressed. It took unambiguous steps to restrict rights to expression, association and assembly. It sentenced high-profile dissidents to lengthy prison terms on spurious state secrets or “subversion” charges, expanded restrictions on media and internet freedom as well as tightened controls on lawyers, human rights defenders, and nongovernmental organizations. It broadened controls on Uighurs and Tibetans, and engaged in increasing numbers of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, including in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as “black jails.”

Wang Chen’s assessment of the plan makes no mention of such abuses. Instead, his assessment is larded with irrelevant statistics (“By the end of 2010, China had formulated 236 laws … 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local rules and regulations”), meaningless ambiguities (“Over the past two years, China has perfected laws and regulations to protect the rights and interests of ethnic minorities”), and bald-faced lies (“extorting confession by torture and illegal detention by law enforcement personnel has been strictly forbidden”). This does not bode well for the next plan, slated to run from 2012-2015 ….

The success of any human rights action plan will ultimately hinge on ensuring government officials and security forces choose to obey and uphold the law rather than reflexively ignore, subvert and abuse it. At a time of rising popular unrest related to China’s yawning rural-urban wealth gap, growing labor unrest, tension in its ethnic minority regions, and simmering public resentment over rampant corruption and illegal land evictions, the Chinese government’s disregard for rule of law is an increasingly dangerous formula for instability.