Mainland Justice Blind to Plight of the Powerless

Shanghai resident Lu Weiming and his wife blame a local waste collection station for their son’s disability and their daughter’s death. South China Morning Post reports the couple’s repeated legal defeats in trying to secure compensation:

In March, the Songjiang District People’s Court ruled against the couple, saying that while water samples taken a year earlier were contaminated, air samples were up to standard. The court said there was no connection between the pollution and the children’s diseases, citing a district disease control and prevention centre (CDC) investigation that showed mortality and malignant cancer rates in Lu’s village were actually lower than the district average ….

Lu said the courts had been “shameless” in accepting authorities’ evidence as the air was only sampled four months after the waste collection centre closed ….

On the mainland, tens of thousands of environmental conflicts break out every year, but fewer than 1 per cent end up incourt, domestic media report, and very few of those cases succeed.

Some judges have even told media that they wanted to find polluters guilty, but could not do so because of “tremendous pressure from outside the court”.

Ma Yong, a legal campaigner from the All-China Environment Federation, said that suing polluters was difficult on the mainland because plaintiffs had to prove the contamination was the sole cause of their problems.

Even when compensation is awarded, the amount is often paltry. Paul Mooney describes the story of a Hunan man whose daughter died at the age of five of suspected heavy metal poisoning.

As Liu Guian describes his daughter’s illness, his face darkens. He says that on July 17, 2006, his wife noticed their four-year-old daughter’s eyes were swollen. He describes visits to a string of hospitals that gave different diagnoses. One suggested chronic cadmium poisoning. According to local media reports, cadmium found in her urine had risen to twice the minimum recognised as poisoning. Heavy metals damage both the kidney and the liver ….

The factory denied responsibility, claiming it had the proper environmental certification. However, a court ruled against the company and awarded the Liu family 6,037 yuan [US$946, compared with medical costs of over $14,000] for Bingjie’s death, saying the cadmium poisoning was 5 per cent of the cause.

Liu Lican, [an independent environmental researcher in Guangzhou] who says there may be more than 400 “aizheng cun”, or “cancer villages”, in the mainland, says the compensation offered to Bingjie’s family was insufficient and “just coffin money”.

And this case represents a rare success. More often, according to Liu Lican, “Villagers are told they can’t do anything to those factories because they’re legal …. They have no resources or power to fight with. They just can’t afford to go to court or to petition.”

Frustration at the effective blockage of official channels can drive people to drastic alternative measures. The Los Angeles Times recently noted the availability of hired “medical disturbance” gangs who besiege hospitals until compensation for e.g. the death of a relative is awarded. While greedy opportunism may lie behind the practice in some cases, it is often a means of circumventing a legal system which offers little hope of redress. Via CDT:

Zhang Yuanxin, an Urumqi-based plaintiffs’ lawyer, said it was difficult to sue for medical malpractice, even in the most egregious cases, and that tempted people to take matters into their own hands.

“This is the direct result of the lack of rule of law and the lack of a well-established social welfare system,” Zhang said. “Conflicts like these are inevitable and there will be many more if people can’t solve their problems through the law.”

Last Friday, a Beijing surgeon suffered serious injuries at the hands of a former patient whose case against the hospital had fallen into a legal limbo. From Global Times:

Xu Wen, 43, a chief physician in the hospital’s otolaryngology department, was stabbed over a dozen times, the Legal Mirror newspaper reported on Friday.

“The left biceps were slashed, the bones were exposed, nerves and tendons were damaged, the right forearm was fractured, and she was gashed on her left leg and forehead,” said the newspaper ….

According to a caing.com report Friday, the suspect was a calligrapher named Wang Baoming, who was angered by an alleged case of medical malpractice years ago.

Wang claimed on his blog that Xu had operated on his throat cancer but that it was “not done completely and thoroughly,” leaving him unable to speak, smell or work after two operations. Wang said he had also sued Tong-ren hospital for 17 million yuan ($2.63 million) in compensation, but that his case had been adjourned indefinitely.

In the most extreme recent case of frustrated violence, Qian Mingqi carried out a bombing attack in Fuzhou last May after years of thwarted attempts to gain compensation for property seizure. Perhaps the most vivid illustration of lack of faith in the legal system is the public reaction to the explosions, which was characterised more by sympathy than by anger. From McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter, via CDT:

“He’s a hero. He’s the same as me: He did everything possible but still found no solution,” said Wang Julan, 60, who with her family owns a small car dealership in Fuzhou. “The government is not administering the country in a legal way. The Chinese people have no human rights; they are not getting what they deserve….”

“If you bribe government officials you can get anything done, even if what you want to do is illegal,” said Zhu Guoying, 48, who said a local Communist Party official had suggested that some cash under the table would help resolve difficulties when her restaurant and adjoining home were flattened for a hospital expansion. “But if you don’t bribe them, you can’t even get legal things done.”

Sources:

Mainland justice is blind to plight of the powerless – SCMP.com
Dangerous Elements – pjmooney.com
Hospital in China fends off angry mob – latimes.com
Hospitals watch for patient attacks – Global Times
China works to control coverage of rare bombings – McClatchy

September 20, 2011 3:38 PM
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Categories: Environment, Law, Society