2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 30th anniversary of China’s opening up. Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office, looks back on the progress China has made in the area of human rights in past decades.
From an interview with a human rights journal, via Xinhua:
[Wang states:] Respecting and protecting human rights has received attention never seen before and has become an important principle of the CPC and the Chinese government in governing the country. Since China’s reform and opening up, the most prominent progress China has made in human rights is to have freed itself from the bondage of the “leftist” thinking that regarded human rights as the slogan of the bourgeoisie and established the important position of human rights in the social and political life. Since the 16th CPC National Congress, in particular, the CPC Central Committee with Hu Jintao as General Secretary has advanced the “people first” scientific development theory and the important strategic thinking of constructing a socialist harmonious society, which have made respect for and protection of human rights an important component part. Since 2004, “respecting and protecting human rights” has been written into the Constitution, the 11th five-year development program and the Constitution of the CPC. All this has shown that human rights development has become a major theme in social construction and development and an important principle of the CPC and the Chinese government in governing the country and maintaining friendly relations with neighbors. The unprecedented attention given to human rights has provided powerful political and legal guarantee for human rights development both in theory and practice.
The death penalty has always been used by the Chinese Communists as a harsh tool to maintain social security and political order and to curb crime. Partly because top Chinese leaders feel uncomfortable with the accusation that China applies capital punishment too readily, partly because the international community has pressured China persistently, reforming capital punishment has been made a priority within the Party-run judiciary system. There’s been heated debate among academics as to how to reform. One of the suggestions is precisely to restrict the power of police, to the displeasure of hard-liners.
“Ever since January 2007 when the Supreme Court took back the sole authority in reviewing the death penalty, I have noticed a substantial decrease in issuing death sentences, especially cases of immediate execution,” said professor Chen Weidong, a top expert on death penalty from Renmin University. “Killing fewer and killing with extreme caution is also the guidance from central government.”
The precise number of executions is a state secret in China. Amnesty International reported that last year 1,860 were given death sentences and at least 470 were executed, a remarkable reduction from 2006’s 1010, or 2005’s 1770, but still 80 percent of the world total, though the real numbers are believed much higher.
Despite progress, there’s still widespread fear that death sentences are passed without proper procedure and innocent people are convicted.