On April 13th, the State Department News Office published the “National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010)”, promising to ensure citizens’ rights and political rights, including personal rights, prisoners’ rights, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion and belief, the right to participate and to voice an opinion. At the same time, it guarantees the media’s rights to collect information, criticize, discuss, and publish. It also guarantees the rights of the citizens of Wenchuan in the Sichuan disaster area to create and publish a list of the victims of the earthquake, those that have been killed and those that have gone missing.
Based on the standards of the country’s human rights plan, it doesn’t allow anyone to hide the names of those that are dead or missing. It encourages local governments to share information, to avoid duplicating efforts. The names must be thoroughly investigated; access to this list and the right to circulate it is part of everyone’s human rights.
The list is not yet complete, but it is a part of everyone’s national heritage. The government office stressed that detailed information should be gathered, including name, hometown, and place of death. It is a very detailed procedure and must be completed and published in stages. It is an enormous project, and will include lessons learned from this disaster, especially on the first anniversary of the earthquake. Regarding the names of the students that were killed, these should be published as quickly as possible, because this is a way of reconstructing both the disaster area as well as help our society heal.
Volunteers have been compiling these names using the internet and published news reports and by phoning and visiting government offices and the families of the victims. The government must respect and accept these social organizations and volunteer groups that involve themselves in this project and not reject them.
The creation of this public list of the victims, including their sex, age, native place, identity status, etc., really isn’t in order to fight for a right; it is simply refusing to ignore and forget this disaster’s anniversary. A person’s name reflects his or her human rights; a name is a person’s joys and sorrows, and a fragment of his or her history. From this, it reveals the lives that were destroyed on May 5th, and comforts the survivors, those whose wounds will never heal. Through assisting in this project, the earthquake cannot rob the victims, because the names remain a witness to the victims’ lives.
Also see this post on the barriers that Ai Weiwei faces in his own efforts to publish the names of quake victims.
Update: China Media Project translates an article by Ai Xiaoming about her friendship with Tan Zuoren, who has been arrested for his work documenting the collapsed schools which killed so many children in the earthquake:
Earlier this week, Guangzhou scholar and 2009 CMP fellow Ai Xiaoming wrote movingly on her Weblog about her friendship with Tan Zuoren, whom she met on a trip to the earthquake zone last year.
In her article, which has been removed from a number of sites and forums, Ai appealed to police at the detention center where Tan is being held to treat him humanely. She also offered excerpts of a construction quality report on Beichuan High School conducted more than two years before the quake, which points to problems with both materials and personnel.
Responding to the charges of “subversion of state power” raised against Tan, Ai Xiaoming paints a portrait of him as a national hero, a kind of Lei Feng of China’s emerging civil society: “You take this kind of person and lock them away? And you say he ‘incited subversion of state power’?” she writes. “Who would believe that? Zuoren has done so much good for this country and its state power, even to the point of being a Lei Feng (雷锋). His only point of difference with Lei Feng is the fact that Zuoren is a man of independent thoughts and beliefs, and it is on these that he acts.”