Academic defends China's human rights record with judicial achievements

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-2-2 23:12:16

A Chinese expert has challenged the findings of a Human Rights Watch report on China, saying the country had "given it its best shot" in promoting human rights progress through judicial reform.

Meng Qingtao of Southwest University of Political Science & Law, in the southwest municipality of Chongqing, said "World Report 2015", which was published by Human Rights Watch on Jan. 29, was a "solo dance" by the "opinionated" institution.

In an article entitled "Just Run of Judicial Reform and Human Rights Protection" published on Monday, Meng summed up China's human right achievements in 2014.

The following is the full text of the article:

Human Rights Watch, which poses as a "human rights guardian", continued its accusations against China's human rights situation in its "World Report 2015". One thing that is for sure is that the report has methodological flaws -- the real human rights situation in a country cannot only be a one-sided story from a single voice. If the real feelings of the people in the country involved were neglected, people will only see the solo dance by the opinionated Human Rights Watch.

As a scholar in law, I believe that if you review the pulsations of the country's judicial reform in 2014, China has given the promotion of human rights its best shot. The Chinese people witnessed the righting of several miscarriages of justice last year.

On Aug. 22, Nian Bin was acquitted by the higher people's court in the eastern province of Fujian, eight years after being wrongly imprisoned for murder. It meant curtains for the case after ten trials, four guilty verdicts, three overturns of judgments and six adjourned hearing orders by the Supreme People's Court (SPC). The correction was achieved by strict abidance by the criminal judicial principle of "innocent until proved guilty."

On Dec. 15, Huugjilt, who was sentenced to death and executed in a controversial 1996 rape and murder case, was acquitted of his crimes 18 years later by the higher people's court of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. His parents were awarded state compensation totaling more than 2 million yuan (about 319,946 US dollars) according to a verdict by the regional court on Dec. 30.

In December, the SPC assigned Shandong Higher People's Court to the review of a rape and murder case 19 years after the convict, Nie Shubin, was executed, as another man confessed to the crime.

As American moral philosophy expert John Rawls said: "Justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done." These cases demonstrate the positive legal inertia that allows judicial organs to correct their mistakes in accordance with legal procedures. They embody the spirit of rule of law, which aims to "let the people to feel fairness and justice in each case".

The year 2014 was a milestone in China's human rights development. Protecting human rights through rule of law saw marked progresses last year amid the country's overall reform drive. The Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, held in October, was a landmark for these changes. It was the first time a plenary session of the CPC Central Committee had taken rule of law as its central theme. A decision from the CPC Central Committee on "major issues concerning comprehensively advancing rule of law" adopted by the meeting served as the top-level design and strategic deployment for expediting the building of the socialist legal system.

In addition, a series of reform measures are already in place. In 2014, moves were taken to standardize sentencing and to install a case instruction system in all courts, to safeguard related parties' rights and interests through nationwide standards of discretion, justice, balanced sentencing and transparency.

More than 3,300 courts at various levels were linked up to the SPC's video system to receive petitions, which facilitated termination of lawsuit-related petitions. Judicial organs also introduced measures to enhance institutional protection of related party's rights to be informed, make statements, defend and appeal in criminal cases, while adhering to the principles such as "innocent until proved guilty" and the exclusionary rules of illegal evidence.

Moreover, to safeguard rights of minors and the public, judicial organs launched campaigns to crack down on criminal conduct such as sexual abuse of minors; seeking illegal gains by fabricating or spreading rumors online; endangering food or drug security; environmental pollution; accepting bribes; and dereliction of duty.

In 2014, Chinese courts made judgment papers accessible online so the public could supervise. The courts also enhanced enforcement of verdicts by blacklisting those who refused to exercise judgments. Prosecuting organs have introduced online platform for handling cases and law enforcement, and stepped up supervision on cases of commutation of sentences, parole or medical bail. Moreover, prosecuting organs initiated a half-year international manhunt for economic criminal suspects last year.

Great waves were made in institutional judicial reform in 2014, to ensure independent exercise of power. These moves involved structural reform within judicial organs and their administrative systems, as well as management of officials and funds.

First, simultaneous reform at the court and prosecuting body levels was advanced through trial strategies. Four reform measures were piloted in six provincial areas -- Shanghai, Guangdong, Jilin, Hubei, Hainan and Qinghai. These measures included classified information management and job security, judicial liability, and unified management in courts and procuratorates at provincial-level or below.

Pilots schemes in seven provincial areas made prosecutors accountable for their cases and catagorized their personnel under three categories - prosecutors, assistants and administrative staff - with prosecutors taking up a larger proportion.

Second, efforts were made to establish specialized judicial organs or those with jurisdictions spanning different administrative regions. China's first cross-region court and procuratorate - the Shanghai No. 3 Intermediate People's Court and the Shanghai No. 3 People's Procuratorate - were established. In late 2014, the SPC set up three Intellectual Property Right (IPR) courts to handle IPR-related cases. The SPC also inaugurated two circuit courts in Shenzhen and Shenyang at the beginning of 2015.

Judicial reform has provided concrete systemic foundations for human rights protection. Against the backdrop of "comprehensively deepening reform" and "comprehensively advancing rule of law", judicial reform is part of the readjustment of state power, a proper rebalance between civil rights and state power structures.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has begun to delegate power to lower levels of government and cut administrative approvals, especially in 2014, when local governments at all levels vigorously promoted the power list system.

In November 2014, after two years of reviewing Party rules and other related documents, the central leadership abolished 160 regulations, revoked 231 and confirmed that 20 were still effective, further clarifying the Party's power scope.

In the meantime, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee also vowed to perfect and ensure the independent and just systems of judicial and procuratorial authority in accordance with law. It established a system for recording, reporting and investigating leading cadres' interference in judicial activities; and established and improved protection mechanisms for judicial personnel performing statutory duties. Gansu Province was first to move on this. In November 2014 it issued the first provincial document to support judicial organs independently exercising judicial authority.

In 2014, China's legislation initiatives also stressed the theme of limiting power. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) twice deliberated the draft amendment to the Legislative Law in August and December. The amendment stipulated that rules and regulations passed by local governments shall not damage the rights of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, nor shall they increase their obligations.

The amendment also granted more lawmaking powers at local levels, setting a clear boundary between the central and local governments. The Administrative Procedure Law, which has been effective for 24 years, was also revised in 2014. The updated law widened the scope of administrative litigation, stipulating that new cases should be recorded and those in charge should appear in court to respond to lawsuits, thus, strengthening judicial organs' supervision on administrative organs and safeguarding citizens' rights.

The purpose of "comprehensively advancing rule of law" is to implement the constitutional rule that the country respects and protects human rights. In the legal sense, the constitution aims to adjust the relationship between state power and citizens' rights. It provides a legal foundation to consolidate solidarity of citizens and their loyalty to the nation.

The priority of rule of law is to rule under, uphold and abide by the constitution.

On Nov. 1, 2014, the NPC Standing Committee passed the resolution to set Dec. 4 as National Constitution Day and mandated that elected or appointed officials should swear an oath of allegiance to the constitution when taking office. The resolution demonstrates the authority of the constitution, and in effect exemplifies that the state power respects and protects human rights.

Such moves taken by the ruling party, the government, the military and other judicial organs to limit powers have in essence broaden citizens' rights. Reform measures on housing, health care, education and social security have reflected the nation's active duties to safeguard human rights.

In terms of the relationship between state power and citizens' rights, the limits on direction of power and rights protection has embodied the basic logic and orientation of China's human rights situation.

In 2013, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee vowed to deepen judicial reform, expedite the building of a just and authoritative socialist judicial system, protect people's rights and interests and let the masses feel fairness and justice in every case.

In 2014, under the background of "comprehensively deepening reform," judicial reform, be it top-level design or micro-judicial matters, have enforced the judicial protection of human rights and moved closer to the systemic justice of human rights protection.

As for the development of China's human rights, we can not expect all countries to splurge praise, nor should we turn to external "human rights guardians" to improve ourselves.

China's human rights requires our own approach.

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