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Human rights to be enshrined in Constitution
09-03-2004
2004/03/09

China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), kicked start a landmark Constitutional amendment which is expected to enshrine human rights protection for the first time Monday afternoon.

"The State respects and protects human rights," says the new expression to be added to Article 33 of Chapter Two of the existing Constitution, which has undergone three overhauls since its promulgation in 1982.

"It's a consistent principle adopted by the Party and the Stateto respect and protect human rights. To write this principle into the Constitution will further provide a legal guarantee for its implementation," said Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, while explaining the draft amendment to a fullmeeting of the lawmakers.

The approval of the Constitutional amendments requires a two thirds overwhelming majority of the nearly 3,000 deputies to the NPC, currently in the middle of a 10-day annual full session here.

The inclusion of human rights protection in the Constitution isalso "conducive to the development of China's socialist human rights undertakings, as well as exchanges and cooperation with theinternational community in the human rights field," said Wang in his explanation.

Actually, the 15th and 16th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), convened in 1997 and 2002 respectively, have explicitly stated the Party's commitment to respecting and safeguarding human rights, Wang noted.

The current Constitutional amendments were proposed by the CPC Central Committee last October and adopted by the NPC Standing Committee in December.

"The proposal to write human rights protection into the Constitution itself is an unusual event which marks a significant progress for China," commented Zhu Guanglei, a law professor with the Tianjin-based Nankai University.

"Just 20 years ago, human rights was still regarded as a so-called 'capitalist notion' in China, but now it's going to have a place in the country's fundamental law. This development shows what a great leap forward China has achieved in human rights protection over the past two decades," said Zhu.

However, as a developing country which has to feed more than one fifth of the global population with only 7 percent of the world's farmland, China has its own understanding of human rights which differs from that of Western developed countries.

For the Chinese people in the current development stage, rightsto subsistence and development are the fundamental and therefore most important human rights to pursue, the Chinese government has repeatedly said.

At a press conference held on the sidelines of the ongoing NPC session Saturday afternoon, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing cited the sharp increase of the Chinese people's life expectancy to 71 years in 2003 from a mere 35 years in 1949 as indisputable evidence for the country's human rights progress.

"The conception that China is weak in terms of human rights is a big mistake," said the minister.

In the 12 years between 1990 and 2001, the United States had for 10 times instigated or tabled draft resolutions in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in an attempt to censure China on its human rights records, but had ended in failure every time.

"Judging from China's current situation, the top concern in human rights protection should be guaranteeing the people's rightsto subsistence. This is particularly true in less developed regions like my hometown," said Yao Sidan, an NPC deputy from the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

While China's per capita GDP exceeded 1,000 US dollars in 2003,the average GDP level in Garze, where 76 percent of the local residents are ethnic Tibetans, stood at around 470 dollars.

"Only by constantly improving the people's livelihood could other rights of the people be effectively taken care of," said Yao."Of course, this doesn't mean that the other aspects of human rights can be neglected."

Song Linfei, president of the Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, noted that "different nations will focus on different aspects of human rights in their different development phases," adding, "it is impossible for human rights progress to either go ahead of economic and social development or lag behind it."

The incorporation of human rights protection into the Constitution will lay a solid foundation for the gradual, steady and irreversible progress of human rights in China, said Song, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's PoliticalConsultative Conference, the top advisory body of the country.

While maintaining an annual economic rate of more than 8 percent over the past 25 years, China has signed 21 international human rights agreements, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

With the United Nations economic, social and cultural rights covenant already ratified by the national legislature in February 2001, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged during his France visit earlier this year that the Chinese government would also propose the ratification of the other UN rights covenant when time was ripe.

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