Challenges and strategy choices for China's human rights development in the new period

By Chang Jian
0 CommentsPrint E-mail CSHRS, November 5, 2009
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China's reforms have entered a new historical period. We need to carefully analyze the new challenges posed by the new historical stage to China's human rights development, in that it enables us to have a more clear view of our tasks and problems and make proper adjustment and improvement on China's human rights development strategies in accordance with environment.

1. Challenges to China's human rights in the new historical stage

China has entered a new and unprecedented development stage, which brings about a number of new tasks and problems. China's human rights, therefore, are faced with the following new challenges:

(1) The multilayer demands for and levels of human rights protection With 30 years of rapid development since reform and opening-up policy was adopted, China has witnessed increased quality of people's life, enriched social and cultural activities and enhanced level of orderly participation in politics. In some areas with rapid development, people are demanding for enhancing the level of human rights protection after their basic living has been adequately ensured; while in the areas with relatively slow development, people are demanding for strengthening the fundamental rights protection since their basic living has not been adequately guaranteed. The most typical example is the protection of education rights. In large cities, with the 9-year compulsory education right fully protected, people are demanding for 12-year compulsory education. In rural areas, however, the fundamental education is still plagued with difficulties in school buildings, educational resources and funding, therefore people are in great need for increasing investments in fundamental education.

Even in the same area, market-oriented distribution of income has caused the growing income disparity, and market-oriented employment has made employment situations obviously different. This has led to the multilayer structure of the demands for rights protection. Take the right to housing for instance. People with medium and high incomes have already possessed basic housing and further demand for improvement of their housing environment, while people with low incomes are still obsessed with the problem of basic housing since they are unable to pay for the increasing housing prices.

Because of the differences in education level, workplace environment and living conditions, there have been significant differences in the level of demands for social, political and cultural rights. The social stratums in advantaged situation demand for more social interactive platforms, more opportunities for political participation and more diversified cultural activities, while those in disadvantaged situation demand for more government investments to protect their most fundamental economic, social, political and cultural rights.

The multilayer structure of the demands for rights protection has created a dilemma for China's human rights protection strategies. Specifically, the enhanced level of protection will produce more problems for human rights protection of groups of people in some regions, while lack of enhanced level of protection will make the level of rights protection in developed areas below the level of economic development and lead to insufficient protection.

(2) The diversification of the contents and categories of human rights protection With the economic, social, political and cultural developments, significant changes have taken place in people's lifestyle. Thanks to the rapid spread of the Internet, the virtual space has become an important component of people's real life. The well development of traffic and transportation has made migration normally seen in people's living. Because of exponential increase of new knowledge and information, continuous education has become a learning process that cannot afford suspension in people's life. The various methods of business transactions have made it possible that exchanges of materials in any corner of the world can be completed instantly in different ways. Changes of social conditions have diversified the choices of lifestyle, and new ways of spouse selection, wedding, children's education and retirement have become reasonable options.

Because of those new changes in social activities, various demands for new rights have been emerging continuously, including the rights to adequate housing, to sunlight, to tranquility, to privacy, to be informed, to homosexuality, to life-long education, to virtual assets and reputation, and some people have even mentioned the rights of natural landscapes and animals.

Demands for new rights need recognition from social participants and legislative bodies, increasing the difficulty and complexity of human rights protection.

(3) The internationalization of the subject and content of human rights protection With the development of globalization, China's economic development is closely connected with the development of the world economy, and the life of Chinese people is engaged increasingly closely with that of the world people. More and more Chinese people travel, study, work, invest and start business abroad. At the same time, more and more foreign academicians, business persons and tourists come into China. Chinese commodities are continuously transported to other countries by land, air or sea, and overseas capitals, equipments, cargos and technologies keep coming into China. Chinese economic conditions stir the nerve of world economy, and the ups and downs of the world economy and politics have growing impact upon China.

China's involvement in the globalization process facilitates the internationalization of the subject and content of human rights protection. New problems have emerged and challenged China's human rights protection, including the protection of the rights of overseas Chinese, foreign citizens staying in China and participants in international businesses, fighting against international piracy, participation in UN peace-keeping operations, drafting international conventions on human rights, supervising and reviewing the implementation of those conventions, and fulfilling the due responsibilities and duties of the conventions.

(4) The multiple channels for rights claims and complaints With the rapid coverage of mass media, the claims, complaints and remedies for human rights have been increasingly diversified. On the one hand, besides the traditional ways, the Internet, TV and radio have constituted important channels for human rights claims, complaints, supervision and protection. On the other hand, various social forces participate in the development of human rights more initiatively and actively, making rights claims, reflecting problems of rights violations, supervising the rights protection, and putting forward suggestions on measures to protect human rights.

While providing more convenient ways for rights claims, complaints and supervision, new kinds of mass media have brought about challenges for orderly development of human rights. Media reports on unexpected events introduce new policy topics for discussions and impact on planned agenda and schedule. Different media make different voices on one issue and express different opinions. Open and intense debates on these opinions have made it difficult to integrate and unify the opinions. Also, public opinions formed by various kinds of mass media constitute a strong burden for the legal procedures of right protection, influencing to some extent on defining the nature and formulating just solutions of rights-related issues through strict and fair legal procedures. In this sense, it is a must in human rights protection to be aware of the limitations of mass media and exploit the advantages to avoid their negative influence.

Similarly, various social forces have carried out activities of human rights protection. On the one hand, they will play the role as fresh forces in promoting China's human rights protection, such as what the non-governmental organizations have actively done in the relief work after the 5.12 Sichuan Earthquakes; on the other hand, it is a new challenge for the administration-dominated Chinese government to pave the way for orderly social participation and facilitate harmonious interaction between society and government.

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