I. China has made historical advances in human rights.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is the principal leader, advocator, and practitioner of human rights undertakings in China. The long-term efforts of the CPC to lead the Chinese nation to independence and liberation, to make China strong, and to bring prosperity to its people can in fact be regarded as a process of securing, protecting, and guaranteeing human rights of the Chinese people. Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the revolutionary government led by the CPC attached great significance to human rights legislation and protection. Through the adoption of constitutional documents and programs such as the Constitutional Outline of the Chinese Soviet Republic, the Administrative Program of Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region, and the Constitutional Principles of Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region, the CPC codified and protected the fundamental human rights of people living in revolutionary base areas. These rights included the right to survival, the right to personal freedom, the right to vote, and also ethnic equality. In 1954, the first Constitution of the People’s Republic of China devoted an entire chapter to the basic rights and duties of citizens, fully acknowledging that Chinese citizens enjoyed basic human rights and establishing a basic framework for these rights in the form of China’s most fundamental law. China’s subsequent 1982 Constitution embodied the guarantees provided for human rights by China’s legal system in a new era of reform and opening up. In 2004 and 2007, the notion of “respecting and safeguarding human rights” was incorporated into the Constitution and the CPC Constitution respectively, thus being codified as a basic principle of national governance. The term “human rights” has since increasingly entered mainstream discourse.
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, China’s human rights undertakings have entered a new historical stage. From 2012 to 2015, the country’s impoverished rural population decreased by 66.63 million, living standards continued to rise, and a framework of public services was essentially put in place. Basic medical insurance now covers more than 95% of the population, while the coverage of basic pension schemes has exceeded 80%, signifying the formation of the world’s largest social safety net. In 2013, the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) marked the first time that the same ratio of NPC deputies to represented population was applied for both urban and rural areas in the election of NPC deputies. Since then, the Chinese people have come to enjoy more extensive democratic rights and freedoms as prescribed by law, consultative democracy has been progressively institutionalized, and community-level self-governance has reached new depths. In addition, China has lawfully cracked down on corruption and occupational crimes; deepened judicial reform; made revisions and improvements to the litigation system; reduced the number of crimes punishable by death; abolished the system of reeducation through labor; and given better play to mechanisms for the prevention and rectification of cases in which people have been wrongly accused, or unjust or erroneous rulings have been made, thereby providing stronger judicial protection of human rights. Education, training, and research with regard to human rights centering on core socialist values have also been carried out. As a result, the basic rights of the Chinese people have been more effectively guaranteed.
A meeting is convened to assess and review the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2012-2015) on June 14, 2016. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER JIN LIANGKUAI
The Chinese government has actively engaged in international cooperation on human rights. Up to now, the Standing Committee of the NPC has ratified 28 international conventions on human rights, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. China has actively participated in United Nations (UN) multilateral meetings on human rights issues, conducted a wide range of constructive dialogues with UN human rights treaty bodies, and fulfilled its international human rights obligations such as peacekeeping. In 2013, China passed its second cycle universal periodic review (UPR) carried out by the UN Human Rights Council, and was elected to the UN Human Rights Council in November 2013 with nearly 90% of the vote. Since 2008, the China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) has held successive sessions of the “Beijing Forum on Human Rights” in collaboration with the China Foundation for Human Rights Development (CFHRD). Attracting the participation of human rights officials and experts from around the world, the forum has played an important role in enhancing the international community’s understanding of human rights in China and promoting the sound development of international human rights undertakings.
II. China has made major achievements in the development, theory, and institutional protection of human rights.
Under the leadership of the CPC, China has made historic progress and received world recognition for its accomplishments in human rights. Since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, in particular, China’s human rights undertakings have seen their best ever period of development, entering a people-centered phase characterized by overall, balanced, and sustainable improvement. In this phase, China has identified a unique socialist approach to the development of human rights, developed unique socialist theories of human rights, and established unique socialist systems for protecting human rights.
During the exploration of the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, not only has China respected the universality of human rights, but it has also identified a unique socialist approach to developing human rights in light of its basic national conditions. On the basis of upholding Chinese socialism, this approach requires that we put people first, serve the people wholeheartedly, strive to safeguard people’s rights to survival and development, work towards balancing economic, social, and cultural rights with civil and political ones, and maintain an organic balance between the leadership of the CPC, the position of the people as masters of the country, and the rule of law.
Huge progress in practice has spurred the formation and refinement of relevant theories. Through theoretical innovation, we have formed a unique framework of people-centered, socialist theories of human rights that conforms to our current stage of socialism. On the question of human rights, we have reached the following consensuses. First, human rights represent common values shared by all humanity, and the concept of human rights is a common treasure belonging to all humanity. Second, human rights comprise both individual and collective rights, civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights, all of which are universally related and indivisible. Third, a balance should be maintained between the universality of human rights and the particular practices of different countries. Fourth, full attention should be paid to the rights of people in developing countries to survival and development. Fifth, the core purpose of promoting human rights is to ensure that all members of society have the opportunity to participate and develop as equals and that the people can act as masters of their country. China’s unique socialist theories of human rights have become an important component of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
By continuing to place the protection of human rights on a legal and institutional footing, China has gradually formed a unique socialist system for protecting human rights. It has formulated a series of laws, regulations, and rules that provide for the protection of human rights in economic, political, cultural, and social domains through legislative, law enforcement, and judicial processes. It has also signed a series of international conventions for the protection of civil rights. From 2009 to 2015, China issued two successive national human rights action plans (NHRAPs), using concrete goals, indices, and measures to ensure that human rights in China are fully guaranteed. The goals and tasks prescribed in both NHRAPs have since been accomplished on schedule. In 2010, the formal establishment of a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics marked a critical step on the way to developing a legal system for protecting human rights. With this, China has managed to create a supporting framework of well-conceived laws, regulations, and rules for the protection of human rights under the overall guidance of the Constitution.
China’s human rights undertakings constitute an indispensable part of the world’s human rights undertakings, and the progress China has made in human rights represents a unique contribution that it has made to the development of human rights internationally.
III. China has worked to balance the universality of human rights with its national conditions.
As Xi Jinping noted in his congratulatory letter to the 2015 Beijing Forum on Human Rights, “For a long period of time, China has worked to balance the universality of human rights with its national conditions. We have strived to promote economic and social development, improve public wellbeing, enhance social equity and justice, strengthen the legal protection of human rights, and work towards balancing economic, social, and cultural rights with civil and political ones. Through these efforts, we have remarkably enhanced the protection of the people’s rights to survival and development, and pioneered a path for the development of human rights that conforms to China’s national conditions.” As a comprehensive summary of China’s human rights undertakings, this statement provides us with an important theoretical basis and guideline for upholding China’s unique socialist approach to human rights.
1. Upholding socialism with Chinese characteristics
China’s unique socialist approach to human rights forms an important part of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This means that to uphold China’s unique approach to human rights, we must first resolutely uphold Chinese socialism. The fact that different countries have different development histories, national conditions, and public demands dictates that each country must determine its own path. With a commitment to balancing the universality of human rights with actual conditions, China has adopted a practical approach to human rights that takes into account the realities of China’s socialism.
2. Maintaining an integrated balance between the leadership of the CPC, the position of the people as masters of the country, and the rule of law
CPC leadership ensures that China’s human rights undertakings move in the right direction; the position of the people as masters of the country is a fundamental prerequisite for the realization of human rights; and the rule of law is an important guarantee for advancing human rights undertakings. Only by upholding the leadership of the CPC can we incorporate the development of human rights into all aspects of the work of the Party and country and mobilize the broadest possible force in a concerted effort to promote China’s human rights undertakings. Only by upholding the position of the people as masters of the country under the leadership of the CPC can we truly safeguard and realize the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people and guarantee their human rights. And only by upholding the rule of law and putting the development of human rights on a legal and institutional footing can we truly ensure the overall, balanced, and sustainable development of human rights undertakings.
3. Upholding a people-centered approach to development
China has a tradition of people-centered thinking that goes back to ancient times. Emphasizing the wellbeing of the people, our ancestors stressed “The people are the foundation of the state. Only when the foundation is steady will the state have peace.” In a speech delivered on July 1, 2016 to mark the anniversary of the CPC’s founding, Xi Jinping elaborated on China’s people-centered approach to development, stressing: “It is a permanent goal of our Party to lead the people in building a better life. In response to the people’s yearning for a happy life, we need to maintain a people-centered approach to development, lay emphasis on guaranteeing and improving public wellbeing, develop various social programs, enhance efforts to adjust income distribution, win the fight against poverty, safeguard people’s rights to participate and develop as equals, ensure that all people can benefit more thoroughly and more fairly from the fruits of reform and development, and stride steadily towards common prosperity for all people.” As a highly condensed summary of the goals and tenets of China’s human rights undertakings, these remarks have charted a course for the continued development of human rights in China.
4. Continuing to increase the protection of the people’s rights to survival and development
With its large population and relative shortage of natural resources per capita, and as a country that has historically been subjected to the invasion, plundering, and oppression of foreign countries, China is set to remain in the primary stage of socialism for a considerable period of time to come. In this period, the rights to survival and development will be the most pressing demands of the Chinese people. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, and especially since the launch of the reform and opening up drive in the late 1970s, the Chinese government has given top priority to the people’s rights to survival and development. China’s rapid development and enormous achievements over the past decades represent our most effective efforts to safeguard the people’s rights to survival and development as well as the most compelling evidence of our success in this regard.
5. Balancing economic, social, and cultural rights with civil and political ones
According to the 1993 UN Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat all human rights in a fair and equal manner, and promote and protect all human rights and basic freedoms. In developing human rights, China has focused on combining long-term plans with short-term goals, adopted a pragmatic and responsible approach, and advanced relevant initiatives in a planned and step-by-step manner. Currently, China is focusing on the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights. It is striving to resolve issues that concern the immediate interests of the people, whilst also paying attention to protecting the rights of special groups such as ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. At the same time, in adherence to the principle that all human rights are interdependent and indivisible, China has formulated overall plans to ensure the coordinated and balanced development of various human rights. On this basis, it is taking concrete steps to balance economic, social, and cultural rights with civil and political ones, and to coordinate the human rights of individuals and groups.
Luo Haocai is formerly Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, President of the China Society for Human Rights Studies,and Professor at Peking University.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.16, 2016)