Progress in China's Human Rights Cause in 2003 (2004)

(March 2004)

  Foreword

  I. The People's Rights to Subsistence and Development

  II. Civil and Political Rights

  III. Judicial Guarantee for Human Rights

  IV. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  V. The Rights and Interests of Women and Children

  VI. Equal Rights and Special Protection for Ethnic Minorities

  VII. The Rights and Interests of the Disabled

  VIII. International Exchanges and Cooperation in Human Rights

  

Foreword

  The year 2003 was an important and unusual year for China's development. It was also a year of great, landmark significance for progress in human rights in the country. In 2003, the Chinese Government did a good job in tackling the sudden outbreak of SARS and curbing its spread, as well as in tackling frequent natural disasters. Persisting in taking economic construction as its central task, and striving for the coordinated development of material, political and spiritual civilizations, it achieved new breakthroughs in its reform, opening-up and modernization efforts. China maintained political stability, and achieved rapid economic growth and overall social progress. Moreover, further improvements were witnessed in the people's living standards and new progress was made in human rights cause.

  The Chinese Government gives top priority to the people's life and health and basic human rights. Adopting the attitude of holding itself accountable to the people, acting in their interests and accepting their supervision, the Chinese Government has formulated the principles of government, that is, "governing the country for the people," and "using the power for the people, sharing the feelings of the people and working for the interests of the people." It has put forward the scientific view of development characterized by putting people first and promoting the progress of society and overall development of the people. It has established the concept of governing the country by guaranteeing the implementation of the Constitution, establishing a government under the rule of law and creating political civilization. In practice, it has adopted a series of distinctively epochal measures for respecting and safeguarding human rights. It has made great efforts to acquaint itself with the feelings of the people, to reflect such feelings, to reduce the people's burdens and practice democracy. These efforts have markedly improved China's human rights conditions and won universal acknowledgement from the international community.

  In 2003 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed amendments to the current Constitution by adding the provision that "the state respects and safeguards human rights," among others. Not long ago, the Second Session of the Tenth National People's Congress (NPC) examined and adopted the amendments to the Constitution. The added contents include stipulations on promoting the coordinated development of material, political and spiritual civilizations, establishing and improving the social security system, and respecting and safeguarding human rights. The amendments also include improvements to the land requisition system and the system for the protection of citizens' lawful private property, fully demonstrating that revisions to the Constitution are made to benefit the people and guarantee human rights. Of particular importance is the formal addition, for the first time ever, of "the state respects and safeguards human rights" to the fundamental law of the state, indicating that respecting and safeguarding human rights has been upgraded from the level of Party and government policy and stand to the level of a constitutional principle, from an idea and value of the Party and government regarding its governance and administration to an idea and value inherent in state construction, thus further confirming the prominent status of human rights protection in China's legal system and state development strategy and opening wider prospects for the overall development of China's human rights cause.

  Despite the fact that China has made great efforts to promote and safeguard human rights, there is still much room for improvement of the human rights conditions, as China is a developing country with a big population and natural, historical, development-level and other limitations. The Chinese Government attaches great importance to existing problems, and will continue to take active and effective measures to steadily improve China's human rights conditions and earnestly raise the level of human rights enjoyed by the Chinese people.

  To help the international community toward a better understanding of the human rights situation in China, we hereby give an overview of the developments in the field of human rights in China in 2003.

  

I. The People's Rights to Subsistence and Development

  In 2003 China's economy observed a rapid and healthy growth, and the people's rights to subsistence and development were further improved. Over the past year the country's gross domestic product (GDP) reached 11,669.4 billion yuan, an increase of 9.1 percent over the previous year. Calculated at the current rate of exchange, the GDP per capita surpassed 1,000 US dollars for the first time, a major step up.

  The general living standard of the people continued to rise. In 2003 the per-capita disposable income of urban residents was 8,472 yuan, an increase, in real terms, of nine percent over the previous year after deduction for inflation. The net per-capita income for rural residents was 2,622 yuan, an increase of 4.3 percent in real terms.

  The consumption pattern of the society showed that it was gradually changing from one of basic living to one of modern living. In 2003 China's retail sales of consumer goods totaled 4,584.2 billion yuan-worth, an increase of 9.1 percent over the previous year. The proportion of urban and rural residents' expenditure on clothing, food and other daily necessities kept declining, while the proportion of their expenditure on high-grade daily-use articles, cars, housing, medical care and entertainments was increasing. In 2003 the Engel coefficient (i.e. the proportion of food expenditure in the total consumption spending) per urban and rural household decreased by 0.6 percentage point from the previous year. In urban areas, the figure dropped to 37.1 percent from 57.5 percent in 1978, and in rural areas it dropped to 45.6 percent from 67.7 percent in 1978. In 2003 China produced 2.02 million cars, an increase of 85 percent over the previous year. By the end of 2003 private cars owned by individuals had reached 4.89 million, an increase of 1.46 million cars over the previous year. In 2003 an additional 49.08 million households had telephones installed in their residences, bringing the total number of households with telephones to 263.3 million at the year's end. Also in 2003, new mobile phone users increased by 62.69 million, bringing the total number to 268.69 million at the year's end. The number of fixed and mobile phone users combined reached 532 million at the end of 2003. There are now 42 telephones for every 100 people, putting China among the top countries in terms of the pace and scale of development. By the end of 2003 there were 30.89 million computers throughout the country connected to the Internet, and the number of households logging on came to 79.5 million, ranking China second in the world.

  The housing conditions and living environment for urban and rural residents steadily improved over the past year. Housing construction has increased at an annual rate of 20 percent in the past few years. The per-capita housing area was 22.8 square meters by the end of 2002, and in rural areas it increased to 26.5 square meters. In urban areas privately owned housing makes up at least 72 percent. Ninety-four percent of the newly constructed houses in urban areas were purchased by individuals. The standards for house decoration, decoration quality, indoor air quality and housing environment are rising steadily.

  In the meantime, China made continuous efforts to solve the food and clothing problem of the impoverished population. The state input for development-oriented poverty reduction programs in rural areas increased from 24.8 billion yuan in 2000 to 29.9 billion yuan in 2003. This input was used to improve the production conditions for agriculture and animal husbandry in impoverished areas, to build roads, to spread compulsory education and eliminate illiteracy, to train farmers in practical technology, to prevent and cure endemic diseases, to construct farm fields, to build water conservancy projects and to provide drinking water for both people and animals. The per-capita income of farmers in the major poor counties that the government aims to help increased from 1,277 yuan at the end of 2001 to 1,305 yuan in 2003, and the size of the impoverished population without adequate food and clothing in rural China decreased from 250 million at the beginning of China's reform and opening-up program in 1978 to 29 million in 2003.

  China attaches great importance to protecting the health and safety of its citizens. In 2003, faced with the sudden outbreak of the SARS epidemic, the Chinese Government made the people's health and safety its top priority. It adopted a series of resolute and effective measures, including the promulgation of the "Emergency Regulations on Public Health Contingencies" and "Measures for the Prevention and Treatment of the Infectious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome," timely release of information on SARS cases, and improvement of the SARS case reporting system and measures for prevention and control of the epidemic. State leaders went to SARS-affected regions many times to investigate the epidemic conditions and console SARS patients as well as doctors and nurses, and mobilized the whole nation to join in the fight against SARS. The central and local governments earmarked more than 10 billion yuan to purchase medical equipment, medication and protective gear, and to reconstruct hospitals. SARS patients, both farmers and townspeople who had financial difficulties, were treated free of charge, making sure that all SARS patients were given hospital treatment. These measures effectively reduced the death rate of confirmed SARS patients on the Chinese mainland to 6.5 percent, lower than the world's average of nine percent.

  In tackling the outbreak of the highly infectious bird flu (avian flu) early this year, the Chinese Government adopted many effective measures, such as the killing and compulsory vaccination of fowls. As a result, the disease was confined to the infected areas before it could spread to other areas and infect human beings. By March 16, 2004, the 49 cases of highly infectious bird flu incidents across China had been eliminated, and people's life and health had been effectively protected. Meanwhile, the state adopted policies to give reasonable compensation to poultry farmers who had suffered financially during the epidemic. It also provided support to the poultry industry and poultry enterprises with respect to loans, bank interest discount and taxation, effectively protecting the interests of the farmers.

  China has strengthened the prevention and treatment of AIDS. It has established the State Council coordination meeting system for the prevention and treatment of AIDS and venereal diseases. It has also worked out "China's Medium- and Long-Term Plan for the Prevention and Control of AIDS (1998-2010)" and "China's Action Plan for the Control, Prevention and Treatment of AIDS (2001-2005)." In the four years starting 2003, the Chinese Government will invest 1.75 billion yuan on the prevention and treatment of AIDS. The state provides free anti-AIDS medicine to patients among farmers and to other patients in straitened circumstances. In AIDS-prevalent areas people can receive anonymous examinations free of charge, and pregnant women with the AIDS virus can receive free medical screening to prevent them from spreading the virus to the baby. Orphans of AIDS patients are exempted from paying any fees required to attend school. Financial support is given to needy AIDS patients. On World AIDS Day, i.e., December 1, 2003, China's Ministry of Health and a UN AIDS team jointly issued the "Joint Evaluation Report on AIDS in China," describing the spread of AIDS and efforts for its control in China. On the same day, Premier Wen Jiabao visited AIDS patients in hospitals, shook hands with them and talked to them. This was designed to guide the public to correctly understand and control AIDS, and eliminate prejudice against AIDS patients.

  At the same time, the state worked out and implemented the "Plan for the Establishment of a National Public Health Monitoring and Information System" and the "Plan for the Establishment of a Medical Treatment System in Case of Public Health Contingencies." These plans helped establish a sound early warning and emergency mechanism concerning public health contingencies, a disease prevention and control system and a health care law enforcement supervision system, thus further improving the basic health care conditions for urban and rural residents. According to statistics, by the end of 2003 China had 305,000 health care institutions, 2.902 million hospital and clinic beds, 4.24 million medical professionals, and 3,600 disease prevention and control centers (anti-epidemic stations) with 159,000 medical personnel. Moreover, there were 755 health care supervision and examination institutions with 15,000 medical personnel, and 45,000 township clinics with 668,000 beds and a 907,000-strong professional staff.

  As health care conditions improved, people's health has also improved greatly. The average life expectancy of the Chinese people has increased from 35 years before the birth of New China in 1949 to the present 71.4 years. The maternal mortality rate dropped from 1,500 out of 100,000 in the early 1950s to 43.2 out of 100,000 in 2002, and the infant mortality rate from 200‰ before the birth of New China to 28.4‰. At the same time, the incidence and death rates of infectious, local and parasitic diseases have dropped drastically.

  

II. Civil and Political Rights

  China sets great store by the development of democracy and the building of political civilization. It has endeavored to widen the scope of citizens' orderly political participation, and to safeguard their civil and political rights in accordance with the law.

  The Chinese Constitution stipulates, "All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people." The NPC and the local people's congresses at various levels are the organs through which the people exercise state power. The NPC is the highest organ of state power, deciding on the major policies and exercising the legislative power of the state. From early 1979 till now, the NPC and its Standing Committee have passed 451 laws, interpretations of laws, and decisions concerning legal issues; the State Council has enacted 966 administrative statutes; the local people's congresses and their standing committees have drawn up some 8,000 local statutes; and the ethnic autonomous areas have enacted over 480 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and other separate regulations. Now, a comparatively complete legal system centered on the Constitution has initially been formed, so that there are basically laws to go by for every aspect of social life.

  Following the principles of putting people above all else and legislation for the people, the NPC and its Standing Committee have strengthened their legislative work and improved the quality of legislation in the past year or more. The Second Session of the Tenth NPC, held not long ago, examined and approved amendments to the Constitution, which made partial revisions to the current Constitution and included in it "the state respects and safeguards human rights" and other provisions closely related to the people's vital interests. In 2003, the NPC Standing Committee examined and adopted 10 laws and decisions concerning laws, including the "Law on Residents' ID Cards," "Law on Road Traffic Safety," "Law on Administrative Approval" and "Law on the Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution." All these display the basic spirit of serving the people, facilitating the people and benefiting the people, as well as respecting and safeguarding their human rights.

  In the past year, the NPC and its Standing Committee have strengthened its inspection of law enforcement and supervision over the administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs. The NPC and its Standing Committee have heeded, examined and deliberated the work report of the State Council; the work reports of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate; the work reports of the State Council on the control of SARS, on the guarantee of senior citizens' rights and interests, on employment and re-employment, and on the project to divert water from the south to the north. The NPC and its Standing Committee have also made a thorough examination to clear up the government-invested projects that owed construction fees and payment to migrant workers, and examined the enforcement of five laws, including the "Law on Rural Land Contracts," "Construction Law" and "Law on the Protection of Minors." All this has effectively prompted the state organs concerned to administrate according to law and to exercise fair jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the NPC Standing Committee has paid great attention to petitions from ordinary people, receiving some 31,000 visits and handling more than 57,000 letters from them. As a result, many practical problems of concern to citizens have been solved under its supervision, helping safeguard the legal rights and interests of the people.

  The system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC has further played its role in China's political life. The National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) has performed its functions of participating in the discussion and administration of state affairs, exercised democratic rights and carried out democratic supervision through its regular work of making proposals, inspections, and reflecting public opinion. In the past year, the various special committees of the CPPCC National Committee made in-depth investigations into specific issues, such as rural poverty-relief work in the new stage, the defining of government functions in employment, and the increase in farmers' income in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, resulting in 37 investigative reports and 114 proposals in specialized fields. They have organized 23 inspection groups composed of over 500 CPPCC National Committee members and members of its Standing Committee for inspection tours across the country, culminating in the submission of 22 reports on their inspections. The central committees of all the democratic parties and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce submitted 84 proposals and passed on to concerned quarters 1,674 pieces of public opinion and information through the CPPCC channel.

  Along with the full-scale democratic construction at the rural grass-roots level, the democratic rights of the masses there have been respected. At present, 28 provinces, autonomous regions and centrally administered municipalities have worked out or revised the measures for implementing the "Organic Law of Villagers' Committees" and 31 of them have formulated the procedures for the election of villagers' committees. The