Full Text: Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China

White Paper
The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China published a white paper titled "Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China" on Wednesday.

China SCIOUpdated: December 13, 2018

I. Firmly Establishing a Governance Principle of Respecting and Protecting Human Rights

It is the determination and ultimate goal of the CPC and the Chinese government to respect and protect human rights. Since the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, “respecting and protecting human rights” has been written into the reports to CPC National Congresses, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, and strategies and plans for national development, becoming an important principle of governance for the CPC and the Chinese government.

That the state respects and protects human rights has been established as an important principle of the Constitution of the PRC. The Constitution is the fundamental law of a country, making it a declaration of human rights protection. As the supreme law, the Constitution of China effectively ensures that the people are masters of the country, and has promoted the cause of human rights in China. In 1954, the first Constitution of the PRC was created. The Constitution of 1982 stipulated clearly in the “General Principle” and “The Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens” that all people enjoy a wide range of rights, including personal rights, right to dignity, property rights, political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. 

Since then the state has revised the Constitution five times in accordance with the developments and requirements of reform and opening up, enhancing the status of human rights. In 2004, the Constitution established the principle that “the state respects and protects human rights”, and further clarified citizens’ rights in the economic, political, cultural and social fields. This launched a new stage where human rights develop under the guidance of constitutional principles. The amendment to the Constitution adopted in 2018 guarantees the principal position of the people, ensuring in the new era the development of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics, and the realization of the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

Respecting and protecting human rights is a pursuit in CPC governance. Based on the realities of reform and opening up, the CPC has proposed a series of ideas on human rights in China, constantly adding new elements to reflect the changes in our time. In 1997, the 15th CPC National Congress clearly stated: “As a ruling party, the Communist Party leads and supports the people in exercising the power of running the state, holding democratic elections, making policy decisions in a democratic manner, instituting democratic management and supervision, ensuring that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedom endowed by law, and respecting and guaranteeing human rights.” In 2002, “human rights are respected and guaranteed” was written into the report to the 16th CPC National Congress as an important goal of socialist political progress. In 2007, when summarizing “sound development of the cause of human rights” over the previous five years, the report to the 17th CPC National Congress further pointed out: “We must respect and safeguard human rights, and ensure the equal right to participation and development for all members of society in accordance with the law.” And in the same year, this principle was written for the first time into the CPC Constitution.

In 2012, the principle that “human rights should be fully respected and protected” was defined by the 18th CPC National Congress as an important goal in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, establishing the importance of human rights from a strategic perspective. The CPC Constitution amended and adopted at this congress reaffirms the principle of respecting and protecting human rights. In 2014, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee adopted the “Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Advancing the Rule of Law”, making a major strategic plan to comprehensively advance the rule of law as part of its effort to modernize the state governance system and enhance its administrative capacity. The resolution emphasizes the need to “provide stronger judicial protection of human rights” and to “strengthen awareness throughout the whole of society about the need to respect and safeguard human rights”. In 2017, the CPC 19th National Congress established Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as the guiding ideology of the CPC, and clearly stated that we should “strengthen legal protection for human rights to ensure that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms as prescribed by law”. Xi Jinping thought raises new and higher development requirements for China’s human rights in the new era, and provides fundamental principles for us to follow the path and advance the cause of human rights with Chinese characteristics.

It has become a core goal of national development to respect and protect human rights. In its national development strategies, the Chinese government upholds the values of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and is committed to improving the people’s wellbeing, safeguarding their rights, and promoting their well-rounded development.

To meet the requirements of building socialism with Chinese characteristics since the three-step development strategy for achieving modernization was laid out in the early days of reform and opening up, the CPC and the Chinese government have always pursued the goals of improving people’s living standards and ensuring that they enjoy various basic rights. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Central Committee led by General Secretary Xi Jinping has made it clear that, in governing the country, it will follow the goal of meeting the people’s aspiration to live a better life and subsequently set the Two Centenary Goals. In 2017, the 19th CPC National Congress proposed that on the basis of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, a two-step approach should be taken to build China into a strong and modern socialist country by the middle of the century. 

In accordance with the requirements and strategies for building a modern socialist country, the Chinese government has made a national plan every five years from 1953 to 2001 for the development of the economy, culture, society, and other sectors. In 2006, the detailed, micro plan with growth targets was transformed to a macro program for national economic and social development. China has formulated 13 such programs for national economic and social development, covering poverty elimination, education, healthcare, employment, social security, democracy and the rule of law, and the anti-corruption campaign and involving economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. These plans set out the guiding principles, goals, basic requirements and implementation measures for the development of human rights.

In response to the UN Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Chinese government has made and carried out the National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010), National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015), and National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020), setting phased goals and tasks for respecting and safeguarding human rights. It has fulfilled the targets set in the first two action plans, and is working on the third. The Chinese government has also formulated special action plans relating to the economy, culture, society, the environment and other fields, as well as special plans to protect the rights of specific groups such as ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In so doing, the government is determined to ensure equal opportunities for all people to live a rewarding life, realize their dreams, and enjoy full access to human rights.

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