Human rights in China

Published: May 28, 2013

On May 14, the Information Office of the State Council—China’s cabinet—published Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012. The cabinet’s white paper assesses human rights achievements through the lens of development: “Development is the key to solving all existing problems and facilitating progress of human rights in China.” The report reviews economic and social achievements as progress in human rights. It also lists improvements in living standards, stresses the achievements of lifting millions of Chinese out of poverty, raising annual incomes, improving education, housing, health insurance coverage, and access to health, and decreasing mortality of children younger than 5 years ahead of the Millennium Development Goals deadline. Acknowledging the scale of the threat to people’s right to live in a clean and sustainable environment, the report devotes an entire section to ecological quality. Although the abolition of the death penalty is not discussed, there is a substantial reduction in the number of situations in which a defendant could face such a penalty.

Physical and mental health are mentioned in the white paper, providing an opportunity for health professionals in China to improve human rights in many important ways. First, by making health and high-quality care a human right. Second, by seeking protection of their own rights, which too often have been violated by dissatisfied patients and their families. Third, by defending the rights of their patients, including sex workers, who allegedly face coercive testing for HIV according to another report, Swept Away: Abuses against Sex Workers in China, published by Human Rights Watch on May 14.

Progress on human rights depends on openness, which makes China’s white paper welcome and marks an important stage in the evolution of rights for its people. China has made colossal progress to improve economic and health standards. Further advances, like those announced by the cabinet for human rights, are encouraged—particularly for groups for whom progress in development alone might not be important enough.

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