Law and Life Magazine: Chinese Lawyers Step Up Efforts to Implement Constitutional Rights

February 18, 2005

In a December 2004 article published in China’s Law and Life Magazine, reporter Chen Jiren discusses the establishment of a Constitution and Human Rights Committee by the All China Lawyer’s Association and ties it to a series of rule of law developments in China since 2002. According to a Beijing lawyer cited in the article, "constitutional litigation and human rights issues are not only sensitive topics in Chinese political life, but also a field that lawyers did not dare to touch." Consequently, although the Beijing Lawyers Association established a constitution and human rights committee in 2002, "some worried that establishing a similar committee in ACLA might be a political mistake."

As Chen reports, however, a series of events over the past three years has encouraged ACLA to establish a similar committee and to push more aggressively for the protection of constitutional rights.

The years 2002, 2003, and 2004 have had great significance in China’s rule of law process. The SARS epidemic triggered a nationwide discussion on government transparency and citizens’ right to information; the Sun Zhigang case brought out attention to citizens’ rights to petition and government review of unconstitutional action; the case of a couple being prosecuted for watching pornography ignited a fight over where we should draw the line between private rights and public rights; and the Hepatitis–B virus carriers’ labor rights case made a huge national impact. Those different types of cases gave Chinese lawyers opportunities to get involved in constitutional and human rights issues, and they managed to get some significant work done. The time was ripe for the establishment of the Constitution and Human Rights Committee of ACLA.

According to sources cited in the article, ACLA lawyers are conducting academic research on constitutional implementation, planning training sessions for lawyers, and discussing strategies to "use individual cases to help promote China’s constitutional litigation." The new ACLA committee reportedly plans to focus on anti-discrimination and migrant worker protections in its initial year.

In March 2004, China’s National People’s Congress passed a slate of constitutional amendments that included new provisions on the protection of human rights. While welcoming the revisions, many observers noted that they would be largely symbolic without a working constitutional enforcement mechanism. To address this problem, Chinese scholars have been studying constitutional enforcement models, and Chinese lawyers have been working actively to establish case precedents for constitutional review by China’s courts. For more information on constitutional reform in China, see the constitutional reform page in the CECC Virtual Academy.