NPCSC To Examine a Draft Emergency Response Law in June

June 16, 2006

The National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) will examine a draft Emergency Response Law in June, according to an April 17 Xinhua report. Government departments prepared the draft law, which was initially titled a “State of Emergency” law, to address the problems that plagued the government response to the 2003 SARS crisis. In addition, a March 2004 amendment to Article 67 of the Chinese Constitution replaced language allowing the NPCSC to "impose martial law" with a provision allowing it to "declare a state of emergency."

The draft law focuses on four types of emergencies: natural disasters, industrial accidents, health emergencies, and public order crises, according to the Xinhua article. This structure parallels that of a April 2006 State Council circular that established a national emergency response office. Some 5.6 million "emergency incidents" occurred in China during 2004, with 210,000 deaths and 1.75 million injuries.

Chinese scholars and officials seem concerned about the scope of government power to be exercised under the proposed Emergency Response Law. Qinghua University professor Yu An, one of the drafters, noted that the law had been renamed to focus on "local emergencies" rather than "extreme situations" requiring the "extreme limitation and deprivation of citizen rights," according to the Xinhua article. Wang Yongqing, Deputy Director of the State Council's Legislative Affairs Commission, said in a February 28 People's Daily article:

[I]n implementing states of emergency, it is necessary to increase limitations on citizen's personal rights or impose additional duties on citizens for the sake of upholding the public interest and public order. But, these restrictions must be of the correct "degree" in order to protect citizens' rights. We should set basic limits on restrictions on citizens' rights in accordance with international practice. This includes not illegally depriving citizens of their life and not restricting their right to receive a fair trial, their equality before the law, or their freedom of religious belief. At the same time, we should also require that if government officials seize or appropriate property, they should provide compensation according to law, and designate channels of relief for illegal infringement of citizens' rights.