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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The Chinese Government has always been subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); its role is to implement party policies. The primary organs of state power are the National People's Congress (NPC), the President, and the State Council. Members of the State Council include Premier Zhu Rongji, a variable number of vice premiers (now four), five state councilors (protocol equal of vice premiers but with narrower portfolios), and 29 ministers and heads of State Council commissions.

Under the Chinese Constitution, the NPC is the highest organ of state power in China. It meets annually for about 2 weeks to review and approve major new policy directions, laws, the budget, and major personnel changes. These initiatives are presented to the NPC for consideration by the State Council after previous endorsement by the Communist Party's Central Committee. Although the NPC generally approves State Council policy and personnel recommendations, various NPC committees hold active debate in closed sessions, and changes may be made to accommodate alternate views.

When the NPC is not in session, its permanent organ, the Standing Committee, exercises state power.

The government's efforts to promote rule of law are significant and ongoing. After the Cultural Revolution, China's leaders aimed to develop a legal system to restrain abuses of official authority and revolutionary excesses. In 1982, the National People's Congress adopted a new state constitution that emphasized the rule of law under which even party leaders are theoretically held accountable.

Since 1979, when the drive to establish a functioning legal system began, more than 300 laws and regulations, most of them in the economic area, have been promulgated. The use of mediation committees--informed groups of citizens who resolve about 90% of China's civil disputes and some minor criminal cases at no cost to the parties--is one innovative device. There are more than 800,000 such committees in both rural and urban areas.

Legal reform became a government priority in the 1990s. Legislation designed to modernize and professionalize the nation's lawyers, judges, and prisons was enacted. The 1994 Administrative Procedure Law allows citizens to sue officials for abuse of authority or malfeasance. In addition, the criminal law and the criminal procedures laws were amended to introduce significant reforms. The criminal law amendments abolished the crime of "counter- revolutionary" activity, although many persons are still incarcerated for that crime. Criminal procedures reforms also encouraged establishment of a more transparent, adversarial trial process. The Chinese constitution and laws provide for fundamental human rights, including due process, but these are often ignored in practice.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

China has a four-level court system. The Supreme People's Court sits in Beijing; higher People's Courts sit in the provinces, autonomous regions and special municipalities. Intermediate People's Courts sit at the prefecture level and also in parts of provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities. There are also basic People's Courts in counties, towns, and municipal districts. Special courts handle matters affecting military, railroad transportation, water transportation, and forestry. The court system is paralleled by a hierarchy of prosecuting organs called People's Procuratorates; at the apex of this structure stands the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

During 2001, the Chinese Government took steps to correct systemic weaknesses in judicial procedures and to make the system more accountable to public scrutiny; however, new regulations and policies passed in the past few years have not brought the country's criminal procedures into compliance with international standards, and the law routinely is violated in the cases of political dissidents and religious leaders and adherents. Nonetheless, the percentage of persons acquitted in criminal trials continued to grow and the Government took measures to make legal representation more affordable for the poor. Since 1998 many trials have been broadcast, and court proceedings have become a regular television feature. In 2000 courts in Shanghai became the first to publish verdicts on the Internet. In 2001 the Government also remained open to U.N. organizations, Western governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations that assist in reforming its judiciary. Some lawyers, law professors, and jurists continued publicly to press for a transparent system of discovery, abolition of coerced confessions, a presumption of innocence, an independent judiciary, the right to remain silent, and improved administrative laws giving citizens recourse against unlawful acts by the Government.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

China has acknowledged in principle the importance of protection of human rights and has taken steps to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international norms. Among these steps are signature in October 1997 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ratified in March 2001) and signature in October 1998 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (not yet ratified). China also has expanded dialogue with foreign governments. Most average Chinese go about their daily lives with significantly less interference from the government than in years past. However, authorities are quick to suppress any person or group, whether religious, political or social, they perceive to be a threat to government power.

The Chinese Government's human rights record throughout 2001 remained poor and the Government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses. Authorities still were quick to suppress any person or group, whether religious, political, or social, that they perceived to be a threat to government power, or to national stability, and citizens who sought to express openly dissenting political and religious views continued to live in an environment filled with repression. Overall, government respect for religious freedom remained poor and crackdowns against unregistered groups, including underground Protestant and Catholic groups, Muslim Uighurs, and Tibetan Buddhists continued. Several leaders of the unregistered South China Church were arrested in July and subsequently sentenced to death; some of those sentences were suspended and some were appealed. Also in July, authorities arrested Hong Kong businessman Li Guangqiang and charged him with smuggling for bringing Bibles into the country. Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process. Conditions at most prisons remained harsh. In many cases, particularly in sensitive political cases, the judicial system denies criminal defendants basic legal safeguards and due process because authorities attach higher priority to maintaining public order and suppressing political opposition than to enforcing legal norms or protecting individual rights. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government continued to implement its sometimes coercive policy to restrict the number of children a family may have. The Government maintained tight restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press and continued its efforts to control and monitor the Internet; self-censorship by journalists continued. The Government severely restricted freedom of assembly and continued to restrict freedom of association. The Government continued to restrict freedom of religion and intensified controls on some unregistered churches. The Government continued to restrict freedom of movement. Citizens do not have the right peacefully to change their Government. The Government does not permit independent domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to monitor publicly human rights conditions. Violence against women (including imposition of a sometimes coercive birth control policy, including instances of forced abortion and forced sterilization); prostitution; discrimination against women; abuse of children; and discrimination against persons with disabilities and minorities are all problems. Particularly serious human rights abuses persisted in Tibet and in Xinjiang, where security tightened. The Government continued to restrict tightly worker rights, and forced labor in prison facilities remained a serious problem. Child labor exists and continues in rural areas as adult workers leave for better employment opportunities in urban areas. Trafficking in persons is a serious problem.

Arbitrary arrest and detention also remained serious problems. Because the Government tightly controls information, it is not possible accurately to determine the total number of persons subjected to new or continued arbitrary arrest or detention. According to international press reports, over 200,000 persons are serving sentences, not subject to judicial review, in reeducation-through-labor camps. Many thousands more remain incarcerated in prisons. The Government denied that it holds any political or religious prisoners, and asserted that authorities detained persons not for their political or religious views, but because they violated the law. However, the authorities continued to detain citizens for political and religious reasons. During the year, the Government used laws on subversion and endangering state security to threaten, arrest and imprison a wide range of political, religious, and labor activists and dissidents, including former Government officials, NGO organizers, activists for artistic freedom, and independent advocates for legal reform that directly and publicly opposed the Government and the CCP. After 2 years of intense repression marked by propaganda campaigns, beatings, and imprisonment, thousands of organizers and adherents of the banned Falun Gong (FLG) movement were in reeducation-through-labor camps or in prison, most without benefit of formal judicial process. Various sources reported that over 200 Falun Gong practitioners died in detention as a result of torture or mistreatment.

In 2000 officials stated that there were approximately 1,300 individuals in prisons serving sentences under the Law Against Counterrevolutionary Activity, a crime that no longer exists; many of these persons were imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their political views. According to Amnesty International (AI) 211 persons remain in prison for their activities during the June 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Since December 1998, at least 30 leaders of the China Democracy Party (CDP) have been given long prison sentences on subversion charges.

In April the Government began a national "strike-hard" campaign against crime. However, the campaign also has targeted some dissidents, separatists, and underground church members. The campaign has been vigorously carried out in Xinjiang, where those deemed to be "splittists" by the Government are targeted. The "strike-hard" campaign has been characterized by roundups of suspects and mass sentencing rallies. By the third quarter of the year, domestic press stories indicated that over 2,000 persons had been executed as part of the campaign. The Government regarded the number of death sentences it carried out as a state secret.

Unapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups and members of nontraditional religious groups, continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression. The Government continued to enforce regulations requiring all places of religious activity to register with the Government or come under the supervision of official, "patriotic" religious organizations. In some areas, authorities guided by national policy made strong efforts to control the activities of unapproved Catholic and Protestant churches; religious services were broken up and church leaders or adherents were harassed, and, at times, fined, detained, beaten, and tortured. At year's end, some religious adherents remained in prison because of their religious activities. In some regions with high concentrations of Catholics, relations between the Government and the underground church loyal to the Vatican remained tense. Relations varied greatly, with parishioners worshipping together in some districts and deep rifts in the Catholic community in other areas. In other regions, registered and unregistered churches were treated similarly by the authorities and reported little or no day-to-day interference in their activities. The human rights situation in Tibet remained poor, as the Government continued its campaign to reeducate monks and nuns with sympathies to the Dalai Lama. However, the enforcement of tight restrictions imposed on Tibetan Buddhists in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2000 eased during the year. Local authorities forcibly relocated thousands of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and monks from the Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute in western Sichuan Province.

The Government strictly regulates the establishment and management of publications, controls the broadcast media, censors foreign television broadcasts, and at times jams radio signals from abroad. During the year, several publications were shut down or disciplined for publishing material deemed objectionable by the Government, and journalists, authors, and researchers were harassed, detained, and arrested by the authorities; several were fired. Nonetheless, journalists exposed a number of coverups and instances of official corruption during the year. The Government loosened up controls over cable TV, allowing subscribers in a number of cities to have uncensored access to foreign news programming. Despite the continued expansion of the Internet in the country, the Government maintained its efforts to monitor and control content on the Internet. Several new regulations regarding the Internet were issued, and many Web sites, including politically sensitive Web sites and foreign news Web sites, were shut down or blocked by the authorities.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Mainland Chinese legal practitioners, defined in the August 1980 Interim Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Lawyers as 'state legal workers', function in legal advisory offices under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice. The importance of and demand for legal services is increasing rapidly and there is now a move towards lawyers engaging in private practice from their own offices. These non-state law firms operate as collectives. Although economically and administratively independent, they are subject to the approval and management of the local justice agency.

Source: Kime's Directory

Law Schools

Law courses last three years. Although emphasis is placed upon the political content of jurisprudence, the curriculum in major institutions has expanded considerably in recent years. A semi-annual nationwide bar examination is open to individuals who have completed university or correspondence courses plus a further two years of judicial work. Candidates may then apply for a lawyer's qualification certificate.

Source: Kime's Directory

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