Dynamist Blog

Chinese Legal Test

The WaPost's Philip Pan reports on an extraordinary development in China: a class-action suit by rural villagers forced into abortions and sterilizations. The key argument in the case, which was organized by Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught legal activist, is that these coercive measures violate a 2002 law guaranteeing Chinese citizens "informed choice" in reproductive matters. The country's population-control policies are now supposed to rely on financial incentives, not physical threats and coercion.

The lawsuit is not just a human-rights crusade. It's a crucial test of China's commitment to the rule of law--a commitment that matters greatly to the country's economic development as well as its civil society. Pan's reporting suggests that central-government officials are at least saying the right things. Toward the end of the piece, which is well worth reading in its entirety, he interviews a central-government population-control honcho:

Yu Xuejin, a senior official with the national family planning commission in Beijing, said his office had received complaints about abuses in Linyi and asked provincial authorities to investigate. He said the practices described by the farmers, including forced sterilization and abortion, were "definitely illegal."

Yu emphasized that the central government had led the nation toward more humane family planning practices over the past decade. "If the Linyi complaints are true, or even partly true, it's because local officials do not understand the new demands of the Chinese leadership regarding family planning work," he said.

Yu also applauded the farmers for asserting their rights. If officials in Linyi violated the law, he said, "I support the ordinary people. If they need help, we'll help them find lawyers."

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