Rule of Law Programs in China

Access to Justice and Human Rights

Since 2004, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has supported programs to increase Chinese capacity to advocate for citizens’ rights. ABA ROLI is working with local partners to identify and begin to address legislative, structural, organizational, financial and other barriers to effective broad-based advocacy in a variety of substantive areas. This involves working to strengthen the Chinese bar, so that it can effectively advocate for citizens’ rights and for the rule of law. ABA ROLI is working with the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), local bar associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), law schools and legal aid providers to support the development of public interest litigation and to identify and overcome impediments to pro bono legal work.

In December 2006, ABA President Karen Mathis signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the ACLA. The MOU memorializes ABA’s and ACLA’s commitment to work together.

In November 2004, ABA ROLI and ACLA jointly held an international symposium on constitutional law and lawyering in Beijing. The conference gathered high-level American and Chinese lawyers, government officials, judges, legal profession leaders, legal educators, and domestic and international assistance providers to discuss the role of the legal profession in public interest advocacy and legal aid, and to identify and examine obstacles to the protection of citizens’ rights through public interest litigation. Former ABA President Robert Grey, former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti and U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers attended the conference. The conference also formally announced the formation of ACLA’s Constitution and Human Rights Committee. The committee’s formation attested to ACLA’s commitment—following on the 2004 constitutional amendment, which for the first time provided for the protection for human rights—to protecting constitutionally-guaranteed human rights.

Building on the momentum of the 2004 symposium, ABA ROLI and ACLA co-sponsored a high-level international forum on public interest litigation, human rights protection and harmonious society in 2005 in Suzhou. ACLA and ABA leaders and experienced American public interest litigators joined more than 100 Chinese lawyers committed to promoting public interest litigation to discuss the current state of, and the political environment’s impact on, public interest advocacy in China, and its future development. China’s most prominent NGO- and law school-based public interest lawyers participated in the discussions. Former ABA President Michael Greco; Asia Council Chair Laura Stein, Former Asia Division Director Lisa Dickieson and experienced public interest litigator Paul Levy from Public Citizen’s Group; and prominent Chinese public interest lawyers Wu Ge, Guo Jianmei, Wang Canfa, and Xu Zhiyong attended the forum. ABA ROLI has also worked with a diverse range of partners in specific rights areas.

Criminal defense

In 2003–2004, ABA ROLI, in partnership with ACLA, Renmin University of China and New York University (NYU) Law School, hosted two high profile forums. The forums were meant to draw policymakers’ attention to professional consensus on obstacles to criminal defense lawyers.

Since 2005, ABA ROLI, in collaboration with ABA’s Death Penalty Representation Project and with NYU, has supported a series of multi-stakeholder workshops and related research to support fundamental reforms initiated by the Supreme People’s Court. The reforms target the trial and appellate processes for capital cases within the criminal justice system. ABA ROLI is also assisting the criminal defense bar to develop guidelines and information resources to improve the quality of representation in death penalty cases. This first ACLA-sponsored online death penalty representation resource center (http://www.xingbian.cn/sxbh/) is a result of the collaboration.

In 2006, ABA ROLI, Northwest University of Political Science and Law and the ACLA Criminal Defense Committee launched China’s first online skills training courses for criminal defense lawyers. The online courses increase training and professional networking opportunities for defense lawyers in geographically remote regions of western China.

Women’s rights

In September 2005, ABA ROLI partnered with the Sichuan Lawyers’ Association and the China Network for Combating Domestic Violence to convene a workshop on public interest litigation and protection of women’s rights. Participants included Chinese lawyers, officials from China’s quasi-governmental women’s federations, Sichuan Bar Association leadership, provincial and local Justice Department leadership and legal aid centers representatives. Participants came largely from Chengdu and the southwest provinces of China. Sarah Buel, clinical professor at the University of Texas Law School and a leading U.S. women’s rights attorney, provided a comparative perspective, including insight into the U.S. development of the “battered woman syndrome” as a criminal defense.

The workshop focused on specific women’s rights legal issues in China, and introduced and explored the concept of public interest lawyering and its role in protecting women's rights. Thorough discussions on overcoming obstacles to public interest representation in China helped workshop participants improve their knowledge and skills, both as women’s rights lawyers and policy reform advocates.

In spring 2006, ABA ROLI initiated a follow-on program providing technical assistance in implementing China’s new workplace sexual harassment law. We recruited a U.S. employment discrimination law expert to participate in workshops organized by the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of the China Law Society. We also assisted in the development of a checklist of issues to be addressed by implementing legislation or regulations. This checklist was published in a major women’s journal and distributed to relevant government and China Women’s Federation officials, and advocates. In January 2007, ABA ROLI assisted with the creation of a model workplace sexual harassment protection policy and a model judicial interpretation of China's sexual harassment litigation rule.

ABA ROLI has, since 2007, been working with the Anti-Domestic Violence Network to pilot efforts to increase multi-agency coordination in the provision of services to domestic violence survivors in seven cities. The collaboration includes implementing the first insider perspective multi-city study in China. The study worked directly with domestic violence survivors to identify how services and supports for survivors can be improved. In 2008, ABA ROLI initiated a new training program for police and judges on the issuance and enforcement of domestic violence protection orders. This program complements a local initiative that allows select local courts, for the first time, to issue these orders.

Environmental public interest litigation

ABA ROLI has been supporting the Chinese environmental bar’s capacity-building efforts since 2002. ABA ROLI has, in cooperation with ACLA’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, convened numerous environmental litigation skills training workshops and roundtables. ABA ROLI also partnered with the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) and the National Judges College to provide intensive training on environmental public interest litigation. Lawyers and judges from around the country, including the leading Chinese environmental advocates, participated in the trainings.

In 2008, ABA ROLI, in partnership with the Environmental and Resources Law Institute of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law and the Natural Resources Defense Council, launched a program to establish a national environmental litigation training base in Hubei Province. ABA ROLI is also working with the Research Institute for Environmental Law of Wuhan University on a program providing technical assistance to the specialized environmental case divisions that are emerging within pioneering local courts in Guizhou, Yunnan and Jiangsu provinces.

Children’s rights

In January 2006, ABA ROLI partnered with the ACLA’s Juvenile Rights Protection Committee, with support from the Fujian Provincial Lawyers Association and the Fujian Bureau of Justice, to convene a workshop on lawyers’ participation in juvenile rights protection in Xiamen. The workshop addressed issues, including methods for promoting lawyers’ participation in juvenile rights protection; building support and consultation networks for increased pro bono representation; issues and considerations particular to juvenile justice cases; and techniques, such as collective litigation for advocating children’s rights. Howard Davidson, director of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, traveled to China to share insights and expertise and to provide a comparative perspective.

In December 2006, Former ABA President Karen Mathis and Asia Division Council Chair Laura Stein participated in a joint ABA ROLI-ACLA conference on at-risk youth. Three representatives from the ABA Center on Children and the Law also attended the conference. The conference aimed to popularize the changing approaches to children’s protection and juvenile justice, to help children’s lawyers improve their professional skills, to strengthen a growing nationwide network of volunteer legal professionals and to encourage bar associations at the national and provincial levels to provide increased financial support and personnel training for juvenile rights protection.

Since 2008, ABA ROLI and the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center, a local children’s rights NGO, have been working together on a lawyers practice guide on the protection of the rights of child victims of sexual abuse.

Migrant workers’ rights

In June 2006, ABA ROLI and the Beijing Migrant Workers’ Legal Aid Center convened a national workshop on migrant legal aid and the role of the bar. Following the workshop, local bar associations in six provinces—Henan, Shandong, Chongqing, Hunan, Fujian and Tianjin—started professional legal aid centers specializing in migrant legal aid and sponsored by local bar associations. Also in 2006, ABA ROLI supported a pilot project in Shenzhen to train former migrant workers to be lay-advocates providing legal information to injured migrant workers and to bridge between injured workers and pro bono legal assistance. ABA ROLI’s local NGO partner, Xiao Xiao Niao (Little Bird), created a handbook explaining relevant laws and the process for pursuing workplace injury claims in Shenzhen. ABA ROLI’s Asia Division has also been working with the China Association for NGO Cooperation (CANGO) to enhance public participation in urban governance, with a particular focus on policies affecting the integration of migrant workers into Chinese cities. Through this joint program, ABA ROLI and CANGO have introduced new participatory methodologies for community and multi-stakeholder dialogue. ABA ROLI has sponsored two national-level trainings, which have led to over six local follow-on community dialogues in Nanjing, Chongqing and Beijing.

Strengthening legal aid

ABA ROLI’s work in support of legal aid in China is supported the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, and the Division for Legal Services. It was initiated in June 2000, with a joint symposium on legal aid systems in the U.S. and China. Participants of the symposium, held in Beijing, included representatives of China’s National Legal Aid Center, directors of 15 provincial and municipal legal aid centers, law professors and students, government officials and NGO representatives. In fall 2002, ABA ROLI implemented a program under which a delegation of Chinese legal aid practitioners traveled to the U.S. for a training on operating a legal aid center. As a follow up to this training, ABA ROLI convened a workshop in Xi’an for a larger audience of Chinese legal aid practitioners in 2003.

ABA ROLI's program achieved significant success in western Shaanxi Province in providing legal aid using all four elements of the emerging mixed system—government, NGOs, law school clinics and private attorneys. It also succeeded in advising Shaanxi migrant workers about labor contracts and availability of free legal aid. In early 2004, ABA ROLI again partnered with China’s National Legal Aid Center to conduct a capacity-building workshop in Xi’an. The workshop focused on the critical role non-governmental legal aid providers play in assisting vulnerable groups and on the need to form linkages between governmental legal aid centers, NGOs and law school legal aid clinics.

As a follow up, ABA ROLI helped the Shaanxi Legal Aid Center (LAC), the biggest of the 11 government legal aid offices in Shaanxi cities, to publish and distribute a “Know Your Rights” brochure. A total of 53,000 copies of the text, with substantial input and revision from the four NGO legal aid providers in Xi'an, were printed and distributed in to community centers in rural areas throughout Shaanxi Province. In addition, the local Xi'an Evening News ran an interview with the director of the Shaanxi LAC and republished the list of all fifteen centers, with telephone numbers. Anecdotal evidence has indicated a substantial response: the four NGO legal aid centers report notable increases in the number of migrant workers seeking legal advice for infringement of their labor rights. One of the government centers received so many calls that it has converted that telephone number to a hotline. The Xi'an Evening News has also given its staff copies of the brochure so they may refer callers to the nearest legal aid center.

Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking

Our criminal reform programs focus on strengthening the role of criminal defense lawyers and on providing technical assistance for policy reforms that increase transparency and fairness while reducing violations of fundamental rights. In 2003–2004, ABA ROLI, in partnership with the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), Renmin University of China and New York University (NYU) Law School, hosted two high profile forums. The forums were meant to draw policymakers’ attention to professional consensus on obstacles to criminal defense lawyers.

On the policy front, our programs have focused on the completed and ongoing reforms of the death penalty, appellate procedures and criminal procedure. Since 2005, ABA ROLI, in collaboration with ABA’s Death Penalty Representation Project and with NYU, has supported a series of multi-stakeholder workshops and research to support fundamental reforms to capital cases initiated by the Supreme People’s Court. ABA ROLI is also assisting the criminal defense bar in developing guidelines and information resources to improve the quality of death penalty representation. The ACLA-sponsored online death penalty representation resource center (http://www.xingbian.cn/sxbh/), the first resource of its kind, was launched in January.

In 2006, ABA ROLI, Northwest University of Political Science and Law and the ACLA Criminal Defense Committee launched China’s first online skills training for criminal defense lawyers. The courses increase training and professional networking opportunities for defense lawyers in geographically remote regions of western China. In 2008, we began a multiyear, U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program that includes pilot projects to provide empirical data to inform ongoing criminal procedure reforms. One pilot project will develop a procedure for excluding illegally-obtained evidence and another for creating an independent sentencing procedure.


Legal Profession Reform

Since 2004, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has worked closely with the Chinese bar to strengthen lawyers’ capacity to advocate for citizens’ rights and for the rule of law. To support public interest advocacy and to promote pro bono legal work, we are working with the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), local bar associations, non-governmental organizations, law schools and legal aid providers.

In 2004, China amended its constitution to include, for the first time, a provision on the protection of human rights. Following the amendment, ABA ROLI and ACLA convened an international symposium on constitutional law and on the role of lawyers in protecting constitutionally-guaranteed human rights. The November 2004 symposium marked the formation of ACLA’s Constitution and Human Rights Committee.

In 2005, ABA ROLI and ACLA hosted a conference to address public interest litigation. Since that time, we have worked closely with ACLA’s substantive committees—including the Juvenile Rights Committee, the Environment and Resources Law Committee, the Criminal Defense Committee, and the Legal Aid and Public Interest Law Committee—to support the development of national networks of pro bono advocates who can provide much-needed legal assistance to Chinese citizens.

Women's Rights

Since our first cooperative program in China in 1998—a mock trial program comparing U.S., German and Chinese approaches to domestic violence litigation—the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has worked with a wide range of local partners on women’s rights programs.

In September 2005, ABA ROLI, in partnership with the Sichuan Lawyers' Association and the China Network for Combating Domestic Violence, convened a workshop on public interest litigation and on women’s rights protection. Participants, who were mostly from Chengdu and the southwest provinces of China, included Chinese lawyers, officials from China’s quasi-governmental women’s federations, Sichuan Bar Association leadership, and provincial and local Department of Justice leadership. Sarah Buel, clinical professor at the University of Texas Law School and a leading U.S. women’s rights attorney, provided a comparative perspective. She offered insight into the development of the “battered woman syndrome” as a criminal defense in the U.S. The workshop focused on specific women’s rights issues in China. It introduced and explored the concept of public interest lawyering and its implications on women’s rights protection. Thorough discussions on overcoming obstacles to public interest representation in China helped workshop participants improve their knowledge and skills, both as women’s rights lawyers and policy reform advocates.

In spring 2006, ABA ROLI initiated a follow-on program providing technical assistance in implementing China’s new workplace sexual harassment law. We recruited a U.S. employment discrimination law expert to participate in workshops organized by the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of the China Law Society. We also assisted in the development of a checklist of issues to be addressed by implementing legislation or regulations. This checklist was published in a major women’s journal and distributed to relevant government and China Women’s Federation officials, and advocates. In January 2007, ABA ROLI assisted with the creation of a model workplace sexual harassment protection policy and a model judicial interpretation of China's sexual harassment litigation rule. ABA ROLI has, since 2007, been working with the Anti-Domestic Violence Network to pilot efforts to increase multi-agency coordination in the provision of services to domestic violence survivors in seven cities. The collaboration includes implementing the first insider perspective multi-city study in China. The study worked directly with domestic violence survivors to identify how services and supports for survivors can be improved. In 2008, ABA ROLI initiated a new training program for police and judges on the issuance and enforcement of domestic violence protection orders. This program complements a local initiative that allows select local courts, for the first time, to issue these orders.

Other Programs

Environmental governance program

In early 2002, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) began to implement an environmental governance program in China. Partnering with China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (now Ministry of Environmental Protection), ABA ROLI convened a series of training workshops for city and provincial environmental protection bureaus (EPBs) and environmental stakeholders. The workshops highlighted access to information, governmental transparency, public participation, official accountability and the role of non-governmental organizations in civil society. ABA ROLI later supported a number of pilot projects developed by workshop participants. Successful follow-on programs include:

  • ABA ROLI assisted Shenyang city in drafting and implementing environmental public participation regulations. ABA ROLI: provided sample public participation and access to information laws and regulations; assisted the city’s EPB to transparently solicit and respond to public comments on public participation measures; and brought Chinese and international experts to Shenyang to review and comment on initial drafts and to assess the new provisions’ conformity with national laws. These drafts—cited by Chinese officials as the first of local government environmental public participation regulations—became municipal law in December 2005.
  • ABA ROLI assisted the Urumqi EPB in developing plans to hold public hearings, including conducting outreach to affected minority groups and providing training and education for the public and for EPB staff. As a first step, ABA ROLI created Model Guidelines for Preparing for and Implementing U.S. Environmental Public Hearings, with a U.S. public hearing case study. In August 2005, ABA ROLI and Urumqi EPB held trainings and mock hearings under guidelines adapted to China’s circumstances.
  • ABA ROLI supported the development of linked environmental websites and call-in legal radio programs to increase public awareness of environmental rights and to facilitate public feedback. ABA ROLI provided seed money to the Wuhan EPB for the program and assisted a local non-governmental organization (NGO) in obtaining a U.S. Embassy grant for a complementary program. ABA ROLI continues to support coordinated efforts between the government and NGOs.

In December 2004, ABA ROLI co-sponsored an international symposium in Shenyang that addressed public participation in environmental protection. It also served as a training of trainers program. The symposium was meant to highlight and promote good governance principles and to expose participants to concrete tools. In 2007–2008, ABA ROLI implemented an environmental governance exchange program that offered Chinese environmental officials, lawyers and NGO partners six-week internships at U.S. federal and state environmental protection agencies and NGOs. The U.S. agencies also provided follow-on assistance in China. The program acquainted the Chinese participants with U.S. public participation in environmental protection. Participant accounts of the China and U.S-based phases of the environmental exchange program are available at: http://www.chinaeol.net/zmhj/default_en.asp.

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