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 has worked with  bar associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), law schools and legal aid providers to support the development of public interest litigation and effective legal advocacy and to identify and overcome impediments to pro bono legal work.

Strengthening criminal defense

ABA ROLI is working with partners to implement several criminal reform projects aimed at improving the quality of the justice system in China and increasing access to justice for citizens by improving the capacity of defense attorneys to protect the rights of defendants, increasing access to legal assistance for citizens, and improving citizen awareness of legal rights. See “Criminal Justice Reform” tab for more information about our work in this area.

Women’s rights

Since 1998, ABA ROLI has worked closely with courts, universities, and civil society organizations to promote women’s rights and increase access to justice for victims of domestic violence. Through support for a protection order pilot project to protect DV victims, support for law school-based DV legal aid clinics that provide free services for victims of DV, and support for DV awareness campaigns, ABA ROLI and partners have worked to ensure greater access to justice for victims of abuse. See  “Women’s Rights” tab for more information about our work in this area.

Enabling civil society advocacy & strengthening legal aid

For many years, ABA ROLI has worked to strengthen the capacity of environmental CSOs to incorporate legal tools into their advocacy efforts, including pursuit of new openings in legislation. We provide specialized legal training and resource support to grassroots organizations working to improve their local justice system’s response to environmental pollution victims. ABA ROLI and its partners conduct training workshops on technical legal issues and on the collection and assessment of evidence, and support field investigations in rural villages that are plagued by excessive pollution.

To encourage the next generation of public interest lawyers, we collaborate with CSOs and law schools to develop practical skills training for law students and provide additional support to frontline public interest organizations. ABA ROLI supports law school clinical programs to raise rights awareness, provide legal aid to rural communities, and create new legal aid models to better meet the needs of rural communities. Our environmental clinical program trains law students to support the work of environmental CSOs to protect pollution victims. 

ABA ROLI has also focused on building the capacity of disabled persons organizations (DPOs) to incorporate legal advocacy tools into their work. ABA ROLI works with DPOs to develop legal advocacy skills and strategies, provides training to improve the delivery of legal services to persons with disabilities, and works to foster a global network of legal resources. Our CSO partners have subsequently developed a legal advocacy manual for DPOs and have implemented additional trainings for DPOs and advocates, substantial contributions to an effective network of CSOs committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

ABA ROLI also works with China’s LGBT CSOs to build their capacity to raise awareness of issues affecting the LGBT community and to effectively advocate for the rights of their members. ABA ROLI is working with local partners to develop a series of lawyer trainings, national stakeholder conferences, and advocacy handbooks all geared towards promoting LGBT rights consciousness among public interest lawyers and key legislative stakeholders. Our work with these partners aims to foster a strong nationwide community of LGBT advocates dedicated to protecting and promoting LGBT rights. Finally, ABA ROLI works to improve the core institutional capacities of its CSO partners in order to ensure the long-term, sustainable impact of our programs. By providing training on programmatic management and strategic planning, ABA ROLI strengthens and sustains its partners’ ability to engage in meaningful public interest work, provide legal services, and educate the public.  

Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking

Significant obstacles continue to impede the development of a robust, accessible and fair criminal justice system in China. Over the last several decades, however, Chinese reformers have made progress toward a more just and transparent system, implementing important legislative and policy reforms that include significant revisions to the country’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in 2013, as well as judicial reforms and policies governing key issues such as the death penalty. Since 2003, ABA ROLI has supported criminal justice reform initiatives that strengthen the rights of defendants and the effectiveness of their legal counsel, and improve the fairness, consistent application, and enforceability of criminal justice procedures as well as enhance the local skills and knowledge needed for implementation.

ABA ROLI has been a leader in providing targeted training, technical comparative expertise, support for practical research, and facilitating international professional exchanges in support of these initiatives and reforms. Through past programs supporting China’s first death penalty representation guidelines for defense lawyers; the first promulgated procedure for excluding evidence obtained through illegal investigation tactics; a court pilot bifurcating the conviction and sentencing phases of criminal trials; and pioneering research on addressing mental illness in criminal proceedings, ABA ROLI and its partners have provided important support for nationwide reforms to China’s criminal justice system.

Current Projects:

Today, ABA ROLI is working with partners to implement several projects aimed at improving the quality of criminal justice in China and increasing access to justice for citizens by improving the capacity of local stakeholders, increasing access to legal assistance for citizens, and improving citizen awareness of legal rights.

China’s revised CPL provides defense lawyers with new rights and access, legal aid has been expanded to include more vulnerable groups, and a new juvenile charter better protects the rights of minors. To support implementation of these new provisions, ABA ROLI and partners are working to develop the capacity of justice sector actors and lawyers by establishing CPL implementation pilot sites and providing technical assistance on implementation, developing practical guidelines for CPL interpretation and application, and conducting relevant guiding discussions for stakeholders.

To support CPL provisions expanding the role of legal aid in criminal defense, ABA ROLI and partners are working to improve and expand the institutional model of criminal legal aid services provision in China by supporting civil society (non-government run) legal aid providers. The centerpiece of this initiative is the creation and support of three model legal aid centers (LACs)— each equipped with the tools and talent to provide professionalized criminal defense assistance based on the CPL revisions and international best practices. This program aims to increase the quantity and quality of indigent criminal defense legal assistance and for the LACs to serve as a model for promoting the protection of defendant rights through direct legal representation and improving indigent defendants’ access to justice.

The ability of citizens to access justice under the reformed CPL depends on their awareness of their new rights. Accordingly, ABA ROLI and partners are implementing innovative and targeted public outreach initiatives to raise awareness of new laws. Through social media platforms, in-person events, and content published through traditional media outlets, ABA ROLI and partners are helping citizens know their rights.


Legal Profession Reform

Since 2004, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has worked closely with the Chinese bar, universities, and civil society partners 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 have worked with bar associations, non-governmental organizations, law schools and legal aid providers. This work is cross-cutting with each of the other thematic areas in which we work. You can learn more by reading our detailed descriptions of other thematic areas.

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.

ABA ROLI’s early work on women’s rights focused on public interest litigation and technical assistance to improve implementation of China’s workplace sexual harassment law. Much of ABA ROLI’s recent work in this area has focused on combatting domestic violence and protecting the rights of victims through training for judges and lawyers, support for pilot programs, and support for new legislation.

Domestic violence remains a widespread problem affecting as many as one-third of Chinese families. In recent years, China has made significant progress in enhancing the institutional and legal infrastructure necessary to protect victims of DV, and empowered justice sector interventions to reduce instances of DV and protect victims. Since 2007, ABA ROLI has been a leader in providing technical assistance and international comparative perspectives in support of these anti-DV initiatives.

Since 2007, ABA has worked closely with China’s Supreme People’s Court Institute for Applied Jurisprudence (SPC IAJ) to support a protection order pilot project to protect DV victims; originally launched in 9 civil courts it has expanded to over 200 courts in China. Through trainings for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, the development of a widely disseminated and relied-upon civil judicial bench book on handling DV cases, and targeted research assistance, the ABA has played an important role in the pilot project, which has impacted the lives of victims now legally protected from their abusers and who will benefit from increased awareness of courts and lawyers of DV.

In November 2014, China released the country’s first national-level anti-domestic violence draft law (Draft Anti-DV Law) for public comment; the law is expected to be adopted in 2015. The promise of national-level legislation is one that has roots in years of cooperative international programming. In 2011, ABA ROLI partnered with the UN to support a study tour on U.S. domestic violence legislation and policies for Chinese officials, judges, and advocates, some of whom were involved in drafting the draft law. The delegation met with high-level U.S. counterparts and observed courtroom proceedings and meetings aimed at illustrating best practices for effective coordination among government and non-government actors in implementing DV legislation and enacting sound policies to combat DV. Moreover, in 2014, ABA ROLI worked with the UN to host an international roundtable on comparative perspectives and international rights frameworks on DV legislation for high-level stakeholders and policymakers involved in crafting the Draft Anti-DV Law. As part of this project, world-renowned DV expert and former Director of the ABA Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence, Ms. Robin Runge, drafted a technical paper with recommendations for the Anti-DV law that was submitted directly to relevant government bodies involved in drafting and ultimately adopting the law.

Following release of the Draft Anti-DV Law, ABA ROLI and local partners provided input during the public comment period, promoting a more comprehensive and inclusive law that recognizes a broader definition of DV.

To support these key legislative and policy developments in the fight against DV, ABA ROLI also supported partners in establishing China’s first DV-focused legal clinics and is supporting various public education campaigns.  ABA ROLI and partners operate three innovative legal clinic programs across the country, and clinic instructors provide comprehensive training on DV issues using ABA resources. In addition to providing legal consultations and representing victims at court, students also perform outreach activities to inform local citizens of clinic services and participate in legislative recommendations. Through these initiatives, ABA ROLI and partners are supporting a new generation of lawyers to support DV victims while providing key services to the community.

ABA ROLI is also supporting key women’s rights organization to conduct education and rights awareness campaigns to share important information on the rights and remedies of DV victims; not only will this encourage increased engagement with local government services and legal assistance providers, but increased rights awareness in light of new legislative developments is central to successful application of China’s new anti-DV legislation.

Other Programs


Environmental governance program

China’s environmental crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing the country today. Environmental degradation has had substantial social and economic costs and has spawned widespread citizen outcry for remediation and accountability. For over a decade, ABA ROLI has worked to support more effective environmental governance and to support the capacity of environmental CSOs to engage in effective legal advocacy to increase environmental protections and access to justice for communities and individuals harmed by environmental degradation. 

In recent years, ABA ROLI has worked with partners to build the capacity of environmental CSOs to effectively intervene in pollution cases, including through the creation of specialized legal resources and through technical legal advocacy trainings.

LGBT Rights Program

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community in China has struggled to be recognized as a group deserving of equal rights and protection. Over the past few years, civil society organizations have formed to support the LGBT community in this effort, but these groups have primarily been service or education oriented and most of them lack the capacity to engage in effective legal advocacy. ABA ROLI is working to change this. Through a series of trainings, advocacy, legal resource development, and stakeholder dialogue activities, ABA ROLI is working with partners to protect and improve LGBT rights in China by creating and formalizing channels for effective legal and policy advocacy.

Disability Rights Program

Official statistics report that persons with disabilities constitute more than six percent of the Chinese population—more than 83 million people. Disability-rights advocates say that the number may be much higher than the official estimates. In October 2013, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partnered with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Renmin University Disability Law Center to promote the rights of the disabled in northwestern China.

Despite China’s ratification of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), there still remain gaps in China’s national legal framework and its enforcement of existing laws and policies. ABA ROLI and its partners have implemented a multi-faceted program that includes trainings to help close those gaps. Activities have connected grassroots NGOs with legal experts, equipped them with practical tools to effectively engage in advocacy initiatives and helped to nurture a new generation of public interest lawyers by developing a clinical legal program that assists persons with disabilities.

Between June and August 2013, ABA ROLI organized two series of workshops for disability service providers to build their capacity not only to provide day-to-day services, but also to advocate on behalf of the disabled. These trainings have helped daycare organizations, special education providers, community organizations and supportive employment training centers to revise their organizational work plans to include advocacy initiatives in support of the CRPD.

Additionally, in May 2012, ABA ROLI collaborated with the Renmin University Disability Law Clinic and the Harvard Law School Project on Disability to empower disability-rights NGOs by educating their members on how to negotiate with decision makers, such as legislators and public officials, and win their support for protecting disability rights. Experienced trainers helped participants develop strategies and techniques to successfully advocate for reform.

In an effort to build upon and sustain these initiatives, ABA ROLI also helped to nurture a new generation of lawyers dedicated to promoting the public interest and to educate them about disability rights. The trainings fostered collaboration between legal service providers and law students and strengthened the alliance between NGOs and legal service providers.

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