China's parliamentary body, the National People's Congress (NPC), will enshrine a reference to human rights in the country's constitution, as the next generation of leaders makes a bid to win support as the champions of ordinary people, RFA reports.

Legislators meeting from Mar. 5 in Beijing are set to amend the constitution with the phrase: "The state respects and guarantees human rights." While the move may reflect a genuine concern by the leadership of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao that the Communist Party is failing the people, concrete effects are unlikely to be felt soon, however.

"There's a reason why they're bringing this up again now," former opposition activist and politics student at Columbia University Wang Juntao told RFA's Mandarin service. "There are still two power centers in Chinese politics struggling against each other. Now the new leadership needs to move people over to support it. For that purpose it needs to take up issues or slogans which have been neglected in recent years."

Fellow activist Lin Mu saw a strong symbolic importance in the move. "This is very meaningful," said Lin, a former secretary to disgraced Party chief Hu Yaobang, whose death sparked massive student protests in 1989. "Before it came to power, the Chinese Communist Party used to care about human rights... But it didn't care much for them after it came to power," Lin said.

Wang�who was himself released on medical parole in 1994�said the new leadership was moving ahead with China's existing commitments under the terms of two UN covenants on human rights that it signed in the late 1990s. The government is now obliged to harmonize its existing legislation to enshrine the principles in the covenants.

"On the surface there will be a certain effect," Wang told RFA. "But while the political system is still undemocratic, with no rule of law, then it is unlikely to have any deep-rooted effect on political persecution."

Lin said implementation of the covenants would take a very long time, however. "It won't happen just for saying it... In the past, the leadership has adopted a controlling attitude towards peasants, workers, intellectuals, and others who engage in human rights-related activities. But now this desire of the people will not be obstructed any longer," he said.

Lin called on the NPC to pass a media law enshrining freedom of speech, press and publication, including the Internet. China has sentenced dozens of people to prison terms in recent years for posting views critical of the government online.

In a nod to the United States, who had campaigned for his release, China also released dissident Wang Youcai ahead of the NPC, allowing him to travel to the United States on medical parole. Wang was sentenced in 1998 to 11 years for activities related to his founding of the China Democracy Party, which happened just days after China signed the United Nations covenant on civil and political rights.

Wang, who helped organize the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, was released from the Zhejiang No. 1 prison Thursday and boarded a plane for San Francisco. He had previously also served a year in prison on charges related to the Tiananmen protests, in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, died.#####


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