U.S. government funding for human rights programs in China declined to $15 million in fiscal year 2008 from $23 million in FY 2007. In the face of the economic crisis and pressure to downplay human rights problems in China in favor of other bilateral interests, there may be a temptation to cut these funding levels even further. Such a temptation should be strongly resisted and, if anything, these levels should be increased.
Given the relative dearth of other vehicles through which to influence “facts on the ground” in China, these programs—especially those that involve partnerships with civil society groups and training of lawyers, investigative journalists, labor leaders and police—are among our most effective means of advancing change in China. To take just one example, the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative in China works closely with the All China Lawyers Association, judges’ associations, local Chinese bar associations, police, NGOs, law schools and legal aid providers on a wide variety of projects, from trial demonstrations to model criminal justice system reforms to trainings in protection of the rights of migrants to enforcement of sexual harassment laws and clean environment standards.
The 2008 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China contains excellent suggestions for initiatives deserving of funding, such as training in collective bargaining or support for non-government organizations that train legal officials in women’s issues.
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