A Dane in distress

By Stig Toft Madsen
Research Associate, NIAS-Nordic Institute of Asian Studies

The Purulia Arms drop in 1995 was a rare example of a private team of white criminals delivering weapons to an oppositional group in India. The main organizer of the arms drop was a Dane inter alia named Niels Holck. This blog discusses various issues of the extradition case heard in the Lower Court and the Eastern High Court in 2010-11. The courts agreed that Holck could not be extradited mainly due to India’s poor human rights record. In return, India “froze” relations to Denmark


Niels Holck being interviewed after winning in the court in Hillerød, November 1, 2010 (Photo: Stig Toft Madsen)


Niels Holck is a Dane presently living in one of the better cities north of Copenhagen. In 1981, when accused of bank robbery, he escaped from the police earning him the nickname “Barfodsrøveren”, the Barefoot Robber (Hansen 2008). Later Holck went abroad where his activities apparently ranged from development work among the poor in Guatemala to gold smuggling in Africa. In that process he acquired several passports one of which identified by as Kim Peter Davy, the name by which he is known in India. Holck’s entry to India was via the Ananda Marga, a religious group which has been at loggerheads with the Indian state. In December 1995, Niels Holck dropped four tonnes of weapons over Purulia in West Bengal for the Ananda Margis from a small airplane. According to a recent interview with Peter Bleach, who was on board the plane, the consignment included “77 cases of Kalashnikov rifles, Makarov pistols, sniper rifles, anti-tank grenades, RPG rocket-launchers, anti-personnel mines, night-vision binoculars and 25,000 rounds of rifle ammunition” (Scarborough Evening News 2011). However, the arms drop was not well executed by the crew which also counted five Latvians who later became Russian citizens. After a confusing return trip from Thailand, all were arrested in Bombay airport save Niels Holck who once more managed to slip off and make his way back to Denmark.[i] When India initially requested the extradition of Holck, Denmark was unable to extradite him because the crime he stood accused of was not a crime in Denmark (sic). After the attack on USA on September 11, 2001, Denmark passed a new and tough law in 2002 enabling the extradition of Danish citizens accused of serious crimes not just to the Scandinavian countries but to the EU and to other countries as well (Lov 378). India renewed its request to get Holck in December 2002. Denmark finally agreed to India’s request on April 9, 2010, but the extradition order was challenged by Niels Holck in court. With the help of a well-articulated lawyer, Tyge Trier, and his team, Holck won the case in the lower court. The state prosecutor appealed the case to the Eastern High Court, which confirmed the decision of the lower court when an unusually large bench of five judges unanimously held his extradition illegal because India has a bad human rights record as regards treatment of prisoners. Tellingly, India has not ratified the UN Convention against Torture and not signed the Optional Protocol to the convention. The diplomatic agreement reached by India and Denmark had sought to bracket such general issues by focusing on the individual case at hand, but it was found by the court to be devoid of sufficient muscle to secure Holck’s safety if handed over to the Indian custody.[ii]


According to Holck, important Indians, including a Bihari MP and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were all parties to the arms drop and actually helped him to get back to Denmark when they realized that things had not gone as planned. According to Holck, key Indians had teamed up with him because, like him, they were frustrated with the violent communist regime in West Bengal. When the arms drop misfired they wanted to cover their trails. Were Holck to turn up in India again, the same actors or institutions would kill him to hide the truth, Holck alleges. Not only has Holck maintained that the arms drop took place with the knowledge and concurrence of the CBI and unnamed Indian MPs, but also with the knowledge and concurrence of Danish and the British Intelligence. In his version of the story, Bleach maintains that the British intelligence services were aware of what he did as an arms dealer after he contacted the Defense Export Services Organization to seek clarifications regarding the proposed arms sale. The MI5/MI6 sensed that a crime was in the making and they contacted the Indian authorities.[iii] British intelligence, Bleach holds, let him proceed with the plan to enable the Indian authorities to catch the kingpin, i.e. Holck, red-handed. Bleach acceded to the advice of the British authorities, thereby deceiving Holck. This was the storyline presented by Bleach when he made an appearance in the Danish High Court in 2011 and it may contain more grains of truth than Holck’s version. In a debate on this issue, the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in a response to an MP:

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether Mr. Bleach advised officials of issues relating to the arms drop. I can confirm that he provided details to North Yorkshire police about the arms drop during interviews on three separate occasions—on 14 September, 22 September and 8 December 1995. On 22 September and 8 December the police strongly advised Mr. Bleach to withdraw from the deal and not to go to India. The information given by Mr. Bleach was passed on to the Indian authorities on three separate occasions—10 November, 17 November and 15 December 1995.” (www.parliament.uk, 2002)

The British, it appears from this, were aware of the plan, but they did not concur. To me it is inconceivable that British Intelligence would accede to clandestinely arm a small and geopolitically insignificant sect against the democratically elected government in West Bengal in India.[iv]

The main armed opponent of the government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was never Ananda Marga. Its main opponent was the Maoist revolutionaries, or Naxalites, who intensified the class war in the late 1960s. During this period when the Congres was still in power, and later after the Left Front CPI(M)-led government came to power in 1977, the police spared few means to subjugate the revolutionaries. One of the people tortured was Archana Guha whom the police picked up in 1974 while in search of her brother. She was tortured under the supervision of Runu Guha Neogi against whom Archana Guha filed a case in 1977 after she was released. With the help of Amnesty International and others, she came to Denmark where she received treatment. The trial took nineteen years. In 1996, Runu Guha Neogi was sentence to one year’s simple imprisonment with a possibility to appeal (Roy 1996). During this period, the Left Front government did not suspend Neogi who retired as Deputy Commissioner of Police (Roy 1996).

Apart for its role in suppressing the Maoist revolutionaries, there is another side to the CPI(M). As one of its critics, Ramachandra Guha, has conceded:

It may be that of all the major parties in India, it is only the leaders of the CPI(M) who do not have Swiss bank accounts. (Some do not even have Indian bank accounts.) Their views may be out-of-date, even bizarre, but in their conduct and demeanour most major leaders of the CPI(M) are—the word is inescapable—gentlemen. As a bourgeois friend of mine puts it, they are the kind of people in whose homes she can safely permit her teenaged daughter to spend the night (Guha 2011).

Had British intelligence attempted to remove the CPI(M)-led government from office it could have created uproar far greater than the benefits such a removal might have entailed.

Arms supplies and resistance

It is not easy, in fact, to find any example of European governments aiding and abetting armed uprisings in independent India. Perhaps, the person to close in on is George Fernandes, the labor leader and socialist MP who rose to become the Defense Minister of India. Fernandes was accused (but never convicted) in the “Baroda Dynamite Case” of plotting to set off small bombs during the Emergency. Before and after he was apprehended in Calcutta in June 1976, he and his family did receive moral support and physical shelter from several Western governments or their representatives, but even during Emergency I doubt that UK or other Western European countries provided weapons for Fernandes or for anyone else in miniscule armed resistance to the Emergency regime.

Could Holck have a point about Indians in key positions condoning illegal trade in arms for non-state actors? Here it may again be worth noting that Fernandes has been sympathetic to several armed groups, including the LTTE. As Defense Minister… “In July 1998, he reportedly stopped the Indian Navy from intercepting ships suspected of carrying illegal arms to Tamil guerrilla groups…” The Sri Lankan government reportedly stated that, “the LTTE’s biggest supporter in India is Defence Minister George Fernandes” (Wikipedia). Fernandes has also morally supported Burmese rebel groups and students fighting the military government both before he became Defense Minister and while in office. Arms dealers supplying weapons (similar to those dropped over Purulia) to Naga and Assamese rebel groups in North-East India and in Burma are alleged to have been given free passage in the Andaman Sea on the order of the Defense Secretary while Fernandes was the minister. These allegations were fielded by amongst other the former Navy Chief Vishnu Bhagwat. I am mentioning this not only to lend some credence to Holck’s version of events, but also because after the extradition case against Holck in the Danish High Court was decided in 2011, the Government of India (GOI) asserted that the Danish decision not to appeal to the Supreme Court would increase the risk of international crime and terror. A former Defense Minister of India could be accused of having done much the same. In all cases, the counter-argument would be that external support to just armed resistance is legitimate – even if directed against democratic states.[v]

The “Purulia Arms Drop” made front-page news in India, but it is not as if the Ananda Marga is the only group in India or South Asia which has imported weapons for its struggles. The Maoist groups in the “Red Corridor” in central India have apparently been supplied weapons through a supply chain stretching from Tamil Nadu to Nepal, The Khalistani Sikhs imported relatively advanced weapons for their secessionist struggle launched around 1980, and umpteen Islamic jihadist groups have received weapons from Pakistan off and on from October 1947 onwards.[vi]

At home India has a considerable sector of illegal small-arms manufacturing. A United Nations study has reported that Indian civilians have around 40 million firearms of which only around 15 percent are licensed (Asian Age 2011). By tapping into these arms distribution networks Holck would probably have gotten a bigger bang for his buck than by contacting a Rhodesian Brit and five Latvians with scant local knowledge. But, then, he evidently wanted to supply the Ananda Marga with advanced weapons of a higher caliber than were necessary for an ordinary watch guard.

The Purulia Arms Drop remains unique insofar as it involved an airdrop of arms by White Westerners to a religious group. The reaction in policy circles in India to the case may be compared to the Pakistani reaction to the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad. In both cases the elite felt hurt when Western incursions into national airspace starkly exposed their state’s inability to enforce its sovereignty. In the Pakistani case, the reaction was widespread. In the Indian case, the reaction has been largely limited to the elite. The “Bengali Street” has been largely silent perhaps because the enmity between the Ananda Margis and others in West Bengal has declined considerable over the years. Moreover, the Ananda Margis themselves have kept a low profile as regards Niels Holck.

Self-defense and legal activism: Holck and Salwa Judum

What was the motive for the arms drop? As far as I can see, Holck purchased and dropped the weapons because he sympathized with the Ananda Margis whom he felt were persecuted by the West Bengal government and perhaps also by Maoist armed groups operating in the Purulia area. Others may have known about the plans, but Holck remained the driving force. It was his project. Who among the Ananda Margis wanted the weapons is unclear, but Holck wanted the Ananda Margis to have the weapons for “self-defense.” At the very end of the High Court case, Holck said that he wanted the truth to come out and that he would win a fair court trial case because the right to self-defense is a valid legal argument. The issue, therefore, arises when a situation exists that allows an actor to disregard the state’s monopoly of the legitimate use of force.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) recognizes the right to self-defense in section 81, which states that … “Nothing is an offence merely by reason of its being done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause harm, if it be done without any criminal intention to cause harm, and in good faith for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to person or property.” I am not sure whether an Indian court would find this section of the IPC applicable if Holck were to stand trial in India, but it is worth noting that the Indian state recently has walked the same thin line as Holck. In the struggle against the armed uprising of the Naxalites/Maoists in the state of Chhattisgarh in Central India, the GOI in 2005 raised an armed force of about 6,500 barely literate village youth aged seventeenth upwards ordering them to operate as Special Police Officers within the law at a honorarium of Rs. 3000 per month, i.e. much less than the 10 dollars a day that Taliban foot soldiers are said to receive. This force, named Salwa Judum, proceeded to engage in “mass violations of fundamental constitutional rights” (Venkatesan 2011:44) often in connection with the forced removal of people from “naxalite-infested villages” to safe village under Salwa Judum control. In 2007 anthropologist Nandini Sundar, who is professor of sociology at Delhi University, together with the historian-anthropologist Ramachandra Guha, and EAS Sarma, former Secretary to GOI and former Commissioner for Tribal Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court. The court accepted the petition as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case. Eleven judges heard the case for 26 days over several years before delivering the verdict in 2011. The case was repeatedly stalled by the Government of Chhattisgarh, confirming that it is not only private litigants who are adept at prolonging litigation in India, but that official India is equally adept in the art of adjournments.

The verdict of the Supreme Court in Nandini Sundar and others vs State of Chhattishgarh went in favor of the petitioners finding the formation of Salwa Judum an abrogation of the state’s obligation to protect its citizens by a professionally trained police force only. The court “directed the State government to prevent the operation of Salwa Judum or any other such group that seeks to take the law into its own hands or violates human rights of any person” (Venkatesan 2011:44). In other words, the court affirmed the state’s monopoly of violence specifying that the state can only delegate its right to use force to duly constituted groups. By extension, if the state did not have a right to defend its citizens against the Maoist threat – which is a real threat – by raising a motley army in the name of self-defense, it is also not likely that an equally motley crew of non-nationals would enjoy the right to arm a socio-religious group like the Ananda Marga. Niels Holck, the Government of Chhattisgarh, and the GOI seem alike in their in misconstruing the right to self-defense.[vii]

Were Danes and others to be acquainted only with acts of armed rebellion and armed “self-defense” in India, the decision in the Salwa Judum case would seem surprising. It is worth, therefore, to look closer at how the Supreme Court of India arrived at its decision. The short answer is: By legal activism and the scholarly deployment of social science. For a start, in section 2, the court says:

2. As we heard the instant matters before us, we could not but help be reminded of the novella, “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, who perceived darkness at three levels: (1) the darkness of the forest, representing a struggle for life and the sublime; (ii) the darkness of colonial expansion for resources; and finally (iii) the darkness, represented by inhumanity and evil, to which individual human beings are capable of descending, when supreme and unaccounted force is vested, rationalized by a warped world view that parades itself as pragmatic and inevitable, in each individual level of command.

The verdict goes on to deride the “development paradigm unleashed by the State”, arguing that:

“The root cause of the problem, and hence its solution, lies elsewhere. The culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology, and the false promises of ever increasing spirals of consumption leading to economic growth that will lift everyone, under-gird this socially, politically and economically unsustainable set of circumstances in vast tracts of India in general, and Chhattisgarh in particular.“

Touching on the “resource curse” and “developmental terrorism’, the Supreme Court verdict posits that:

“Policies of rapid exploitation of resources by the private sector, without credible commitments to equitable distribution of benefits and costs, and environmental sustainability, are necessarily violative of principles that are “fundamental to governance”, and when such a violation occurs on a large scale, they necessarily also eviscerate the promise of equality before law, and equal protection of the laws, promised by Article 14, and the dignity of life assured by Article 21.”

The verdict muses that:

“Tax breaks for the rich, and guns for the youngsters amongst poor, so that they keep fighting amongst themselves, seems to be the new mantra from the mandarins of security and high economic policy of the State. This, apparently, is to be the grand vision for the development of a nation that has constituted itself as a sovereign, secular, socialist and democratic republic”

Before finally ordering that:

“(i) The State of Chattisgarh immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities, directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities in the State of Chattisgarh;”

… and that:

(v) The State of Chattisgarh shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person…..”

The Supreme Court’s verdict has been received very positively by some commentators. Liang (2011) writes that

“This judgment attains such greatness by virtue of its deft combination of insightful legal analysis, the articulation of a moral vision of constitutionalism and development and its sharp invocation of rhetoric (in the best sense of the term) and fiction to buttress its arguments” (Liang 2011).

In his write-up about the case, Venkatesan (2011: 46) makes reference to the 22 initial paragraphs of the judgment, which, as is evident from the above, are critiques of the “the neoliberal development paradigm and the resultant privatisation and globalisation” rather than typical legal arguments. The reason behind all of this is that the Indian Supreme Court since the 1970s has often been an activist court, which basically means a court “at war” with the way the legal system and the state normally works. Legal activism has been an emergency answer, or safety-valve, to the inordinate delays and the miscarriage of justice that are endemic to the courts. By taking up cases at the behest of concerned individuals without locus standi, the Supreme Court (and to some extent the state High Courts) have been able to re-interpret the fundamental civil and political rights and the directive principles in the Constitution. This means that Indian law is internally compromised and that it may externally compromise the state as it did in the Salwa Judum case. Since the invention of PIL in the 1970´s, Indians have been able at once to decry the Indian Penal Code and other laws as “colonial” while lionizing and exploiting Article 21 (guaranteeing the broadly interpreted “Right to Life”) and Article 14 (guaranteeing ”equality”) of the Constitution to secure a series of landmark judgement.[viii] Often this has been affected by applying justiciable political rights to social and economic issues where the non-justiciable Directive Principles exercise less clout. As Shankar notes (2009: xiv-xix), these legal innovations (bordering on judicial populism) took place in the aftermath of the Emergency which had undermined the Constitution. The courts tried to make up for its mistakes.

The number of PIL-cases has declined since the 1970. In 2008, PIL-cases only constituted around 2% of the cases seeking a Supreme Court hearing and very few of them were eventually admitted. Moreover, many PIL-cases are now entertained by the rich and powerful. Nevertheless, as the Salwa Judum case shows, the Supreme Court may still act as a forceful corrective to the executive akin to the courageous verdicts passed by the President of the Israel Supreme Court Aharon Barak.[ix] On this background it is understandable that the GOI, and Indians at large, may expect the Danish courts to take on a similar trailblazing role, but the Danish courts do not take that bait because they aim to maintain coherence in the face of contestation. A Danish court may be flexible, but the activism that has taken roots in India using PIL as an unorthodox quasi-political tool to intervene as a “last resort for the oppressed and bewildered” (Robinson 2010) has no counterpart in Denmark. In Denmark there is a strong Ombudsmand’s institution, but, so far, there is no PIL and no Anna Hazare short-circuiting the law and the legal process. The Ombudsmand’s institution takes up around 50 cases in its annual reports which the executive often consider as guidelines. It is rare, however, that ministers are impeached or civil servants tried (Elbæk-Jørgensen 2001: 223). The Danish political system may on occasion bend over backwards as it did in order to promise Holck’s extradition, but Danish courts remain careful. They see themselves neither as protagonists of the civil society, nor as tools of the state.

In the Niels Holck case, the prosecutors limited the scope of their arguments to the central issues: Could Niels Holck be extradited or not? Noting that Danish law now opens for extradition to any country in the world and showing that both governments had proceeded correctly in entering into a diplomatic agreement, the prosecution largely left it at that. When the prosecution lost twice because the courts held that it could not be ruled out that Holck would be submitted to torture or mistreatment in Indian jails, the state chose not to appeal. In India, appeals all the way to the Supreme Court are common. In 2008, there was a 2.5 per cent likelihood that a case would be appealed from High Court to Supreme Court. In cases originating in Delhi the likelihood rose to 10 per cent (Robinson 2010). The official India might have felt disappointed by the non-activist manner in which the Danish prosecution argued the case, but it certainly felt disappointed about the decision not to appeal. Indians in Denmark expressed such opinions (Copenhagen Post Online 2011). Some held that the Danish decision not to extradite Hock was a result of a colonial superiority complex. Basing her interpretation on readers’ comments on the Blogosphere rather than on the court case at hand, which she considers less interesting, Kaur argued that while the official Danish policy of opening up for extradition correctly reflected the new reality of India’s increased economic and political power, the Danish public stayed mired in old prejudices viewing India as a pre-modern and uncivilized country to which Danish citizens should not be extradited (Kaur 2011). In contrast, a number of Danes to whom I have spoken consider it right that Hock is made to face justice in India not in order to atone for colonial misdeeds, nor in order to kowtow to the rising superpower, but because of the crime he had apparently committed. The irony is that it is the law (and not money or political influence) which stands in the way of extradition.

After a period of silence, the GOI in August 2011 announced it would freeze relations to Denmark as a (collective) punishment for its failure to extradite Holck. The Danish government did not announce any counter-measure but expressed its regret while it contemplated seeking the assistance of the EU (Bostrup 2011). The situation was reminiscent of the Muhammad cartoon crisis where Third World powers also felt slighted and put pressure on the Danish government to “do more”. In both cases the Danish government responded that court decisions – whether about cartoons or extradition – should be respected. The basic difference seems to be that among “argumentative Indians” contestation is God: Legal decisions are not necessarily reached by reference to the law in a narrow technical sense but by allowing a plurality of elite and subaltern interests to be presented and a compromise worked out within an expanded constitutional framework. Legal pluralism allows for such contestation while legal monism seeks closure by applying Occam’s razor.[x]

In India over 50,000 people were detained under TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) over a period of ten years. Less than one percent of them were convicted (Shankar 2009: xxi). Doing more may not always be very efficient from a legal point of view.



How could the prosecution conceivably have turned the case to his or her advantage? For a start the prosecutor could have painted a more detailed picture of the Ananda Marga which would have challenged the image Holck and the defense counsel painted of a development organization building schools and hospitals. What is the Ananda Marga?  Based on an article by Helen Crovetto (Crovetto 2008), I have offered a short answer to this question in an earlier NIAS blog (Madsen 2010).

Please see https://infocus.asiaportal.info/2010/04/29/the-path-of-bliss/

Had the prosecution paused to paint a detailed picture of the Ananda Marga it might have re-framed the issue from one relating to the legality of extradition versus the protection of individual human rights to an issue of the duty of one democratic state not to assist, actively or passively, any of its citizens to foster violence in another democratic state versus the protection of individual human rights. This would have addressed the question that many Danes have raised: “What if Indians dropped weapons over Copenhagen? Would Denmark not demand that such arms-droppers be extradited?” (Information 2007; see also Kyrø 2011, Hansen 2008), and it might have enabled the court to reach another verdict.

To illuminate the context, the prosecution could have reiterated that India has repeatedly sought the extradition of various people without success. India wanted LTTE-supremo Prabhakaran for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, but did not get him. India wants Warren Anderson, the ex-CEO of Union Carbide headquartered in the USA, to face trial in the Bhopal Gas Leaks Case (Expressindia 2010, Misra 2011, and Zeenews 2011). Well-known writer and journalist MJ Akbar feels that Anderson showed contempt for the Indian legal system when he left India (or absconded) in 1984 (Akbar 2010). India also demands the extradition of about a dozen people hiding in Pakistan ranging from Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar for his alleged involvement in the Bombay Blasts in March 1992 to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and ISI operatives behind the attack on Mumbai in November 2008.[xi] The fact that India wants for the extradition of several others apart from Holck increases the likelihood that India would treat Hock according the agreement reached with Denmark in order to facilitate the extradition of other, and more wanted, persons, the prosecution could have argued. From the Indian point of view, the failure to hand over Niels Holck is one more example of other countries obstructing the process of bringing criminals to justice. The decision hurt Indian pride at a time when India has made a number of sweet deals in (including the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement) in the diplomatic field. With Indian pride growing, the setback in the legal sphere caused official rancor.

In return, the defense counsel could have mustered a list of Indians living in India and hiding from prosecution elsewhere. For example, he could have cited the case of confidence trickster and serial killer Charles Sobhraj who took shelter for decades in Indian jails (sic!) to avoid prosecution in Thailand (Wikipedia).  Or he could have pointed to the case of Haji Mohammed Yaqoob, Minister for Haj and Minority Welfare in the state of Uttar Pradesh who in 2006 promised Rs 51 crore and the equivalent in gold of the weight of anyone who would chop off the head of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard (Dougal 2006). Indian authorities apparently have not taken the initiative to prosecute this honorable MLA.

Apart from the above possibilities to reframe the issue the prosecutor could have pursued obvious mistakes on the defense side. For example, Niels Holck claimed that he did not know the true size of the consignment until the crates containing the weapons were reloaded in Varanasi airport. But then he felt helpless to do anything about it because, as he explained in High Court, the temperature was 55 degrees centigrade. Here the prosecution could have informed the court that in Varanasi the average maximum temperature for the month of December when the airdrop took place is less than 25 degree Celsius and the average minimum temperature about 10 degrees Celsius. The temperature, in other words, is likely to have been quite pleasant. Similarly, the prosecution could have faulted the defense lawyer for arguing that it would take 19 hours to drive the approximately 1,400 km from Delhi to Calcutta according to Google map by informing the court that the Danish embassy staff would most likely take a plane to Calcutta. More seriously, the prosecution could have nullified a string of key arguments the defense counsel made in the Lower Court and to a lesser extent in the High Court to the effect that prison conditions and police and army brutality was a particular problem in West Bengal. Several of the sources (International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch) which the defense counsel cited to build this argument referred to North-East India and not to West Bengal. In effect, the court was led up the garden path when the defense counsel wrongly placed West Bengal in North-East India. Further, the prosecution could have argued that it is never possible to guarantee that Holck, or anyone else, would not suffer death in an Indian prison. The prison population of India was about 332,112 (BBC News no date). The total number of prisoners who died in 2006 was reported to be 1,424 (Udskrift af Østre Landsrets Dombog, p. 10) amounting to 0.43%. In Denmark in 2009 the total prison population was 9,732 of who six died and six committed suicide (Kriminalforsorgen 2009, table 9.2). This amounts to 0.12%. There is a clear difference between India and Denmark but it is not as vast as the defense counsel (and Peter Bleach) indicated.

In return the defense counsel could have argued that the case against Hock could drag on for much longer than visualized in the diplomatic agreement between the two countries. The public prosecutor in the lower court held up the promise that Holck could be back in Denmark in three weeks provided he pleaded guilty, but the diplomatic agreement specified that Holck would not be tried in a Special Court. This means that the case would be initiated in a court of first instance, in casu the Calcutta Chief Metropolitan Court, from where appeals and interventions may be made (by either party or by third parties) to High Court, the Supreme Court and finally as a mercy petition to the President. Mercy petitions with the Indian President regularly take many years to decide.[xii] In effect, the case could plausibly drag on for years.

Even so the prosecution could insist that the issue is properly one of how democracies should relate to each other in the long run in a globalizing world. Political science claims that democracies do not wage war against each other. How could a Dane be allowed to do so with impunity? Denmark, as the prosecution did say in the Lower Court, should not become a safe haven (“et helle”) for terrorists. As the Security Council resolution 1373 states:

By other terms, the Council decided that all States should prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other countries and their citizens. States should also ensure that anyone who has participated in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice. They should also ensure that terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations and that the seriousness of such acts is duly reflected in sentences served (Security Council 2001).

As noted by Sasikumar who traces the India route from “sponsor state” to “victim state”:

“This resolution has become the rallying point for ‘victim states’ like India. Indian leaders draw attention to the fact that it proscribes all forms of support to terrorists” (Sasikumar 2010: 620).

International cooperation is based both on law and on trust. India bent over backwards, exhibiting its soft underbelly in the process, to accord Denmark exceptionally broad guarantees in order to capitalize on the new situation arising after September 11, 2001. However, Holck still evaded them because the Danish courts did not want to extradite a citizen to an uncertain fate outside its civilisational orbit. As the defense counsel noted at the end of the High Court case: “This is a difficult case. It is the first time that a Dane risks being extradited outside the West European cultural area” (“Dette er en vanskelig sag. Det er første gang en dansker i givet fald skal sendes uden for vor vesteuropæiske kulturkreds”). Prominent defense lawyers, such as Trier, tend to plead for the rights of refugees to stay in Denmark. Drawing on international human rights law, they seem correspondingly eager to protect clients from extradition. On the prosecution side, feeble attempts to reframe the issue with reference to international law, the common fight against terror and the importance of supporting an ordered process of globalization turned out fruitless as the bench kept its focus on the protection of individual human rights.

Holck’s argument about the right to self-defense against communist misrule – setting aside the state monopoly of violence – was left hanging in the air. Perhaps the prosecution should have shot it down as it was shot down in the Salwa Judum case. The argument that a person, or a people, have a right to self-defense may have merit, but often is does not. In July 2011 Anders Behring Breivik committed a gruesome act of terror in Norway. Like Holck, he claimed to be fighting communism. Like Holck, the ideology of this “Angry Norwegian” was framed as a form of self-defense directed, in his case, against Islamic incursion into Norway abetted by the treason of crypto-communist multiculturalists paying no heed to the right to national self-determination. Breivik is likely to receive a hard punishment. It was India’s bad record which has prevented Holck from being sentenced. In that sense India has itself to thank for its defeat.

Interestingly, the Calcutta High Court has subsequently upbraided the Indian government for not ratifying the Convention against Torture: Acting on a petition the High Court directed the GOI to ensure that India would ratify the Convention against Torture because, “If the U.N. Convention against Torture had been ratified in Parliament, it might have been possible to ensure the extradition of Kim Davy” (The Hindu 2011).

This may be a vain hope, however. As has been argued by Asian Human Rights Commission, what counts is not only the signing of conventions, but reforming the police force which are charged with doing an impossible job:

“In most cases the officers are expected to discharge a job that no one in the world could ever do. For instance, what could a police officer responsible for traffic control do if the roads are filled with persons driving vehicles who obtained their licences by merely paying bribes?; what could a traffic police officer do if the junction at which the officer is posted has no traffic lights and the road conditions are terrible due to corruption in road construction?; how can a police officer investigate a crime other than by torturing a suspect and obtaining a confession when the officer is not trained in scientific crime investigation?; what else could a police officer do other than demanding and accepting bribes when the officer is not provided a house in the city where the officer is posted and forced to rent a house that would almost cost half of the officer’s salary?; how can police stations function when the telephones and vehicles at the station do not work?; what morality will such a force have when they are expected to protect political masters who enjoy fruits of corruption?

Of equal importance is the role of the Indian civil society, including the country’s media, to keep a focus upon the conditions of the police and to hear their concerns. In that there is no sense for the civil society to push the government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which the government for understandable reasons is delaying to undertake. The ratification of CAT without having a comprehensive national policing policy to improve the state of policing makes no sense. In fact in the neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, which have all ratified the CAT without a sensible policy to improve the state of policing in these jurisdictions are examples from which both the government, and the civil society in India can draw learning (Asian Human Rights Commission 2011).”

It seems that even if the prosecution had been more innovative, (s)he would have a hard time convincing the judge to allow Holck’s extradition.



Akbar, MJ, 2010,”Anderson laughed at Indian law and State”, Times of India, 20 June, http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/TheSiegeWithin/entry/anderson-laughed-at-indian-law

Asian Age 2011, “40m civilian-owned firearms in India: UN”,September 21,  http://www.asianage.com/india/40m-civilian-owned-firearms-india-un-385

Asian Age, “Fernandes in Nanda pocket: Adm. Bhagwat”, 23 February, retrieved from http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/reg.burma/archives/199902/msg00498.html on September 12, 2011.

BBC News (no date), World Prison Populations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm

Bostrup, Jens (2011) “EU star klar til at hjælpe Danmark mod Indien”, Politiken, Internationalt, 19. August, p. 8.

Copenhagen Post Online, “Indian residents claim “hypocrisy” in Holck case”, August 24, http://www.cphpost.dk/news/international/89-international/52029-indians-in-denmark-hypocrisy-in-holck-case.html.

Crovetto, Helen (2008)”Ananda Marga and the Use of Force”, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 12, 1: 26-56. Also published in Violence and New Religious Movements. Edited by James R. Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Dougal, Sundeep (2006) “Off With His Head!”, Outlook, February 20, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?230294

Expressindia, 2010, “Bhopal gas tragedy: ‘Case against Carbide chief still on’”, June 8, www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Bhopal-gas-tragedy-Case-against-Carbide-chief-still-on/631089/.

Gokhale, Nitin A, 1999, “Why is George Fernandes allowing gun-running that hit the army?”, Outlook, retrieved from http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/reg.burma/archives/199902/msg00334.html on September 12, 2011.

Guha, Ramachandra (2011) “After the Fall”, The Caravan, June 1, www.caravanmagazine.in/Story.aspx?Storyid=916&StoryStyle=FullStory

Hansen, John (2008) “En forsvarstale”. Review of Niels Holck and Øivind Kyrø, De kalder mig terrorist, People’s Press, http://bog.guide.dk/Erindringer/Niels%20Holck/Samfund/Om%20forfatterne/En_forsvarstale_1350977

Information, 2007, “‘Hvad nu hvis det var en inder, der havde kastet våben ned over Nørrebro?”, 21. August.

India Today (1996), “A Lethal Invasion”, Special Reports, February 15, pp. 42-55.

Indian Penal Code, Act No. 45 of 1860, http://districtcourtallahabad.up.nic.in/articles/IPC.pdf

Kaur, Ravinder (2011) “Danske vrangbilleder af Indien. Fatter danske medier ikke, at Indien i dag er en global og demokratisk magt og ikke et levn fra en fjern kolonitid?”, Politiken, kronik, http://i.pol.dk/debat/kroniker/article1394112.ece

Kyrø, Øjvind (2010) ”Ministerens ikke-viden”, Weekendavisen, Samfund, p. 2.

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Kriminalforsorgen 2009, Statistik, Direktoratet for Kriminalforsorgen.

Misra, Savvy Soumya, “CBI can seek Anderson’s extradition”, Down to Earth, April 30, 2011, www.downtoearth.org.in

Liang, Lawrence, 2011, “A beacon of light in the heart of darkness: SC holds Salwa Judum unconstitutional”, Kafila, July 6, http://kafila.org/2011/07/06/a-beacon-of-light-in-the-heart-of-darkness-sc-holds-salwa-juddam-unconstitutional/#more-8334

LOV nr 378, Lov om ændring af straffeloven, retsplejeloven, lov om konkurrence- og forbrugerforhold på telemarkedet, våbenloven, udleveringsloven samt lov om udlevering af lovovertrædere til Finland, Island, Norge og Sverige (Gennemførelse af FN-konventionen til bekæmpelse af finansiering af terrorisme, gennemførelse af FN s Sikkerhedsråds resolution nr. 1373 (2001) samt øvrige initiativer til bekæmpelse af terrorisme m.v.), www.retsinformation.dk/forms/r0710.aspx?id=1344

Madsen, Stig Toft (2010) “The Path of Bliss”, Focus Blog, NIAS, https://infocus.asiaportal.info/2010/04/29/the-path-of-bliss/

Madsen, Stig Toft (1996) State, Society and Human Rights in South Asia, New Delhi: Manohar.

Oskarsson, Patrik (2010) The law of the land contested: Bauxite mining in tribal, central India in an age of economic reform, PhD dissertation, School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, accessed at http://zweland.net/ on September 2, 2011.

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Rediff.com, 2000, “Fernandes’s flirtation with LTE is ominous for Sri Lanka”, December 7, http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/dec/07spec.htm

Robinson, Nick (2010) “The Judiciary: Hard to reach”, Frontline 27: 3, January 30, http://flonnet.com/fl2703/stories/20100212270304600.htm

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Sasikumar, Karthika (2010) “State Agency in the time of the global war on terror: India and the counter-terrorism regime”, Review of International Studies 36: 615-38.

Scarborough Evening News, “Scarborough’s Peter Bleach tells us his story”, August 31, 2011, http://www.scarborougheveningnews.co.uk/community/local-focus/scarborough_s_peter_bleach_tells_us_his_story_1_3501499

SECURITY COUNCIL, ANTI-TERRORISM RESOLUTION; Resolution 1373, Dated 28/09/2001, see e.g. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3c4e94552a.html

Shankar, Shylashri (2009) Scaling Justice. India’s Supreme Court, Anti-Terror Law, and Social Rights, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Singh, Prabhakar (2010) “Indian International Law: From a Colonized Apologist to a Subaltern Protagonist”, Leiden Journal of International Law 23: 79-103

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The Independent (2000),  “Mission Improbable”, February 1, www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/mission-improbable-726033.html

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Udskrift af Østre Landsrets Dombog, Kendelse, Afsagt den 30. Juni 2011 af Østre Landsrets 11. Afdeling, kære nr. S-3321-10, pp. 18.

Venkatesan, V (2011) “A proven case”, Frontline, August 12,  pp. 43-46.

Walzer, Michael, (1977) Just and Unjust Wars

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Wikipedia, Simon Mann, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Mann.

www.parliament.uk, 27 Nov 2002: Column 114WH-121WH, Mr. Peter Bleach.

Zeenews, 2011, “Why was Anderson not questioned, CIC asks CBI”, June 20, http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/why-was-anderson-not-questioned-cic-asks-cbi_714072.html


[i]  To be added: India Today article from 1995.

[ii] I attended some of the court meetings in the lower court in Hillerød and some of the meetings in the High Court in Copenhagen and I also monitored press coverage of the case to some extent.

[iii] The MI5 and the MI6 may have worked at cross-purpose in dealing with Holck. I hope to be able to add details later. See also Kyrø (2010).

[iv] Holck and Bleach both had previous experience from Africa and the Purulia Arms drop bears resemblance to African cases, in particular to the failed attempt in 2004 of British mercenary Simon Francis Mann to overthrow the President of Equatorial Guinea with the help of a group of mercenaries in order to install another President to gain access to the country’s oil wealth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Mann).

[v] On Fernandes, see Asian Age 1999, Gokhale 1999, Rediff.com 2000, and Wikipedia. The Sri Lankan Tamil groups, including the Tamil Tigers, also received weapons and training from the Indian army in the early 1980s (Madsen 1996: 176). Later the Indian air-force airdropped food as humanitarian relief for the beleaguered Tamils in Jaffna. Sri Lanka vociferously protested this blatant violation of Sri Lankan airspace but in this case India chose to help the Tamils rather than abiding to the principle of national sovereignty.

[vi] See India Today (1996) for an overview of weapon routes in India.

 [vii] Other relevant legal case from Denmark would include the Danish resistance groups to whom the British air force dropped weapons during WWII. In the legal aftermath to the war, these resistance fighters were found non-culpable. The Danish police, who were charged with stopping them, were also found non-culpable (oral communication, Mads S Jakobsen). Contemporary cases of ostensibly legal self-defense include the authorization given to the CIA to kill US-born Anwar al-Awlaqi. He was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. For an extended  analysis of the right to intervene in other countries, see Walzer 1977, chapter 6.

[viii] A similar schism between Indian laws and British values were used by lawyers and politicians during the independence movement to dislodge the British.

[ix] Another comparison has been made between Justice Krishna Iyer and Tom Bingham, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (Raghavan 2010).

[x] See Singh (2010) for a glib attempt to deploy social science, in casu subaltern studies, to modern international law. For a recent study on mining politics, see Oskarsson (2010) who is puzzled by the fact that “Some fundamental rights have become established to the point where it is very difficult to change them, and land for tribal people seems to be one such right” (Oskarssson 2010: 239). The reason, again, is legal and political activism.

[xi] See the Interpol notice for Dawood Ibrahim at www.interpol.int/public/Data/NoticesUN/Notices/Data/1993/93/1993_14193.asp.

[xii] The appeal procedure was moot point in the court proceedings. I am referring here to a brief conversation I had with Ijaz Khan, the Indian CBI official present. The position also emerges from the High Court verdict, page 4.

The assassination of the Punjab Governor by Ishtiaq Ahmed

January 6, 2011

Pakistan plunged further towards anarchy, violence and terrorism as neo-fascist Islamists in the security services gunned down on January 4, 2011 Salmaan Taseer (66), the Governor of Pakistan’s most populous and dominant Punjab Province. Salmaan Taseer was a senior member of the Pakistan People’s Party whose leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2008. The PPP-led coalition government had already been confronted by a crisis when one of its partners the Muttahidda Quomi Movement (MQM) withdrew support on grounds that the government had increased the price of kerosene oil used by poor households and thus made life unbearable for people.

The main national opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was on the look out for an opportunity to bring the government down and seems determined to create as many problems as possible for the minority regime now in power. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is hoping to remain in office even when it does not enjoy a majority. A minority government is understandably going to be very weak. This would not be the first time that Pakistan would face such uncertain political future only this time the crises is greatly compounded by the challenge posed by the Islamists. It was just announced before publication of this article that the government has backed down from the increase in the price of kerosene. So, the parliamentary crisis may be over for now.

Taseer was killed by one of his bodyguards while others looked on. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri admitted his guilt on television and then in court saying that Taseer deserved to die because he had described the blasphemy law as draconian. It may be recalled that some time back a poor Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly using sacrilegious language against Islam and Prophet Muhammad. Since 1982 a blasphemy law exists which prescribes severe punishment for those who use disparaging language or bodily gestures against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. That law has been made more and more severe through amendments in 1986 and 1991. Currently the death penalty is the automatic punishment for those found guilty of blasphemy.

Hundreds of non-Muslims, mainly Christians, as well as some free-thinking Muslims have been charged for blasphemy. At the lower levels the courts have found them guilty and passed the death sentence but because of the agitation by human rights organizations and pressure of international public opinion no individual has been executed up till now. Rather, at the higher levels the courts have found some technical basis to reduce the sentence or set such individuals free. That has of course not been the end of the matter. Such persons have either been killed by fanatics, or, granted humanitarian asylum in the West. Aasia Bibi is currently in jail.

In some cases fanatics have taken the law into their own hands and brutally killed alleged blasphemers. To this day, no such killer has been punished. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court had in 1995 found two Christians, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, not guilty of blasphemy and set them free. On October 10, 1997 Justice Bhatti was gunned down.

This time, death threats to Taseer had been issued by hundreds of clerics because he had advocated that the blasphemy law should be rescinded or amended drastically to make it safe. In a recent BBC interview the governor admitted the danger he faced but said that he believed in the innocence of Aasia Bibi and in the unjustness of the blasphemy law. He was a marked man since that day.

The fact that the police commando posted as bodyguard to protect the governor killed him has raised many questions about how reliable the security services in Pakistan are. It is widely believed that extremists committed to a violent Islamic revolution are now present at all levels of state machinery including the military, police and security services. When his death was announced the Islamists let loose a massive propaganda in the media but especially on the Internet describing the culprit, Qadri, a warrior of Islam and Taseer a renegade to Islam. Hundreds of leading clerics issued fatwas (religious rulings) that Taseer should not be given an Islamic burial.

The head of the leading fundamentalist party, the Jama’at-e-Islami, Munawwar Hasan blamed Taseer for provoking pious sensibilities by describing the blasphemy law in uncharitable manner. Incidentally, a PhD thesis on the Jama’at-e-Islami describing it as parliamentary, democratic party was approved by Goteborg University not very long ago. This is the level of scholarship in Sweden about Pakistani politics.

Pakistan is a failing state, but has not failed yet. Contrary to the fatwa of some ulema that Salmaan Taseer should be refused an Islamic burial, other clerics were willing to lead his funeral prayers. Thousands of people took part in the ceremony. He was buried with full official protocol, his bier being carried by men in uniform. He was given a state funeral with full honours. It means that not all people have gone mad. Salmaan Taseer was a brave man and one with strong convictions. Such individuals are becoming rare commodity in Pakistan. Unless the blasphemy law is repealed and the culprits punished according to the law, Pakistan’s decline into religio-fascism will be unstoppable.

Ishtiaq Ahmed

The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at billumian@gmail.com

Human rights in a frenzied time

Otto Malmgren LL.M, Senior Program Officer, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (University of Oslo) and guest researcher at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Law (Beijing) ((otto.malmgren@nchr.uio.no))


Since before China was awarded the 29th Olympic Games in 2001 ‘human rights’ has been a focus point for all cooperation with China, at least on the political arena. No foreign politician could travel to China and come away with not pressing the regime on a number of issues ranging from torture, suspected extreme death penalty numbers and denial of justice, to persecution of dissidents and blatant discrimination of minority peoples and religious groups. However, after China won the bid, this attention only got stronger. The Chinese response towards the outside has been a paradoxical combination of indignant outrage and apologetic developmental argumentation, making both true claims of fantastic developments in living standards for a large portion of the Chinese people. And while perhaps less true claims of effective protection of forty-odd constitutional rights and freedoms are made, some critical discourse on human rights issues within its borders has been steadily developing. However, in the months running up to the Beijing Games this discourse seems to have dwindled to nothing. Well, almost anyway.

After the farmer activist Yang Chunlin was detained in February of his open letter titled “We Want Human Rights, not the Olympics”,[1] Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi, responded to international criticism with the following statement; “No one will get arrested because he said that human rights are more important than the Olympics. This is impossible. Ask 10 people from the street to face public security officers and ask them to say ‘human rights are more important than the Olympics’ 10 times or even 100 times, and I will see which security officer would put him in jail.” This seemed to close the door on the official human rights discussions in China, at least until the middle of July when the government felt compelled to ensure that there has been “[n]o ‘dissident’ arrested for [the sake of] Games’ security,” stating that such accusations are untrue and groundless.[2] Others seem to disagree.

Yang Chunlin was eventually sentenced to five years in prison in March for “inciting subversion of state power”, and the detention, harassment and persecution of a large number of activist, lawyers and organizations continue to be reported from within China.[3] Although the message seems to have come through and the domestic critical discourse on the issue has been effectively silenced, and subsequent debates have been careful at least not to formulate themselves within a human rights vocabulary, the official distrust towards proponents of human rights related issues such as HIV/AIDS, environmental activism, minority autonomy, rights defenders continues. All this seems to be, as Amnesty puts it, “occurring not in spite of the Olympics, but actually because of the Olympics.”[4] However, the conclusion often heard from Chinese lawyers and activists on the quick paced regression on rights guarantees in China, is largely limited to an international audience, and is not a part of a larger public debate within China.

The issue of human rights is obviously of such a sensitive nature that even positive developments are passed over in relative silence. The Chinese government’s willingness to shoulder further international obligations through the recent ratifications of both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the latter would seem most natural considering China hosting the 13th Paralympic Games in September – have unfortunately only seen fleeting domestic mention (not counting English language press), and even less in the way of international attention (despite the informative attempts by the Chinese government). Furthermore, ample evidence – although sometimes anecdotal – reveal several initiatives and measures in recent months to place difficult issues on the agenda, such as the abolishment of the Reeducation through Labor system, reemergence of the Supreme People’s Court’s death penalty review procedures, and stabs at increasing intra-Party pluralism. Yet, the overshadowing concerns for harmony and stability seem to even reduce these issues to headlines and little more. National and international conferences on human rights issues has been cancelled or postponed indefinitely, and the publication of human rights related materials not directly sanctioned by the government is strongly discouraged. Perhaps the failure of the February government White Paper on rule of law to make the standard observations on the future ratification of the UN Covenant of Civil and Political Rights could be considered a suitable illustration of the political temperature in the country, at least at the time some Chinese scholars were in private finding this a telling development.

Of course, any human rights discourse would have had to compete with a perfect storm of all-consuming events over the last few months. Starting and ending with natural catastrophes, Chinese society, media, ‘blogosphere’ and everyday life has been torn between frenzied nationalism and feverish despair, eventually leaving little room for a discussion about little else, not the least human rights. The dissatisfied grumbling over the governments handling of the snow and ice disaster during the Chinese New Years’ celebration was eventually taken over by the reemerging questioning of foreign concern for Chinese engagement in the Sudan, eventually drawing little response from the Chinese community. Any concern was sharply broken off by the 15 March riots in Lhasa and the following repercussions in and around traditionally Tibetan areas. The official response was largely formulated in a disbelieving anger over petulant minority criminals led by foreign forces, and any attempts within China to negotiate a more careful evaluation of the March riots were met with the wrath of the Chinese ‘netizens’. These events blended ominously with the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay, which ended in a public relations mayhem for French public security authorities and contributed to stoking the fires in the increasingly vociferous Chinese national pride. And when Chinese students in Seoul started mixing up freedom of speech with violence, the government had no other choice but to express meek support for the students’ acts – anything else would have been unpatriotic.

In the meantime, foreign media supplied government media and internet nationalists with sufficient ammunition for rather strong arguments of anti-China sentiments. By conflating the Chinese engagement – or lack thereof – in the Sudan (Darfur) conflict, Tibetan independence and the violent response to the Lhasa riots, political boycott
of the opening ceremony, and the general concerns for human rights issues in China leading up to the Olympic Games, it created a situation so complex and – for Chinese – so threatening that it brought frustration and indignation even to usual system critics. When CNN commentator Jack Cafferty made his “goons and thugs” comment, showing a certain lack of fingerspitzgefühl, it was just added as another general statement of foreign perception of China further confirming the sentiments represented at anti-cnn.com – a website set up by a 23 year old student “to expose the lies and distortions in the western media.” Any further qualification of Cafferty’s statement was discredited as an attempt to foment discord between the government and the people of China. The public response in China was overwhelmingly supportive of the government, and the continued perceived international criticism of China and the Chinese eventually reawakened a long-time “human rights tiredness” among many, turning any human rights questions into a negative. As was observed to a Norwegian newspaper recently in response to the last few months’ China bashing media frenzy; “Human rights are bullshit.” Whether or not the criticisms of China are deserved or not remains for the time being beyond the domestic discourse, despite attempts by domestic liberal media to point out inconsistencies in the Chinese patriotic response. This self-righteous nationalism will probably remain the legacy of the events during the spring of 2008.

Just when things were quieting down, the torch had completed its difficult international tour and started its far more harmonious domestic tour, and the final preparations for the Games could commence – nature struck. The devastating 8.0 Richter scale earthquake in Sichuan left China in shock and in the hands of the largest humanitarian disaster China has faced since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. While the Chinese people rediscovered a national solidarity among the rubble of the many collapsed schools, the disaster also left the government open for a new round of critical remarks. Shoddy construction and lack of funds left thousands of children dead under the rubble, and the grieving parents search for closure put the local governments on the spot. Accusations of corruption, ineffective governance and abuse of powers shamed the government into action with new instructions to pay more attention to the grievances of the people, but the focus on stability over all other concerns ahead of the Olympic games has put limits on the tolerance for complaints, and reporting and investigations into contributing factors to the magnitude of the Sichuan disaster was quickly banned, leaving many without answers or closure. The persistent questioning by the survivors is increasingly met with vilification, just as other prior and subsequent protests are either disregarded as actions of mal-contents subject to administrative sanctions or even subjected to criminal proceedings.

Concerns for nationalism, anti-terrorism, territorial integrity and a successful Beijing Games are thought to warrant all and any limitations on individual rights for the time being, and largely overshadow any rights discourse in China. The key being social stability and harmony, however, these goals are quite out of tune with the often draconian measures employed to achieve them. Next year China’s human rights situation will be placed under the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council through the mandatory universal periodic review. One can only expect increased focus on human rights in China, and only hope that the Chinese authorities will respond with tolerance and openness to domestic concerns.

[1] Chinese Human Rights Defenders, “Activist Yang Chunlin Tried for Demanding Human Rights Prior to the Olympics”, 2008.02.19[2] The Telegraph, “China denies arrests over Beijing Olympics”, 2008.02.29, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1580333/China-denies-arrests-over-Beijing-Olympics.html, last accessed 2008.07.17[3] See e.g. Chinese Human Rights Defenders web pages for details on individual cases (http://www.crd-net.org/Article/ShowClass.asp?ClassID=9)[4] Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China The Olympics countdown – crackdown on activists threatens Olympics legacy”, ASA 17/050/2008, 2008.04.01

Norsk-kinesisk menneskerettighetsdialog: mer enn diplomati og formelle møter?

Cecilie Figenschou Bakke Director, China Programme, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo ((c.f.bakke@nchr.uio.no))


Hva er bakgrunnen for at Kina valgte å innlede bilaterale dialoger om menneskerettigheter med land som Norge, Canada og Australia på midten av 1990 tallet? Innlegget presenterer de tre nivå som kjennetegner den norsk-kinesiske dialogen og gir en kort presentasjon av akademisk samarbeid om menneskerettigheter mellom Norge og Kina. Hovedformålet med samarbeidet er å bygge opp forsknings- og undervisningskompetanse om menneskerettigheter blant kinesiske forskere og ved kinesiske universitet. Dette fordi flere sentrale akademiske miljøer i Kina spiller en viktig rolle i forhold til det pågående reformarbeidet. For flere av prosjektene på menneskerettighetsutdanning er det inngått et tett samarbeid med institusjoner i Sverige og Danmark.

På begynnelsen av 1990 tallet var Kina utsatt for sterk kritikk i FNs menneskerettighetskommisjon (som nå er erstattet av menneskerettighetsrådet). I 1996-1998 foretok derfor kinesiske myndigheter nye strategiske grep for å komme kritikerne i møte. De signerte to av FNs hovedkonvensjoner på menneskerettområdet (1) konvensjonen om økonomiske, sosiale og kulturelle rettigheter i 1996 og (2) konvensjonen om sivile og politiske rettigheter i 1998. I tillegg inviterte de til dialog om menneskerettigheter med noen få utvalgte land, deriblant Norge, Canada og Australia. Kritikken stilnet men til gjengjeld fikk dialoglandene mulighet til å diskutere menneskerettigheter mer dyptgående med kinesisk side. Det er mange kritiske innvendinger mot dialogene, deriblant at den viktige debatten om menneskerettigheter i Kina føres med enkeltland i stedet for i åpne bilaterale prosesser i FN. Dialogprosessene er også relativt lukket og lite informasjon når offentligheten.[1] Det er viktig med et sterkt og kritisk søkelys på dialogmetoden, men, når dialogene diskuteres fokuseres det mest på de årlige møtene som er av mer offisiell karakter. Det som ikke har kommet like godt frem er det langsiktige prosjektsamarbeid mellom utenlandske og kinesiske partnere som har sprunget ut av dialogene. Dette er konkrete og praktiske prosjekt som har bidratt til å bygge kompetanse og kunnskap om menneskerettigheter blant viktige samfunnsaktører i Kina.

“Store problemer med menneskerettighetene i kombinasjon med et forbedringspotensial gjennom dialog og kontakt” var den formelle grunnen til at Norge i 1997 ønsket å etablere en formell dialog om menneskerettigheter med Kina.[2] Den norsk-kinesiske dialogen defineres som bredere enn de årlige møtene, og kan sies å foregå på tre nivå. På nivå én finner det sted årlige politiske konsultasjoner på viseministernivå, og disse foregår bak lukkede dører. Men, i forbindelse med konsultasjonene arrangeres det også større rundebordsmøter. De første årene var deltakerne ved disse møtene i hovedsak representanter fra de to lands departementer, men etter hvert har et stadig større antall institusjoner og organisasjoner fra det sivile samfunn blitt invitert med (deriblant flere forskningsinstitusjoner, advokat- og legeforeninger, Amnesty og Den norske Helsingforskomite). Rundebordsmøtene kan sees som nivå to og fungerer som en viktig møteplass for norske og kinesiske aktører. De større åpnings- og avslutningssesjonene foregår i plenum, hvor også pressen har deltatt siden 2006. I tillegg er det etablert mindre tematiske arbeidsgrupper, hvor mer konkrete diskusjoner finner sted. Fra norsk side har det vært et uttalt ønske om å ha tematisk kontinuitet slik at man kan diskutere mer i dybden og over lengre tid. Siden 2003 har fokus vært på fangers og arrestanters rettigheter samt arbeidstakerrettigheter. I 2006 ble det også etablert en egen arbeidsgruppe på minoriteters rettigheter, med eget feltbesøk til Xinjiang provinsen i forbindelse med Beijing-møtet i juni. De ulike arbeidsgruppen kommer frem til egne sluttrapporter som presenteres til plenum under avslutningssesjonen.

De årlige dialogmøtene støtter de opp om nivå tre i dialogen som består av en rekke konkrete samarbeidsprosjekt som utvikles mellom aktørene og gjennomføres gjennom hele året. Kinaprogrammet ved Senter for Menneskerettigheter (SMR) kom til som et resultat av dialogen i 1997 og har etablert samarbeid om menneskerettigheter med et stort antall kinesiske akademiske institusjoner. For flere av prosjektene, deriblant menneskerettighetsutdanning av jurister, har det vært et tett nordisk samarbeid med Dansk Institutt for Menneskerettigheter (DIHR) og Raoul Wallenberg Instituttet (RWI) i Sverige. Andre sentrale aktører i Norge, som Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon (NHO) og fagforeningen LO, har nært samarbeid med sine respektive partnere i det kinesiske arbeidsliv. Prosjekter på bedriftenes samfunnsansvar (CSR), kollektive forhandliger og trepartssystemet har foregått over flere år. Også flere andre norske aktører, som Den norske Legeforening, Sivilombudsmannen og Den Norske Advokatforening har, med økonomisk støtte fra utenriksdepartementet og rådgivning fra SMR, etablert direkte samarbeid med sine kinesiske partnere i forlengelsen av dialogmøtene.

Det er store begrensninger på ytringsfriheten, spesielt for kinesiske grupper og enkeltindivider som opptrer “aktivistisk” eller tar opp spørsmål og som utfordrer kommunistpartiets legitimitet eller sosial stabilitet i Kina. I forberedelsene til OL kan det se ut som om det har blitt strammet inn på hva som aksepteres av debatt og ytringer. Dette for å sikre at ingen skader Kinas image eller gjennomføringen av et vellykket sportsarrangement. Flere institusjoner og organisasjoner har blitt bedt om å ikke engasjere seg i menneskerettighetsprosjekter i 2008 “i hvert fall ikke før etter OL”. Flere internasjonale konferanser og møter har blitt avlyst, og det er også en merkbart større skepsis til utenlandske prosjekt i Kina. [3]

Men under normale omstendigheter gis sentrale akademiske miljøer i Kina rom for å delta i debatter om viktige spørsmål angående menneskerettighetene. Dette gjelder blant annet diskusjoner om tortur, rettsikkerhet, diskriminering, og rettighetsbeskyttelse for svake grupper i samfunnet. Ett eksempel er den nye loven om kontrakter i arbeidslivet som ble iverksatt fra 1. januar 2008. Forberedelsene til loven inkluderte en bred offentlig høringsrunde initiert av myndighetene, og åpen diskusjon i fagmiljøer og kinesisk presse. Utenlandsk samarbeid med akademikere er viktig fordi det kan bidra til å øke deres kunnskap om sentrale menneskerettighetsstandarder, noe som igjen kan spille inn på pågående reformarbeid. Med utgangspunkt i de internasjonalt vedtatte menneskerettighetsnormene samarbeider Kinaprogrammet derfor med akademiske institusjoner og forskere i Kina om temaer som fri rettshjelp, kvinners rettigheter, ikke-diskriminering i arbeidslivet, religionsfrihet og sist men ikke minst utdanning i internasjonale menneskerettigheter og produksjon av lærebokmateriale og fagbøker til utdanning og forskning.

Spørsmålet er selvsagt om slikt prosjektarbeid kan gi result
ater i et større perspektiv. Det å måle forbedring av menneskelige rettigheter på nasjonalt nivå er mildt sagt en metodisk utfordring. Det er et stort antall internasjonale aktører som arbeider med menneskerettigheter og rettsreformer i Kina, og det er vanskelig å peke på at det er spesielle enkeltprosjekter som helt konkret har vært de som har bidratt til endring. Men, om man skal oppsummere mer enn 10 års samarbeid med Kina, er det muligvis ett område med små, men viktige fremskritt, hvor den norske og nordiske innsatsen kan sies å ha hatt en effekt.

Gitt at det var lite kunnskap om menneskerettigheter internt i Kina på slutten av 1990-tallet ble menneskerettighetsutdanning tidlig et prioritert område fra norsk side. Og for å undervise trenger man bøker. I 2002 kom den aller første læreboka (på kinesisk) om internasjonale menneskerettigheter ut i Kina. Boka var støttet av Kinaprogrammet ved SMR , og resultat av et flere års samarbeid med China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) og Foreign Affairs College i Beijing. En stor del av opplaget på 3000 ble distribuert gratis til universiteter og bibliotek omkring i landet og boka er fortsatt i bruk ved universitet i Kina. De senere år har det skjedd en svært positiv utvikling ved at nye kinesiske tekstbøker, initiert av kinesiske forskere, kommer ut på markedet og tas i bruk ved kinesiske læresteder.

Kurs og seminarer om menneskerettigheter har vært et naturlig satsningsområde for Kinaprogrammet, og flere av aktivitetene har blitt gjennomført i samarbeid med DIHR og RWI i tillegg til lokale kinesiske partnere. Menneskerettighetsundervisning var i begynnelsen svært følsomt for kineserne og det første nordiske treukers intensivkurs for jurister, arrangert i Jilin i 2001, ble i sin helhet filmet av myndighetene, og stemningen var anspent. Et definitivt gjennombrudd for menneskerettighetsundervisning skjedde senere samme år da det kinesiske utdanningsdepartementet ga tillatelse til å starte universitetskurs i menneskerettigheter. For våre kinesiske samarbeidspartnere ble det dermed lettere å få tillatelse til å kjøre kurs med kinesiske og utenlandske forelesere. Siden 2001 har man, gjennom den nordiske innsatsen og sammen med kinesiske universitetspartnere, gitt intensivkurs i internasjonale menneskerettigheter (på 2-3 uker) til over 200 kinesiske jurister. Mange av disse er involvert i undervisningen ved de mer enn 20 universitetene hvor man i dag kan studere internasjonale menneskerettigheter i Kina. Det er ved disse kinesiske juridiske fakultet at neste generasjon dommere, advokater og jurister skal utdannes. I tillegg finnes det i dag kunnskap om menneskerettigheter ved partiskoler og fagforeningscollege omkring i Kina. Siden 2005 har også Kinaprogrammet satt opp separate kurs for universitetslærere fra de mer fattige vestlige provinsene i Kina. Kursene kjøres på kinesisk og gir mulighet til å inkludere flere deltakere fra områder som Tibet, Xinjiang og indre Mongolia. Mange av deltakerne ønsker nå å starte opp undervisning ved sine hjemmeuniversitet, og forhåpentligvis vil man kunne se mye av den samme positive utviklingen som ved de større universitetene i Øst-Kina.

Det kreves balansekunst å drive dialog og samarbeid med et land som er så stort og komplekst som Kina. Landet har oppnådd enormt mye siden reformene startet i 1978, blant annet en sterk økonomisk vekst og betydelig fattigdomsreduksjon. Men, det er fortsatt enorme utfordringer å ta tak i, økonomisk, sosialt og ikke minst politisk. Flere viktige reformer og debatter er satt litt i bakgrunnen gitt vårens dramatiske hendelser i Tibet og det forestående OL i Beijing (ratifisering av FNs konvensjon for sivile og politiske rettigheter (SP) og forholdet mellom SP og nasjonale lover, RETL reform etc.). Men, flere nye lover som regulerer arbeidslivet, (f.eks. Contract Law og Employment Promotion Law og Labour Arbitration Law effektive fra våren 2008), er eksempler på at noe av reformarbeidet har kunnet ferdigstilles samtidig med forberedelsen til OL. Dette til tross for økende forsiktighet og mindre åpen debatt internt i Kina.

Det er vanskelig å forutse hva som vil være den videre utvikling etter at OL og Paralympics avsluttes. Vårens hendelser har helt klart vist at Kina har opparbeidet seg større selvsikkerhet vis a vis det internasjonale samfunn når det gjelder å forvare nasjonal politikk og interne anliggende; spesielt om rettighetskrav anses å utfordre kinesisk stabilitet og nasjonal sikkerhet. En dialogtretthet kan også merkes fra kinesisk side, og dialog kan vise seg å bli et mindre effektivt virkemiddel for å fremme internasjonale standarder i årene fremover. Verken Norge eller de nordiske land kan løse Kinas menneskerettighetsproblemer, dét kan bare kineserne selv gjøre. Det er derfor viktig å opprettholde et trykk utenifra og krav om overholdelse av internasjonale standarder på de områder hvor kinesiske myndigheter har forpliktet seg. Håpet er at lovende reformer innefor ulike rettighetsområder blir videreført i Kina og at utenlandsk samarbeid med kinesiske aktører i det politiske, administrative og akademiske system fortsetter, uavhengig av hva som skjer i forbindelse med OL.

* Cand Polit (statsvitenskap) med hovedoppgave om forholdet mellom Kina og Vietnam. Cand. Mag (sosialantropologi, statsvitenskap og kulturforståelse). Bloginnlegget tar utgangspunkt i en kronikk skrevet for Norsk Dagblad i samarbeid med Koen Wellens. De norske prosjektene som nevnes her er de som er direkte støttet av det norske utenriksdepartement som den del av dialogen med Kina. Det finnes et stort antall norske bistandsprosjekter i Kina (direkte støttet av den norske bistandsorganisasjonen NORAD) som ikke nevnes her.

[1] For et kritisk blikk på dialogarbeidet se f.eks: S. Woodman og C. Samdup (2005) Canada’s bilateral human rights dialogue with China:considerations for a policy review. Briefing paper for Rights and Democracy, S. Woodman (2004) Bilateral aid to improve human rights. Donors need to adopt a more coherent and thoughtful strategy. In Perspectives Chinoises 51, 28-49.[2] Se mer om dialog på hjemmesiden til det norske utenriksdepartement: http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/ud/tema/menneskerettigheter/menneskerettighetsdialoger.html?id=506849[3] Samtaler med forskere i akademiske miljøer og ulike organisasjoner i Kina og Hong Kong, feltbesøk oktober 2007 og april 2008.

Corruption control and remedies against administrative acts: Meritocratic civil service and reforms of administrative law

Karin Buhmann Associate Professor of legal science at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen (buhmann@life.ku.dk)


This article gives an overview of law and governance in China focussing on the tradition of meritocratic governance which is having a renaissance with law-based recruitment reforms in the legal sector and parts of the public administration, as well as reforms of administrative law undertaken since 1989 which provide Chinese citizens with increased remedies against official abuse of power.

The tradition – a source and a constraint

It is well known that gunpowder, porcelain and (possibly thanks to Marco Polo) maybe even such a West-ish dish as pasta originate from China. It is less well-known that China has a more than two thousand year old legal system and a tradition of governance based on ‘good men’, set up to control against corruption and other forms of official abuse of power. Understanding of this system may make it easier to appreciate China’s course of reform and that human rights and rule of law may not be as foreign to China as the violations taking place during the second half of the 20th century, particularly during the legal nihilism of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the 1989 Tienanmen events may lead us to think. Even though Chinese leaders and academics are often reluctant to talk about China’s philophical and normative past based i.a. on the teachings of Confucius and applied during the imperial dynasties, as external observers we may do well to remind ourselves that China has a rich cultural, philosophical and even legal tradition. The latter comprised, i.a., a set of Codes dealing with criminal, administrative and civil law. Originating even before but refined during the Tang dynasty (618-907) when the Nordic countries were still in the late Iron Age, this code became a model for laws of later dynasties until the latter years of the final one, the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) when China set on a course of modernising its legal system based on Japan’s modern law which was itself inspired by the German and French legal systems of the late 19th century.

The meritocratic governance system was intended to ensure that the vast country which China was already then was ruled by bright and uncorrupt civil servants. Civil servants were trained in academies where they studied the teachings of Confucius. These teachings included a strong focus on morals according to which the ruler and his bureaucracy must apply their power to the benefit of all and not to that of themselves. As often observed in contemporary societies, corruption and other forms of official abuse of power almost invariably lead to violations of the population’s enjoyment of rights that we today consider human rights. Law-based administrative and criminal codes ensured that civil servants were not to be appointed to positions in provinces where they had personal or other interests, and that those who did not adhere to the Confucian moral code where punished. Punishments ranged from mere demotions to banishment to far-away provinces. Conversely, the system allowed those who observed the Confucian and legal codes and demonstrated the Confucian version of ‘good governance’ were promoted.

In principle, the academies and the civil service were open to all (males only, though), simply based on their merits. In practice, however, just like studies prove to be the case in many contemporary societies, the son of the learned man stood a better chance of acceptance into the academy, and thus of grounding a career as a civil servant, than the son of peasant. Entry to the civil service was based on exams to demonstrate the knowledge of the candidate.

A special corps of travelling civil servants (‘the censorate’) was charged with supervision of the civil service. The censors investigated on their own and were allowed to receive and handle complaints of abuse of power and bad governance.

Governance in China was based on this meritocratic system since its establishment 2500 years ago until the fall of the last imperial dynasty in 1911. Although it was not perfect and sometimes not observed, it demonstrates that tendencies to favour particular political allegiances and towards abuse of official power, tendencies that outside observers often associate with contemporary China, are not necessarily the Chinese way. Indeed, in later years reforms have been introduced to ease requirements of membership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for many government posts as well as in the legal system. Entry exams and educational requirements have been introduced for example for judges and prosecutors.

Perhaps even more of a surprising to many, the Chinese meritocratic system may have inspired meritocratic practices in Europe. The German legal and social scientist Max Weber (1864-1920) studied the Chinese system during the latter years of the final imperial dynastic times. He was impressed by the system and recommended its use. Several centuries prior to Weber, Christian missionaries had noted the system which built on a way of thinking which was alien to Europe prior to the human rights and democracy inspired movements of the late 18th century and onwards.

China’s legal and normative tradition is not only a picture of beauty. The Confucian moral codes were highly status based in other ways, and parallel with the Confucian governance codes existed a legal tradition, ‘The Legalist School’, which held that power was for the use of the ruler to preserve his position, and that severe punishments was the way to make individuals behave, civil servants as well as ordinary subjects.

Post-1989 Law Reforms

It may seem a paradox that a country known by many as one which during the Cultural Revolution abolished almost all laws and legal institutions and in which severe human rights violations have been reported by various sources should be one of a meritocratic and legal tradition of significance today. Even so, there are signs that reforms undertaken in later years are not only inspired by other legal systems but also build on the tradition which was interrupted with the fall of the Qing dynasties in 1911. In addition to the reintroduction of meritocratic entry exams, reforms since 1989 of the administrative system and particularly the laws governing its procedures show features that may not only be inspired by other countries but also build on China’s own tradition.

China lacks an actual administrative code. However, six statutes promulgated since 1989 have supplemented basic guarantees in the Civil Code and considerably strengthened citizens’, companies’ and organisations’ legal certainty and rights to administrative due process in a number of areas. Procedural rules have been introduced to govern the issuance of administrative licences (e.g. permits to set up an import business) or penalties (such a fines or the revocation of a licence). Rules to prevent and punish corruption and other forms of abuse of power form a significant portion of the statutes. Compensation paid by the state is provided for for a number of types of administrative acts violating the law. A statute on supervision of administrative organs’ handling of their tasks and power supplements supervisory mechanisms found within the Party system. Perhaps as a legacy of the Legalis
t school’s ideas on deterrence through threats of punishment, provisions for punishment of civil servants who abuse their power or otherwise break the law are about as numerous as those establishing procedures for proper handling of the administration’s tasks.

While both constraints on the use of administrative detention and rights to compensation for certain form of abuse of administrative power remain insufficient from a human rights point of view, the new rules provide for rights to make complaints about administrative decisions on a number of grounds including illegality and use of powers for other purposes than those for which they were granted. The system provides for administrative reconsideration as well as judicial review of concrete administrative acts. The rights to complain are not just granted in formality, but actually used.

The Chinese statutes on administrative law and its procedures do not apply human rights terminology. In this, however, it is like the administrative law of most other countries.

Other recent law reforms are significant too in terms of human rights: The Legislation Law, promulgated in 2000, allows for public consultations on bills for new laws. The substance of the Labour Contract Law which took effect on 1 January this year was influenced by comments from individuals and corporate organisations, including the European and American Chambers of Commerce. As further described in this blog’s article by Jonas Grimheden, laws have introduced merit requirements and entry exams for the legal profession. China’a entry to the WTO which resulted in a number of reforms to increase transparency of commercially relevant law and to strengthen legal remedies for administrative acts pertaining to companies has played a part too, and may have contributed to a greater awareness of the legal system as an institution to deal with complaints. Unintended but not insignificant, the impact of China’s WTO membership may be quite considerable in terms of spill-over on institutions benefiting human rights and the rule of law.


There are indications that China is experiencing a return to certain values of its tradition, particularly certain Confucian ideas. Much of Confucianism was devoted to ensuring a society based on harmonious relations. Part of that harmony in society of 2500 years ago was brought about by people having sufficient food, shelter and security. In this too, pre-modern China did not differ from the needs or ideals of many other pre-modern societies. Other parts of that harmony was brought about, and indeed preserved, by having a government of the best and least corrupt minds to ensure, precisely, that food and other resources were not diverted to the coffers of greedy officials.

President Hu has announced a policy of creating a harmonious society. Part of this policy is about decreasing the considerable differences in access to food, shelter, education and health services between urban and rural areas, and between Eastern and Western China. While access to food, shelter, education and health services does not automatically render a country human rights compliant, just like economic growth does not automatically lead to human rights, they are nevertheless significant elements in the entire range of human rights. When assessing China critically, external observers may do well to remind ourselves that other large countries (including in the West, the United States) also employ the death penalty, and that China’s reforms over the past 30 years have had not only to address civil and political rights but also severe poverty, itself recognised as a violation of human rights, for a large proportion of the population.

It may not be realistic to expect that a country with a rich cultural, legal and governance tradition dating back more than 2500 years which moreover represents one fifth of the world’s population today should modernise and reform exactly the way countries elsewhere have done. Given its point of departure at the on-set of reforms 30 years ago, even if China did introduce reforms of law and governance like Europe, we should not in fairness expect to see things at current Europe levels until China has had as many years to implement reforms – which means allowing 200 years, give or take … In fact and as also demonstrated by other articles available on this thematic blog, China seems to be modernising and reforming in its own way and much faster, drawing on a selection of sources of influence from the international society, specific other countries, and its own traditions.

Domare i Kina – inte bara sportdomare

Jonas Grimheden Senior Researcher and Deputy Head of the Department of Research and Academic Education at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund University (jonas.grimheden@rwi.lu.se)


Att nämna Kina detta år leder tankarna till OS. I de 35 grenarna som de tävlande kommer att slås om medaljer kommer ett ofantligt stort antal domare att vara centrala och i många gånger fälla avgörande beslut. Kinas domare, som dömer i domstolar runt om i landet har också en viktig roll i Kina och detta i allt ökande grad. Även om OS skulle vara intressant att reflektera kring, kommer dessa sidor att fokusera på de kinesiska domstolarna.

Den dömande makten har också genomgått två omgångar av omfattade reformer, 1999-2003, och 2005-2009. Den första syftade framförallt till att stärka rollen för domarna i själva målet och minska den för cheferna för att få en mera rättvis process. Liksom den första betonade även den andra reformplanen en effektivisering av dömandet. Den andra betonade också behovet av att göra överklagandeprocessen mera distinkt och självständig. Reformplanen återgav också det slutliga dömandet i mål med dödsstraff till högsta domstolen. Tidigare hade detta delegerats till domstolarna på provinsnivå men kvalitén där ansågs inte tillräcklig, bland annat efter flera avslöjanden i media där mördade visade sig leva och oskyldiga hade dömts.

En viktig komponent i reformstegen har varit domarnas utbildningsnivå. Många har argumenterat mot en ökad självständighet med motivering att domarna helt enkelt håller för låg nivå. Domarlagen från 1995 syftade delvis till att skapa en starkare profilering av domarna från andra roller inom rättsapparaten och även till att höja kunskapsnivån och professionalismen. Strax efter domarlagen antogs också en advokatlag som bland annat tillät att advokater praktiserade privat och inte enkom i statlig tjänst som tidigare varit fallet. Lagen införde också ett system av ‘barexam’ som slog mycket väl ut. Provet utvidgades genom lagändringar 2001 till att omfatta även åklagare och domare så att nu alla tre yrkesgrupper får genomgå samma prov. Detta har fått till följd att alla yrkena har fått ökad status. Naturligtvis är det många som lockas av attraktiva löner i advokatbranschen men den höjda prestigen inom dömande och åklagande verksamhet har också en attraktionskraft. Ett problem som man ännu inte har kommit runt är att domstolar i de fattigare provinserna i framförallt västra Kina har haft väldigt svårt att rekrytera domare. Dessa provinser erbjuder dåliga arbetssituationer och låga löner. Dessutom har det nationella provet medfört att väldigt få av de jurister från provinsen som gjort provet har klarat det. Kraven har sänkts, först några poäng och sedan som kvot för att överhuvudtaget få något nytillskott på domarbänken i de värst drabbade områdena.

2001 antog Kinas högsta domstol också en uppförandekod i domsetik för domarna. I första kapitlet betonas oberoende och opartiskhet som grundläggande. Koden går in på detaljer, som att exempelvis inte ens med kroppsspråk antyda i vilken riktning dom kan förväntas innan den faktiskt fallit. Vidare tas andra frågor upp som kanske i viss mån visar på problem som förekommer: att domarna skall vara renliga och klä sig enligt gällande norm. Länge hade domarna en dräkt som i mycket liknade en militäruniform. Sedan några år tillbaka har domarna, liksom advokater och åklagare, västerländskt inspirerad yrkesspecifika klädslar som gjort sitt intrång genom Hong Kong. Koden tar också upp mera fundamentala problem. Domarna skall rapportera om sina privata finansiella situationer till sina domstolar. Även möjliga sysslor vid sidan av dömandet regleras – allt uppenbarligen för att stävja korruption och säkerställa bästa möjliga förutsättningar för opartiskhet.

Koden betonar den individuella domarens självständighet och oberoende, inte bara domstolens, vilket är fallet i lagtexten i Kina – lag så väl som grundlag. Det går att uttyda en klar linje från tidigt 50-tal då en kollektiv syn på oberoendet formulerades, med domstolarna och inte domarna som det självständiga. Denna formulering levde kvar i lagtexterna som skrevs i slutet av 70- och början av 80-talen men även i exempelvis domarlagen från 1995. Den sistnämnda strävar som sagt dock efter en separation från framförallt åklagarna genom att skapa olika rubriceringar av hierarkier och positioner som inte motsvarar de i byråkratin. Från mitten av 90-talet byttes språkbruket från “dömandepersonen” till “domare”. Den friare skrivningen från 50-talet om oberoende har också kompletterats genom att lista vilka aktörer som inte får inskränka oberoendet. Tolkning är möjlig som gör att politiska partier utesluts från denna listning och det är uppenbarligen då ett problem med det kinesiska kommunistpartiet. Kodens skrivning visar igen på försök att förtydliga att oberoendet är absolut i betydelsen att ingen får inskränka oavhängigheten.

Skillnaderna inom landet är stora vad gäller ekonomisk utveckling men även exempelvis utbildning. Sedan några år tillbaka driver centralregeringen program för att jämna ut skillnaderna men det är ingen lätt process med en tillväxt och expansion i kustområdena som slår alla rekord. Det förbättrade rättssystemet leder till ökat förtroende för domstolarna och allt fler ärenden hamnar i domstol. En mera genomgripande prövning vid överklagan leder till att fler fall överklagas. Även om processerna effektiviseras så blir ändå den totala arbetsbördan enorm för enskilda domare.

Många av problemen lever också kvar från tidigare. Finansieringen kommer i stort från den lokalregering på nivån domstolen befinner sig. Lokalprotektionism och marknadsekonomiska krav gör att dessa regeringar ställer krav som illa stämmer överens med centralmaktens försök till mera enhetlighet. Kommunistpartiet lägger sig i allt färre fall men samtidigt verkar de kontrollera de fall som är mest känsliga för regimens fortlevnad desto hårdare. Parlamenten på motsvarande nivå som domstolarna utnämner formellt domarna och har även makt att avsätta dem vilket fortfarande emellanåt leder till intrikata problem. Domstolarna lyckas dock i allt högre grad införa en rad tekniska kontroller som gör att de själva rekryterar och befordrar domare på objektiva grunder och förpassar parlamenten till en minimal, formell roll.

Högre domstolar har en tradition av att övervaka lägre och det inte bara i de generella frågorna utan även i enskilda ärenden på ett byråkratiskt sätt. Detta leder förstås till en rad problem och man har med reformförsöken kommit en bit på väg med att göra instanserna mera åtskiljda. Även inom domstolarna har den byråkratiska naturen lett till problem där domare som inte deltagit i den faktiska förhandlingen haft sista avgörandet. Dels gäller det chefer på olika nivåer men även ett “domsråd” med seniora domare som är tillsatt i alla domstolar för att säkerställa att svåra och viktiga mål bedöms “korrekt”. Reformerna har försökt att på olika sätt minska inflytandet från andra än de som faktiskt har suttit med i målet.

Domstolshierarkin består av fyra egentliga nivåer. En högsta domstol, 31 höga domstola
r på provinsnivå, cirka 300 mellandomstolar på distriktsnivå och ungefär 3 000 förstainstansdomstolar på kommunnivå. Till detta kommer avdelningar till de sistnämnda som formellt utgör delar och inte underavdelningar, som betecknas tribunaler. Några 10 000-tal sådana finns runtom i landet. Lägg till detta en domarkår på närmare 200 000 och totalt anställda på närmare 300 000 så har men en ganska stor organisation. Utöver yrkesdomare finns också ett nämndemannasystem (folkets assessorer). Oftast används dessa dock i praktiken för att få expertkunskap till domstolens bistånd.

Den dömande makten är alltså en omfattande apparat som det krävs enorma insatser för att kunna förändra. Reformer som introducerats och som nämnts ovan kommer att ta tid innan de till fullo har fått effekt. Ytterligare reformer har inletts och större och mera genomgående förändringar kommer som sagt att behövas. I de 3 000 förstainstansdomstolarna som naturligtvis behandlar de allra flesta av målen, där har man infört en maxålder för tillsättningar av domstolschefer om 35 år. Med de nya formerna av juristutbildning, de nationella proven, och den generellt mycket mera liberala inställning som de yngre i Kina har, kan denna reform ha mycket stora effekter i framtiden.

Finansieringen av domstolar som alltså nästan uteslutande kommer från samma nivå som domstolen leder till konflikter mellan centrala och regionala fokus. I en strävan att skapa en starkare lojalitet till centralmakten och även få upp de fattigaste områdena till en acceptabel nivå försöker man få finansiering – i vart fall kompletterande – från en högre nivå i hierarkin och slutligen förstås från högsta domstolen. En ändring av de finansiella strukturerna skulle givetvis radikalt påverka möjligheterna av att implementera vidare reformer.

Systemet som nämnts ovan med slutlig granskning av dödsstraff är mycket intressant. Inte bara försöker man säkerställa en högre nivå av rättssäkerhet utan man stärker också den centrala strukturen. Ett stort problem har varit och är att domsagorna sammanfaller med de administrativa regionerna och detta har ofta lett till olika former av intressekonflikter och partiskhet. Olika lösningar har föreslagits och även i viss mån testats för att råda bot på problemet men inget har slagit igenom till fullo. Centraliseringen av dödsstraffsmålen har medfört att tre underavdelningar till högsta domstolen inrättats. Möjligen är dessa tre en nationell testballong för att se hur ett centralt finansierat domstolsväsende som ett lock på ett mera lokalt finansierat kan fungera. Det är också ett sätt att pröva hur domsagor skiljda från de administrativa områdena fungerar.

Under 30 år har mycket åstadkommits vad gäller återuppbyggnaden av ett rättssystem och det i en geografiskt gigantisk enpartistat. Självklart måste man hålla i minnet att mycket kvarstår att göra. Den långa rättsliga traditionen innan kollapsen av det dynastiska Kina bidrar säkerligen till förutsättningarna. Lyckligtvis har inte perioden av kommunistisk och Maoistisk galenskap raderat ut allt som under årtusenden byggts upp. Mer kunde säkert göras för att förankra nutida reformer i det imponerande historiska arvet. Istället lånar man in “lösningar” från andra rättssystem men det är i vart fall bättre än status quo. Reformideal har genom kompromisslösningar med mindre reformvilliga delar av regimen minskats i omfång men har ändå fått relativt stort genomslag. Det finns mycket i denna process som man kan imponeras av och rent utav lära sig av – från detaljer till mera principiella frågor.

Generellt slås man av Kinas villighet att se bortom landets gränser i deras strävanden att hitta lösningar på problem. Man begränsar sig inte till grannländer eller länder “med liknande kultur” eller historia utan är öppen för alla idéer. Reformviljan är mycket stor och domarkåren med sin relativt höga utbildningsnivå driver många av de centrala frågorna, dock inte alltid med en progressiv utgång.

Reformerna som gjorts är långtgående men inte tillräckligt omvälvande för att lyckas nå en självständighet i alla typer av mål. Många menar dock att reformerna har gått för fort framåt och att man nu låter verkligheten komma ifatt idealen man satt upp. Det stämmer säkerligen. Men mycket går fort i Kina och säkerligen kommer reformprocessen snart att fortgå med än högre tempo. Många av problemen man har sökt lösa kvarstår till viss del. Nya problem har tillstött.

När Kina blev medlem av WTO 2001 föregicks och följdes denna händelse av en rad argument inom det rättsliga fältet för ökad reform och liberalisering. WTO-medlemsskapet krävde en rad saker, menade dessa liberala krafter i Kina, långt utöver vad som faktiskt krävdes. Medlemskapet användes på så sätt som en hävstång för att åstadkomma maximal effekt. OS 2008 har på ett något liknande sätt använts för att främja reform och utveckling i Kina – både av interna och externa aktörer. Samtidigt har den ökande liberaliseringen och inte minst utvecklingen under våren 2008 i Tibet och den brutala responsen från Peking lett till ett hårdare klimat för reformivrare. Reformisterna kommer med all sannolikhet ändock gå segrande ur striden. När sommarens tävlingar beskådas kan man reflektera över att juristdomare – liksom OS-domare – har en central roll också i Kina.

* FK (Asienstudier och kinesiska), JK, LLM, Jur Dr, forskare vid Raoul Wallenberg institutet (RWI) i Lund. En längre version av denna text har publicerats i Tidskrift för Sveriges domareförbund, 2/2008, red. Lennart Johansson.