This week a delegation of environmental lawyers from the American Bar Association (ABA) visited Beijing. Hyeon-Ju Rho, the Director of the ABA’s Beijing office prepared a terrific program for them that included spending Thursday afternoon at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) where I teach. They met Professor Wang Canfa, director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) and toured CLAPV’s office. The visiting ABA group included Michele Perrault, International Vice President, External Affairs, from the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Office; Jeff Smoller, a special assistant to the director of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Ed Wang from the California Air Resources Board; Alvin Chong, who formerly worked for EPA Region IX in San Francisco; and Xie Gang, the Asia Division Program Manager for the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative in Washington.
Wang Canfa made an excellent presentation about the work of CLAPV. He described how CLAPV has assembled hundreds of volunteer lawyers throughout China to handle cases in various parts of the country. CLAPV provides free training to the lawyers in return for their agreeing to handle at least one case a year. As a result of CLAPV’s hotline for environmental complaints, CLAPV has filed more than 100 cases since its founding in November 1999, winning about half of them. Professor Wang explained that favorable publicity has been a key to some of CLAPV’s success. Among CLAPV’s greatest victories have been a ¥ 5.6 million damages award on behalf of 97 victims of pollution from two factories and the first successful case against a municipal planning agency brought on behalf of 182 citizens who objected to the agency’s issuance of illegal permits.
Wei Ru Jiu, one of CLAPV’s volunteer lawyers who attended the meeting, has organized a group of criminal defense lawyers to provide legal representation for those who face retaliation for pursuing environmental complaints. This has been particularly useful because most criminal defense lawyers know nothing about environmental law and thus do not understand how important it is to provide such defense services. He described himself as a human rights lawyer and explained how government policy restricts the rights of poor farmers like his father who is unable to leave the rural area in which he lives.
I mentioned to the group that Wang Canfa will be an Olympic torchbearer on June 10, which is a great honor. There has been a tremendous backlash here against the Tibetan protests that followed the Olympic torch. The Chinese government is fueling some of this backlash, seeking to demonize the Dalai Lama, despite his statements that he is opposed to violence and supports China hosting the Olympics. Ironically, the Chinese government is accusing the western press of bias even as it continues to censor criticism of its own policies by blacking out portions of broadcasts from CNN International and BBC. The government sought to block the Chinese people from seeing or hearing about the torch protests when they happened, but they now are retroactively publicizing a protester’s attack on a disabled torch bearer in Paris and honoring the torch bearer for her courage. On Friday I ran into a fellow Fulbrighter who teaches journalism at a university in Beijing. She reported that she has had a difficult time here because students perceive her as associated with the biased Western press. The Chinese government may now think the backlash has gone too far because they have not endorsed calls by many Chinese to boycott French products perhaps because they realize that China may have more to lose from trade boycotts.
My classes continue to go very well because of the great enthusiasm of my students for environmental law. On Thursday in my Comparative Law class I briefly discussed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but was astonished when one of my smartest students approached me during the break to say that racial discrimination in employment should not be prohibited because discrimination is a private matter. I told her that opponents of the legislation initially used that argument, but that the legislation was now almost universally accepted, even though much discrimination remains in the U.S. Following the class I took three students to lunch. They discussed how the experience of children growing up in China must be much different than in the U.S. because most Chinese kids do not have siblings given the country’s “one child” policy.
Tseming Yang from Vermont Law School was in Beijing this week on his way to Guangzhou and Bangkok for work in connection with Vermont’s environmental partnership with Sun Yat-sen University School of Law. On Tuesday I had dinner with Tseming and Jingjing Liu, associate director of the program. On June 6 I will be joining them at Sun Yat-sen University to lecture and participate in a roundtable on teaching environmental law.