Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Peking University gives the boot to Women's Law Center

Let me quote from the South China Morning Post report:

Peking University severed ties last week with a high-profile women's rights advocacy group [the Women's Legal Research and Services Center (妇女法律研究与服务中心)] under its auspices, sending further chills through the mainland's NGO community, which fears a new era of tightened government control.

In a public notice dated March 25 on the university's website, the social sciences faculty announced it was "cancelling" four research institutes set up under its name, and that any further actions carried out by them would have nothing to do with the university.

The four institutes include three from the law department - the Women's Legal Research and Services Centre, the Public Law Research Centre and the Constitution Research Centre - and one from the media department, the Finance News Research Centre. 

(I've been holding off on blogging about this because I was hoping to get a linkable news report, but so far no newspapers in all of Westlaw's database has seen fit to report on this but the South China Morning Post, for which you have to have a subscription. Here's a synopsis of the SCMP report, which in fact contains almost every word.) As usual, the authorities have put on their "nothing to see here, folks; move along" face: according to the SCMP report, "The dean of social sciences, Cheng Yuzhui, told Beijing Youth Daily yesterday that the cancellations were just routine restructuring of the university's research institutes, removing 'some institutes that no longer suit the current trend'."

Here's a statement issued by Guo Jianmei, the Center's head, and her team in English and Chinese:

Farewell, Beida!

On 25 March, the Division of Social Sciences, Peking University, published a Notice of Cancellation of Organisations on the University’s official website. The Center for Women's Law & Legal Services was one of the four on the list. The days that followed were filled with calls of concern and support from the media, NGOs, partners, the relevant authorities, friends and persons whom we have helped. We are touched, and we are grateful!

To an entity that has been single-minded in purpose and enterprise for the last 15 years, expulsion from the Peking University family is a major and unexpected setback which affects more than just the entity itself. For the Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University is a symbol of deep significance. To the country, it is an industrious pair of hands that helps build social harmony. To the weak and the vulnerable, it is a ray of light that offers warmth and hope. To NGOs and our partners, it is a fellow comrade on the frontlines, enforcing the rule of law and advancing good for the civil society. To the people at large, it is a deliverer of social conscience and the spirit of law. And to every member of the Center, it is our common home.

As such, to those who have cared and still continue to care, I would like to say a few last words about this name that has become history:

I.     In 15 years, we have lighted up more lives than the sun has. 

Since the Center’s inception in 1995, our aim was to provide legal aid, protect women’s rights, and promote gender equality. Equity and justice were not only the Center’s tenets, but the belief and ideal espoused by every member. As the first public interest organisation in China that specialises in providing legal aid for women, we were one of the earliest private legal aid practice. While demand for legal aid among the vulnerable was high, State legal resources were scarce. The Center thus became an expedient complement that plugged gaps in the government’s legal aid services. It has since, helped more than 100,000 women victims obtain recourse to justice.

In 2004, to meet the increasingly diverse needs in women’s rights protection, the Center began providing public interest litigation services, and was soon to become an important force in public interest legal practice. Absent a public interest litigation framework, the Center set itself to legal and policy improvement and reform by working on typical cases, incorporating the protection of the individual rights of women into the overall rights of citizens, to ensure impact. The cases involved important and difficult issues as gender discrimination in the workplace, labour rights of women, sexual harassment in the workplace, violence against women, rights of female migrant workers, and rural women land rights. And by employing different approaches in legislative advocacy, the Center has expanded its beneficiary population.

Our efforts have rendered power to the law and to legal aid. A victim once told us, “the Center is like a lamp, glowing of equity and justice, exuding warmth in the cold, and shedding light on the darkness ahead. She spoke not only for the many weak and poor women, she spoke also for the meaning of our enterprise.

The Center has become a sphere of influence that motivated many later-comers. Consciously, it took on the responsibility of providing legal aid, conducting public interest litigation, organising public interest legal advocacy, and training public interest lawyers. In 2002, a legal aid collaboration group was established, so as to enable more organisations and institutions to participate in the delivery of legal aid. In 2007, the Center founded the Public Interest Lawyers’ Network for Women’s Rights, and in 2009, the name was changed to China Public Interest Lawyers’ Network. The Network currently comprises more than 300 brilliant lawyers from more than twenty provinces and cities, providing legal aid for thousands of poor and vulnerable people. I still remember the Network’s launch ceremony on 15 March 2009 at the Centennial Lecture Hall at Peking University, where leaders from authorities as the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Legal Aid, Center for Legal Assistance, All-China Lawyers’ Association and the Beijing Lawyers’ Association turned up to show their support. The speech given by Professor Zhu Suli, Dean of Peking University Law Department remains vivid in my mind.

In September 2009, Ms Guo Jianmei, public interest lawyer and head of the Center founded Qian Qian Law Firm. Specialising in public interest law and public interest legal activities, and comprising professional public interest lawyers, Qian Qian has expanded its scope to benefit a broader spectrum of vulnerable persons such as the disabled, migrant workers and the aged.

15 years of innovative approaches and effective outputs have not only profited the poor and vulnerable women; the Center has also grown to become an influential and credible NGO. It has earned praises and won awards. In February 2006, in their congratulatory note to the Center’s tenth anniversary, Professor Min Weifang, the Party Secretary of Peking University, and Professor Xu Zhihong, President of Peking University, said, “the Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University has observed Peking University’s glorious tradition of patriotism, progress, democracy and scientific approach. By seeking relentlessly, developing aggressively, and improving constantly, it has achieved commendable results, contributed to the progress and advancement of women’s rights protection and legal aid delivery, and served its role in fostering harmony. Its work has won interest, support and tribute of the society and its peers, recognition and respect from women at large, and glory for Peking University!”

As Premier Wen Jiabao said, “Equity and justice glow brighter than the sun.” Indeed, equity and justice are of supreme value and significance to every individual, every country, and every nation. The Center shall be a faithful and determined perpetuator of this worthy cause.

II.    Hurdles deter us not, but spur us on.

Cancellation by Peking University was not our first setback. The Center was nearly closed down during its initial days, only to be followed by one challenge after another. Funding was a major problem, as those days, funding channels were few and funding systems unregulated. Fund shortage stymied NGO development, and was the major obstacle to the Center’s growth.

Talent is another problem, especially when the Center, as a professional organisation, was in need of well-qualified legal professionals. Attracting and retaining talent in a society of low public interest awareness and driven by utilitarianism was a huge difficulty. So were balancing ideals and the reality, dedication and compensation, and spiritual fulfilment and material satisfaction.

Our work is also hampered by a deficient legal environment, flawed enforcement systems, administrative interference, local protectionist policies, industry protectionism, even corruptive practices within the judicial system. Persistent overwork leading to physical and mental stress of the Center’s members is also a permanent problem.

Cancellation is also not the gravest difficulty we have faced. We were even threatened with physical harm. When angry villagers in that remote village let go of their tightly clasped sticks, convinced by our steady and determined gaze, we knew we could never be beaten. Because justice is what we pursue, and justice will always triumph.

Difficulty is only an excuse of the weak and the feeble. To go-getters with conviction, difficulty is impetus to move mountains. Difficulty is but snowfall before spring comes. And snow melts. Thereafter, a spring breeze will blow away, bringing forth myriad blossoms and an enchanting fragrance.

III.  Farewell, Beida! But our pursuance of equity and justice shall endure, and our belief in the rule of law shall prevail.

We have several members on our team who are Peking University graduates. They were inculcated with knowledge and intellectual depth, and nurtured with democratic sensibilities and humanistic values––the motivation for their choice of a public interest career. Cancellation was saddening to Guo Jianmei. This is not the Beida that she once knew. Guo’s resolute embarkation on a public interest career was guided by her Beida predecessors and the Beida spirit. She hopes that many will understand her sense of desolation and feeling of betrayal.

But desolation is one thing, Guo Jianmei and her team are as eager and as passionate as ever. They are convinced that legal aid and public interest work is what the people need, and what a harmonious society must have. These needs are revealed by the Center’s work during the last 15 years, spoken by the sacks of millet and sweet potatoes, and the hundreds of thank-you banners from those poor and vulnerable clients, and proven by the numerous awards that the Center has won.

The Center may have become a chapter in history, Qian Qian is for now and the future.

The Center has devoted itself to serving women’s rights, giving legal aid, and growing as an NGO. The least it has done is to have sent this message: Private legal aid organisations must and will play an indispensable role in China. Given the national circumstances, charting new frontiers, will require dedicated and valiant fighters, and they should be recognised and encouraged.

The future will be bright, and we will stick to our goal and continue on. The road may be treacherous, and the view along the way may not be always pleasant. But the meaning of life is about keeping our feet on the ground, undeterred, and making our way toward our ideals.

We have no complaint, we have no regret.

We thank every entity and every friend who cares for and who supports us. We have you, who will walk with us.

Former Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University
April 1, 2010

我们的话

 3月25日,北京大学官方网站发布了北京大学社会科学部的机构撤消公告,北京大学法学院妇女法律研究与服务中心是被撤消的四家机构之一。消息发布之后的几天以来,我们得到了媒体、各NGO、合作伙伴、相关机构、朋友们以及被我们帮助过的当事人的关心和支持,我们深为感动,深表感谢!

对于一个15年一直在不懈努力和奋斗的机构,这是一个重大的变故,而所产生的影响,也不仅仅是对机构自身,因为“北京大学法学院妇女法律研究与服务中心”不仅仅是一个机构的名称,而是一个有深刻含义的符号。对国家而言,她为社会主义和谐社会做出了积极贡献;对我们的当事人而言,她代表温暖和希望;对NGO和我们的合作伙伴而言,她是共同为中国法治和公民社会奋斗的战友;对社会公众而言,她体现了社会良心和法律精神;而对每一位中心的成员而言,她是我们共同的家。

因此,我们想对这个已成为历史的名字,想对所有关心她和我们的人说上几句。以下为我们的声明:

一、15年来,我们从事的是“比太阳还要光辉”的事业。

1995年中心成立之时起,就以厉行法律援助,维护妇女权益,推动性别平等为目标,公平和正义成为中心、也成为中心每一个成员所奉行的理念和理想。作为中国第一家专门从事妇女法律援助的公益性机构,中心是中国民间法律援助最早的实践者之一,在贫弱群体的巨大需求和政府法律援助资源不足的状况之下,中心探索的民间法律援助模式成为政府法律援助的有益补充,也让近10万权益受侵害的妇女争取到了应有的权益。2004年,为了适应妇女权益保护多元化发展的需要,中心率先开展了妇女权益领域的公益诉讼,并成为中国公益法律活动的积极推动者。在中国公益诉讼制度尚未建立的状况下,中心实践先行,将妇女个体权益的保护和整体性权益的维护相结合,以推动法律政策的改革为目标,办理了大量典型性、影响性案件,范围涉及职场性别歧视、妇女的劳动权益、职场性骚扰、针对妇女的暴力、外来女工权益、农村妇女土地权益等涉及妇女权益的重点和难点领域,并通过多种形式进行立法倡导,大大扩展了受益人群。

中心的帮助,让贫弱女性感受到了法律和法律援助的力量。一个当事人对我们说,中心就像一盏灯,让她们看到了公平和正义的光亮,让她们在寒冷中感受到温暖,让前行的路不再黑暗。她的话,表达了很多当事人的心声,也说出了我们从事这份事业的意义。

在这个过程中,中心以自身的影响力带动了很多的后来者,也在这个过程中,中心自觉承担了法律援助、公益诉讼和公益法律活动倡导者以及公益律师孵化平台的使命。2002年,中心发起成立了中国法律援助协作小组,旨在让更多的组织和机构加入法律援助的队伍,2007,年中心发起成立“妇女权益公益律师网络”,并于2009年更名为“公益律师网络”,目前已有超过300名涉及全国二十多个省市的优秀律师加入网络并为数千贫弱当事人提供法律援助。在2009年3月15日于北大百年讲堂举办的网络启动仪式上,司法部法律援助司、国家法律援助中心、全国律师协会、北京市律师协会等相关部门领导到会支持,而北大法学院朱苏力院长的祝贺讲话仍让我们记忆犹新。

2009年9月,以中心为依托,中心主任、著名公益律师郭建梅组建成立了千千律师事务所,千千所以专职公益律师专职开展公益法律活动为机构特色和发展模式,积极推动公益律师的专门化、专业化和职业化,并将法律援助和公益诉讼的关注点扩大到残疾人、农民工、老年人等更广泛的弱势群体。

15年来,由于极具创新性和卓有成效的工作,在惠泽广大贫弱女性的同时,也让中心成长为一个有影响力和公信力的NGO,获得了广泛的赞誉和诸多的荣誉,并得到了北京大学的高度赞誉和肯定。2006年2月,时任北大书记的闵维方先生和北大校长的许智宏先生在祝贺中心成立10周年的贺信中写道:“妇女法律研究与服务中心秉承北大爱国、进步、民主、科学的光荣传统,积极探索、勇于开拓、不断进取,取得了骄人成绩,为推动中国妇女权益保护和法律援助事业的进步和发展做出了积极贡献,为构建和谐社会发挥了应有作用,得到了社会各界以及国内外同行的关注、支持和赞誉,获得了广大妇女的认可与尊重,为北大赢得了荣誉!”

温家宝总理说过“公平正义比太阳还要光辉”,这句话体现了公平和正义对于每一个人、对于一个国家和民族至高无尚的价值和意义。中心就是这项光辉事业积极的、坚定的践行者。

二、困难,给我们的不是气馁,而是更加坚定的信念。

被撤消,并不是我们面临的第一个困难,只是无数个困难之后的又一个而已。中心在成立之初就险些夭折,之后,一系列的困难和挑战接踵而至。首先是经费问题。中国尚未建立起较为顺畅和规范化的NGO筹资体系和制度,经费的制约成为NGO发展的瓶颈,也是中心发展过程中面临的重要困难;而人才问题也一直是困扰NGO发展的重大障碍,特别是中心这样一个需要较高法律专业知识和资质的专业性机构,如何在社会公益意识不强,趋功逐利心态过强的环境下吸引并留住人才,如何解决理想与现实、奉献与待遇、精神与物质的冲突和矛盾一直是中心的一大难题;还有相关法律体系、执法环境的不完善,行政干预司法和地方保护、行业保护的影响,甚至是司法中的腐败现象,都给中心工作带来了很多的困难,长期超强度的工作负荷也让中心成员身心压力极大,这种透支状态在繁重的工作压力下变成一个难以缓解的问题。

被撤消,也并不是我们遇到最大的困难,我们甚至受到过生命的危胁。在那个偏避的乡村,不懂法的村民在我们坚定的目光下不由自主地扔掉手里的棍棒时,我们就明白我们是不可战胜的,因为我们从事的是正义的事业,而正义是不可战胜的。

困难,只是怯懦者的挡箭牌,而对有着坚定信念的前行者来说,困难是另一种动力,是春前的一场雪,雪总是要化的,而满山的红绿一定会随着春风无可阻挡地绽放!

三、别了,北大!不别的是我们对公平和正义永远的追求,对中国法治坚定不移的信念。

中心好几位专职成员都毕业于北大。未名湖给了他们知识和精神的滋养,北大的民主和人文情怀给了他们选择公益之路最初的精神动力。这也是面对被撤消,郭建梅为什么会说感到悲凉。这不是她想像中的北大。是依照北大先辈们和北大精神的指引,她义无反顾地走上公益之路。因此,她的悲凉,让人们感到更加的悲情和震撼。

但是,悲凉的郭建梅和她的团队心中依然热血沸腾,激情燃烧,因为他们坚信,法律援助和公益法律事业是民众的需要,是和谐社会的需要,并为15年中心的实践所证明,为贫弱当事人送给中心的小米、红薯和几百面锦旗所体现,为中心获得的各类奖项所诠释。

更何况,中心虽撤,而千千所犹在。

中心在妇女权益、法律援助和NGO三个领域都做出了自己的贡献,她至少给人以这样的启示:民间法律援助机构的生存在中国不仅需要,而且将发挥不可或缺的积极作用;在现实的中国,要开创一项前瞻性的事业,需要一批为之奋斗和奉献的勇士,并给予认可和激励。

面对未来的灿烂之霞,我们将继续行路。尽管前路仍不平坦,风景也并非都是绿水青山,但又有什么呢,生命的意义,在于脚踏实地的行进,在于百折不回的勇气,在于我们朝着自己的理想向前走的每一步。

我们无怨无悔。

再次感谢所有关心和支持我们的机构和朋友,在路上,我们同行。

原北京大学法学院妇女法律研究与服务中心

2010年4月1日

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/china_law_prof_blog/2010/04/peking-university-boots-out-womens-law-center-.html

News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bfae553ef0133ec7f8514970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Peking University gives the boot to Women's Law Center:

Comments


I remember that the Women's Law Center was appraised by Ben Liebman's work in Alford's book, Raising the Bar. Ben said the center run within a better track than others because it's set up in a top university and has ties with governmental officials. I think Don may invite Ben to give some comments about the shifting relationship between the legal community and the state according to recent cases.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 6, 2010 9:36:08 AM

Post a comment