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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Human Rights in China and U.S. Policy: Issues for the 113th Congress

Thomas Lum
Specialist in Foreign Affairs

This report examines human rights issues in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including ongoing rights abuses, legal reforms, and the development of civil society. Major events of the past year include the PRC leadership transition, the Wukan protests over land expropriation, the negotiations that allowed legal advocate Chen Guangcheng to leave China, and the Tibetan selfimmolations. Ongoing human rights problems include excessive use of force by public security forces, unlawful detention, torture of detainees, arbitrary use of state security laws against political dissidents and ethnic groups, coercive family planning practices, persecution of unsanctioned religious activity, state control of information, and mistreatment of North Korean refugees. Tibetans, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong adherents continue to receive especially harsh treatment. For additional information and policy options, see CRS Report R41007, Understanding China’s Political System; the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s Annual Report 2012; and the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.

China’s leadership transition has so far provided few indications of a fundamental policy shift on human rights. Nonetheless, many analysts refer to a legitimacy crisis and possible “turning point” after three decades of rapid but uneven economic growth. Some observers sense a shift in public attitudes from an emphasis on economic development and social stability to an eagerness for political reform that would have implications for human rights in China.

Although the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opposes political pluralism, Chinese society has become more diverse and assertive. Non-governmental organizations are playing a larger role in providing social services and policy input. Social protests are frequent, numerous, and widespread. Economic, social, and demographic changes have given rise to labor unrest. PRC citizens have become increasingly aware of their legal rights, while emerging networks of lawyers, journalists, and activists have advanced the causes of many aggrieved individuals and groups. The media continues to push the boundaries of officially approved discourse, and the Internet has made it impossible for the government to restrict information as fully as before. Some Chinese refer to microblog (weibo) sites as the most important public sphere for free speech.

The PRC government has attempted to respond to some popular grievances, develop the legal system, and cautiously support the expansion of civil society. However, it continues to suppress many activists who try to organize mass protests and dissidents who openly question sensitive policies or call for fundamental political change. Many lawyers who take on politically sensitive cases face government reprisals.

Some notable changes to the PRC criminal justice system were announced in the past year. Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, which are to go into effect in 2013, reportedly provide for greater protections against torture and coerced confessions, expanded access to legal defense, longer trial deliberations, mandatory appellate hearings, more rigorous judicial review, and greater government oversight of the legal process. In January 2013, the government stated that it planned reforms related to the notorious Re-education Through Labor camps, which hold citizens without trial for non-criminal offenses. Some experts caution that, given China’s weak legal system, it is too early to predict whether these reforms will result in significant improvements in rights protections in these areas.

Date of Report: May 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: R43000
Price: $29.95

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Missing Adults: Background, Federal Programs, and Issues for Congress

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Adults may go missing due to choice, an abduction, foul play, a mental or physical disability, or a natural catastrophe, among other reasons. Although no accurate estimates exist of the number of missing adults, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that as of January 1, 2013, nearly 50,000 cases of missing adults (age 18 and older) were pending in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system, a federal computerized index with data on crimes and locator files for missing and unidentified persons. Certain adults are particularly vulnerable to missing episodes; for example, those with dementia are at risk for wandering. Adults who engage in highrisk behaviors, including involvement in gang activity, may also be more prone to going missing.

Unlike children, adults have the legal right to go missing under most circumstances. As a result, families of missing adults may receive limited assistance from state and local law enforcement entities in recovering their loved ones. The federal government has not been involved in assisting law enforcement entities with missing adult cases in the same way it has with missing children cases. Further, cases of missing children and young adults under the age of 21 must be reported to the NCIC, while reporting missing adults to the database is voluntary. In recent years, however, the federal government has increasingly played a role in (1) preventing certain types of missing adult incidents; (2) working to recover adults who go missing, including those who are deceased and for whom only remains can be found; and (3) supporting databases, including NCIC, that maintain records of missing adults and unidentified remains.

Recognizing the needs of a growing aging population, Congress authorized funding for the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert program under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322). Recent appropriations have been approximately $1 million to $2 million annually. Since FY1996, the program has awarded funds to the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit organization that provides research on Alzheimer’s disease, to protect and locate missing individuals with dementia through a patient identification program, as well as outreach and education efforts. In 2000, Congress passed Kristen’s Act (P.L. 106-468) to permit the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make grants to establish a national clearinghouse for missing adults and provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies in locating these individuals. From FY2002 through FY2006, DOJ made grants for these purposes. In addition, the federal DNA Initiative has also supported efforts to recover missing persons and identify unidentified human remains by funding DNA analysis and providing related assistance.

In addition to the NCIC, the federal government maintains the National DNA Index System (NDIS), which stores criminal information as well as individuals believed to be missing, their relatives, and unidentified human remains; and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which includes databases for missing adults and unidentified remains. Records are submitted to most of the databases by authorized law enforcement agencies, state missing persons clearinghouses, medical examiners and coroners, or DNA laboratories. The NDIS, NamUs, and NCIC databases can be accessed only by authorized law enforcement and other personnel; however, records in NamUs can also be reviewed by the public.

Policymakers and other stakeholders have increasingly focused on the coordination of the federal databases on missing persons, as well as the role of the federal government in providing assistance to states and localities to develop alert systems and technology to locate missing adults. Many states have developed alert systems to recover vulnerable adults who have gone missing.

Date of Report: May 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RL34616
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Peace Corps: Current Issues

Curt Tarnoff
Specialist in Foreign Affairs

Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps has sought to meet its legislative mandate of promoting world peace and friendship by sending American volunteers to serve at the grassroots level in villages and towns in all corners of the globe. As of end September 2012, about 8,073 volunteers were serving in 76 nations.

In 2013, the 113
th Congress will consider the President’s annual funding request for the Peace Corps, efforts to reauthorize the Peace Corps, and related issues. On April 10, 2013, the Administration issued its FY2014 budget request, proposing $378.8 million for the Peace Corps, 6% more than the agency’s currently estimated FY2013 post-sequester and across-the-board rescission level of $356.0 million.

The last Peace Corps funding authorization (P.L. 106-30), approved in 1999, covered the years FY2000 to FY2003. Authorization legislation offered in the 112
th Congress from both the House (H.R. 2583) and Senate (S. 1426) failed to receive floor action.

On November 21, 2011, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 was signed into law (P.L. 112-57). It put into place a number of safeguards to address and reduce the incidence of volunteer rape and sexual abuse.

A comprehensive assessment of Peace Corps operations was published in June 2010. It makes 64 recommendations supporting a six-point strategy that has been adopted by the agency for implementation over the next several years.

Current issues include the extent to which there is available funding for Peace Corps expansion, whether the Peace Corps has the institutional capacity to expand, and whether volunteers are able to function in a safe and secure environment.

Date of Report: May 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RS21168
Price: $29.95

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