Human rights, water and China’s autonomous regions


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Publication Title

Natural resource exploration, autonomy and national minorities in China: an institutional approach to the implementation of the law in relation to the right to water

Publication Type


Associate Professor Maria Lundberg, China Programme, Norwegian Centre on Human Rights and Yong Zhou, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Publication Date

27 Nov 2008


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The increasing demands of energy consumption in China originate from the objectives of establishing an industrialized society and keeping the high growth of economy which have been among various driving forces of the State to explore natural resources (such as coal, petroleum and hydropower, etc.) in minority areas. The related State ‘development’ strategies and projects have resulted in the degradation of local environment and living conditions which created serious challenges to the ‘right to an adequate standard of living’ and the ‘right to health’ of the local people. This paper will take the ‘right to water’ specifically for describing and analyzing issues of implementing the rules in relation to the right to water articulated in the general comment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the existing Chinese legal framework and social contexts. An ‘institutional approach’ is employed in this paper to discuss the particular right to water issues involved in the ‘socialization process of internalizing international human rights norms’ in the Chinese society.

This approach includes the following three steps: Firstly, it aims to describe the existing institutionalized values, norms, and rules among various sources (international, domestic and local) and identify the contradictory or competing rules in relation to the right to water. The Chinese legal framework, especially those parts contradictory or competing with rules in ratified international conventions, in the Regional National Autonomy Law and other relevant legal rules on exploring natural resources articulated in Water Law, Forest Law, Grassland Law, Mining Law, Energy Law, Environmental Law, and Tax Law, etc. will be presented; The second step is to identify the main actors and their various interests in these activities, mainly including UN treaty bodies, State (central governmental departments and local autonomous authorities), minority groups and individuals; The third step is to observe the interactions among those actors in this field and those functional institutional mechanisms employed in their behaviors.

Based on the observations of ‘the institutionalized normative order’ in this field, the conclusion of this paper attempts to indicate the key elements of institutionalization of various human rights norms, especially those in relation to the right to water. This effort sheds the light on effective ways to lead the behavior changes in the legislation and implementation of law in China.


See also


Right to Water

External Resources


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