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A Happy Warrior

W W W. L A W. N Y U. E D U

A Call for Change in China

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Political consciousness is growing among Chinese citizens, and the time is ripe for change, according to Chen Guangcheng, activist and former NYU Law author-in-residence. In a keynote speech at the 18th Hauser Annual Dinner last February, Chen compared the current political climate in China with Taiwan in the 1980s and added that he is concerned that if citizens are not able to achieve justice in the courts, they might resort to other means to right wrongs. “Change in China is inevitable,” said Chen, who is blind and fought on behalf of the disabled and victims of forced sterilization in his home country. “Whether or not the [Chinese] authorities are willing to change, this is the course of history.” Chen arrived at NYU in May 2012 after a dramatic escape from home imprisonment in Shandong province, China. In New York he has continued to call for human rights reform in China and for the US government and American citizens and businesses to support such efforts. He has also advocated for his nephew Chen Kegui, who was sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting law enforcement officials who raided his home while searching for Chen Guangcheng. Living with his wife and two children in the Big Apple, Chen said he has finally been able to rest for the first time after seven difficult years. The activist said he was spending his time working on his memoir, studying English and law, and meeting with various organizations. Asked what role he might play in China’s evolution, Chen answered that he is preparing for the future shifts in China by studying key texts: the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

China is facing “unprecedented environmental problems” after more than 30 years of rapid economic growth, said Wang Canfa, one of China’s top environmental lawyers. The founder of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, a public interest legal organization in Beijing, spoke at NYU Law’s US-Asia Law Institute. The institute’s executive director, Ira Belkin ’82, noted that not only environmental advocates but also government officials and judges in China have praised Wang’s work. Jerome Cohen, NYU Law professor and institute co-director, called him “a happy warrior.” Wang first began teaching environmental law in 1983 at Xiamen University and is now a senior professor at China University of Political Science and Law. Through his center, Wang files lawsuits on behalf of pollution victims, works to raise awareness of environmental issues, and trains lawyers and judges on handling cases. Even though China has passed a multitude of environmental laws in the last 40 years, resources for enforcement and compliance are lacking, said Wang. As a result, China suffers from serious air, soil, and water pollution. Some scholars, for instance, believe 15 to 20 percent of the country’s arable land is contaminated with heavy metals, according to Wang. Wang proposed a number of ways to address China’s issues: The government, he said, must prioritize environmental concerns when they conflict with economic development; performance evaluations of local officials should be tied to environmental protection; and punishments for violators must be more severe.

Greece and the Euro Crisis ormer prime minister of Greece George Papandreou delivered the ninth annual Emile Noël Lecture on “The State of the (European) Union,” an event sponsored by the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice in April. Papandreou, who serves as president of Socialist International, spoke with University Professor Joseph Weiler, director of the Jean Monnet Center, about the Eurozone crisis and the winding path through revolution and national upheaval that led to Papandreou’s turbulent, pivotal presidency. The scion of a Greek political dynasty, Papandreou grew up watching his grandfather serve twice as prime minister before being imprisoned in the 1967 military coup d’état that temporarily ended democracy in Greece. He spoke of hiding his father, also a two-term prime minister, from the authorities on the roof of their family home as one

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Papandreou, Weiler

of the defining moments of his childhood and discussed his years spent in exile. “I had decided not to go into politics,” said Papandreou, to appreciative laughter. Papandreou discussed ongoing reform of EU institutions, focusing on the role of the European Central Bank as a stabilizing force in the ongoing banking crisis. He described the “profound negative effect” that the media’s portrayal of Greece had on popular sentiment toward both reform and European unity—which he referred to as the “European project”—and admitted his working relationships with other EU heads of state, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were sometimes strained. But he also shared his shock at learning how deeply his predecessors had misstated Greece’s deficit values. He publicly restated them when he assumed office in 2009, explaining, “I wanted to show the EU that Greece was ready to change.”

NYU Law Magazine 2013  
NYU Law Magazine 2013  

The annual magazine from NYU School of Law.