Harmony important to human rights

By Wen Chihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-11 06:56

China is emphasizing "harmony" as an important concept for the development of human rights as it marks International Human Rights Day.

In the past two years, China's top leaders have called for the building of a "harmonious society" at home, a "harmonious Asia" and a "harmonious world."

Chinese human rights experts believe that peace and security are invariably interlinked with human rights, and the close relationship between a harmonious world and human rights can be a virtuous circle or a vicious spiral.

As Dong Yunhu, vice-president and secretary-general of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, puts it: "Harmony requires peace, security and a happy co-existence between different people, communities and nations" in the era of globalization.

Social harmony relies on justice and the right to development because both poverty and injustice are the roots of disharmony in the world, Dong says.

All disparities between nations, urban and rural areas, and the rich and the poor can be attributed to neglect or ignorance of human rights.

The value of human rights is universal, but the dynamics of its implementation varies in different countries.

"A country's human rights cause must be built upon the harmony of its internal social environment, whereas the universal realization of human rights is impossible without the harmonious co-existence of all nations with different cultural, political and religious beliefs," Dong says.

Although the United Nations adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 40 years ago, Dong points out that uneven global development during the past 40 years has resulted in more uncertainties affecting world peace, development and harmony.

Not all people, however, see eye to eye with Dong and other Chinese human rights experts.

James Oliver Williams, a US professor of political science at the North Carolina State University believes that the concept of harmony reflects "different ideas of rights".

For most western countries, he argues, the principles embodied in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are considered the minimum rights that all individuals desire and deserve, regardless of their different political, cultural and religious backgrounds.

However, citing Asian values as contradictory to the western notion of universality, Williams says in Asian countries at large, "governments are keen to advocate cultural factors as playing a role in universal rights, acting on the principle that an individual's rights can conflict with the wider social harmony and stability".

In his view, unless an agreement is reached on these principles there would be little harmony on human rights among the major countries of the world.

And the political systems that Williams sees as "non-democratic" are what he calls "a bigger impediment to human rights" than the cultural and social value system of the region.

But Dong disagrees. "If human rights were a vehicle, then political liberties and socio-economic development are like the two wheels. The vehicle will overturn if they are unbalanced.

"A nation should not be engaged in the development of political power or liberties without considering its socio-economic development. If you go ahead, there will be social chaos and more human rights will be damaged as harmony is ruined," Dong says.

"Human rights is abstract like the concept of fruit, which is a collective notion of an apple, pear or banana. But the United States just wants to push its ideal of human rights to the whole world as the standard of human rights fulfilment. It's like saying only a banana is a fruit, the apple and pear are not."

Education helps make human rights tangible and a way of life, according to Dong.

Education is for both government officials and ordinary people. For civilians, they should be told their rights and duties, whereas officeholders must be told from where their power is derived, he says.

Government officials must know clearly that the power in their hands comes from the people, who are the main body of power. Therefore their duty is to safeguard the people's rights rather than take it as privilege and abuse that power.

Whatever differences Dong and Williams hold, dialogue, however, is essential in mutual understanding about what human rights really means to different people.

(China Daily 12/11/2006 page2)

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours