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
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
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
Education helps make human rights tangible and a way of life, according to
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
Whatever differences Dong and Williams hold, dialogue, however, is essential
in mutual understanding about what human rights really means to different
(China Daily 12/11/2006 page2)