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Better protecting human rights

China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-13 07:15

Editor's Note: More than 100 experts and officials from home and abroad are participating in the Sixth Beijing Forum on Human Rights, being held in Beijing on Thursday and Friday, with building a sustainable environment for human rights development as the theme. The following is selected views from some of the participants on major topics.

Chinese dream and human rights

Li Junru, vice-president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies and former vice-president of the Party School

The Chinese dream is a human rights dream combining social improvement and economic development in the course of realizing Chinese people's rights to subsistence and development.

The Chinese dream is also a human rights dream integrating the dignity of a nation and the dignity of each of its citizens. History has proven that without the dignity of the state and nation, an individual cannot gain personal dignity, and a nation won't get dignity from the outside world if it doesn't respect and protect the personal dignity of its citizens.

China's modernization and peaceful development have demonstrated Chinese people's basic viewpoints on human rights, that the rights to subsistence and development are the most fundamental human rights.

We have recognized that we must not only insist on promoting modernized productivity and economic development, but also persistently accelerate social improvement in order to build a vigorous, harmonious, and culturally advanced society.

One important task we should undertake in social construction is to proceed from reality and gradually resolve all kinds of problems concerning the people's livelihoods.

Political rights vs economic and social rights

Otto Kolbl, researcher at the German Department of the Lausanne University, Switzerland

The international community, working within the framework of the United Nations, has time and again emphasized that civil, political, economic, social and also cultural rights are all integral and indivisible parts of human rights.

However, recent research has confirmed that Western politicians, human rights experts and media tend to exclude economic and social rights from their discourse. The right to economic development in particular is not only excluded from human rights, it is often set in opposition to "human rights development", despite the fact that it is mentioned explicitly in several fundamental human rights texts.

The right to life is considered by most people and experts to be the basis of all human rights: of civil and political rights, as well as the economic and social rights. In developing countries, people are aware that poverty kills. It is therefore not surprising that not only the right to healthcare, but also the right to a "continuous improvement of living conditions" is explicitly mentioned in the fundamental human rights texts. Unfortunately, Western human rights experts seem unable to look beyond the wealthy and highly industrialized society in which they live.

The Western human rights discourse consisting in an exclusive advocacy of the civil and political rights is based on a lack of understanding of the basic UN human rights texts, of conditions in other regions of the world, and of the relationships between the various rights.

Holden Chow, chairman of the Young Democratic Alliance for the Betterment, Hong Kong, China

China's emphasis on human rights is not limited to civil and political rights; it is also linked to economic, cultural and social aspects. During its social construction, China is focused on protecting and improving people's livelihoods, further improving the basic public service system, significantly upgrading the basic public services and the degree of equalization, and promoting the rapid development of education.

However, we must understand that due to China's huge population, complex environment, and the relatively low education level of the population, the duplication of Western society will have unimaginable consequences in China and affect social stability and people's lives.

China should make steady progress along its own development path, so as not to lose its direction. In this context, China should possess a greater tolerance toward criticism and gradually correct some drawbacks, in order to achieve a better future for the nation and the people.

Tom Zwart, professor of human rights, Utrecht University

Despite the good intentions and sincere efforts of both sides, the discussions between Northern developed countries and Southern developing countries on human rights do not seem very fruitful. This is exemplified by the human rights dialogues taking place between China and its developed partners.

Northern human rights experts, who tend to view their human rights standards as universal, sometimes believe that their views are right and Southern views are wrong. But while Southern views may be different, that does not make them wrong.

The issue of human rights is a "big tent" that offers room to many views and approaches. Northern experts should welcome and respect other human rights approaches and should offer more room in their journals and their publications to Southern views.

This will diminish the reluctance of Southern experts to express their views. As a result, we will have a more open and constructive human rights discourse, aimed at really getting to know each rather than blaming and shaming the other.

Fostering a more sustainable environment for human rights development

Chen Shiqiu, vice-president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies

The construction of a human rights development environment is a comprehensive, gradual and long-term task. It calls for the building of a sound political, economic, social and cultural environment, as well as the rule of law.

A favorable social environment should feature harmony, impartiality, equality, non-discrimination, tolerance, obedience to the law, fairness, and non-violence, among other things.

It is not easy for China to meet all these demands. Social conflicts and disharmony are unavoidable in the course of its reform and opening-up, during which conflicts between interests and rights have constantly occurred.

In order to relieve and overcome these social contradictions and conflicts, China has undertaken the task to construct a harmonious society, and laid special emphasis on the building of a social justice guarantee system featuring mainly equal rights, equal opportunities and equal rules, the creating of a fair social environment, and the guaranteeing of the people's rights to equal participation and equal development.

Social conflicts cannot be solved in one single go and the construction of a harmonious society will be a long-term task, but building a harmonious society is the process whereby human rights are improved.

Fernando Alberto Calle Hayen, magistrate of the Constitutional Court of Peru

Human rights are essential, inalienable and inherent to human dignity. They contain many aspects, like those linked to the quality of life and development.

And the right to a healthy environment is no longer a putative right, as it is now included in the UN's human rights charter without discrimination.

However, there is a collision between the right to development and the right to a healthy environment, as the former is often realized at the cost of the latter, with detrimental effects on people's rights to life and health.

That requires us to know the extent to which industrial and technological growth is permissible, to achieve a balance between development and the environment.

Peace and stability as essential rights

Gao Xinman, director of the Training Center for Chinese Peacekeeping Police and member of the China Society for Human Rights Studies

One of the most precious lessons drawn from past peace-building operations is that peace and the right to development are closely connected. Currently, most of the military conflicts take place in underdeveloped countries; the immediate causes of the conflicts vary, but extreme poverty is often the root cause.

To prevent conflicts, it is essential to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable social development. Only with enough resources for all residents can an inclusive social environment be possible. Only an inclusive social environment will be able to maintain social stability, legal order and morality.

That requires developed countries better perform their duties as members of the international community, by providing more funds and other support to help conflict-torn countries recover.

Huo Guihuan, director of the Department of Philosophy & Culture, Institute of Philosophy, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

As national security is a basic guarantee for human rights protection, so too is regional security for the protection of human rights in each state in a specific region.

The maintaining of regional security is critical. If the basic human rights of a region are threatened, countries from other regions may decide to make economic, political or even military interventions. The lessons from the Iraq War and the ongoing Syria crisis reveal how important sustained regional security is to the protection of human rights.

There is no consensus on whether sovereignty weighs more than human rights. But human rights are upheld and protected based on the presence of state sovereignty.

Some Western powers maintain that human rights are above sovereignty and they are willing to intervene in sovereign states in the name of safeguarding their human rights. Turning human rights into an ideological excuse to intervene in other countries' internal affairs often leads to more human tragedies.

On the online environment for human rights development

Daniel Joyce, project director, New Media and Human Rights Project, Australian Human Rights Centre, and lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales

Online environment, and especially the communication networks of social media such as weibo or Twitter, can assist in raising human rights awareness and encouraging public participation. But several challenges remain, including those relating to spectacle, privacy and the role and influence of transnational media companies.

The online environment does offer a powerful new avenue for human rights advocacy, but perhaps its power is strongest in the areas of communication and coordination. It remains to be seen whether these connections made online, along with increasing awareness, will translate into meaningful protection for human rights.

There remains much optimism about the potential for new digital media forms, and especially the Internet, to enhance the fields of human rights and international law and to refocus their message and impact. Yet if international law is a discipline of crisis and subject to its own existential challenges, so too are the media, who face serious questions regarding their lack of regulation and responsibility.

Improving gender equality

Lu Haina, associate professor of School of Law, Renmin University of China

Gender equality is among the most fundamental of human rights. Both China's Constitution and its laws stipulate that men and women enjoy equal rights to work and social security.

However, problems related to gender equality still exist in the country's social security system, and even if some women with good health and a promising future are willing to work until the age of 60, they are not allowed to. Therefore, the policy actually deprives women over the age 55 of the right to work, which is also one of basic human rights.

Protecting children's rights in the process of urbanization

Yang Xiejiao, a professor from Zhejiang University of Technology

Incidents in the past few years have revealed that much needs to be done to protect the rights of children, especially those living in rural areas.

In many cases, schools and other educational resources have been concentrated, but they are often far away from pupils' homes without sufficient transport available to take the children to and from school. This has led to unlicensed vans filling the gap to meet demand, and poor maintenance and driving have led to some deadly accidents.

An even more serious problem is "left-behind children", those children who don't receive enough care and attention from their parents because they are away working in faraway cities. The number of left-behind children is already 58 million; and there have been an increasing number of cases involving violation of their rights in recent years.

These issues should arouse our attention and concern. As a signing member of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, China has done much legislative work in child protection, but more needs to be invested to form a comprehensive system, such as introducing an independent juvenile justice system, and constructing more aid centers for children.

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