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Work together to promote and protect human rights

By Wang Yi (China Daily) Updated: 2017-02-27 14:01

In his speech at the UN office in Geneva in mid January, President Xi Jinping addressed in great depth the subject of building of a community of shared future for mankind, which is the call of our time. The speech has been well received by various parties. The vision of a community of shared future for mankind is rooted in the time-honored Chinese civilization and answers the call of the international community for peace, development and cooperation. It puts forth an important pathway for addressing the prominent global challenges and is also highly relevant for improving international human rights governance.


"Human rights for all" is a lofty goal that mankind has consistently pursued. After "the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind", our forefathers, based on the hard lessons learned, decided to establish the United Nations to "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom". A new chapter was opened in the international human rights cause.

In the past 70-plus years since its inception, the United Nations has witnessed the development and progress of the international cause of human rights. The world has been broadly peaceful and tranquil, people of most countries and regions are free from wars and conflicts, and the right to peace and right to life have been safeguarded on the whole. Guided by the UN Millennium Development Goals, 1.1 billion people around the world have been lifted out of poverty. Net enrollment rate in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 percent, global population with access to drinking tap water has risen by 1.9 billion and 3.5 billion people are now connected to the internet. With tremendous progress achieved in right to survival and right to development, the living standard of people has generally improved worldwide. Building on the historical endeavors, the international community has formulated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, drawing a grand blueprint to eradicate poverty by 2030. The human rights cause has increasingly become mainstream and international human rights cooperation has enjoyed vigorous development. The principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectiveness have become the foundation of UN's work on human rights.

Work together to promote and protect human rights

On the other hand, the United Nations has also witnessed risks and challenges to the international cause of human rights in the past 70-plus years. There is still injustice, intolerance and instability in our world today, and lack of adequate balance, coordination and sustainability in development. Over 700 million people still struggle in the extreme poverty and more than 128 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Some 65 million people are displaced from homeland, 24 million children in conflict areas cannot go to school. There is a rising tendency to politicize human rights and application of double standards remains rampant. Such a disturbing situation of human rights tests the conscience of mankind and erodes the basic value of human rights. It has also exposed the "governance deficit" in the international cause of human rights.

To safeguard human rights is an important part of building a community of shared future for mankind. We should think about how to enhance and improve global human rights governance and promote sound development of the international cause of human rights to serve the high goal of building a community of shared future for mankind.


President Xi Jinping pointed out that in building a community of shared future for mankind, the international community should promote partnership, security, economic development, inter-civilization exchange and ecological progress, and strive for a world of lasting peace, a world of common security for all, a world of common prosperity, an open and inclusive world and a clean and beautiful world. This provides important guidance to the building of a fair and equitable international human rights governance system.

Sovereign equality is the foundation for promoting and protecting human rights. Sovereign equality is the most important norm governing state-to-state relations, and is also a basic principle in international human rights law and UN's work on human rights. As a Chinese saying goes, a single silk strand does not make a thread and a single tree cannot make a forest. International human rights affairs should be handled through joint consultations by all countries. The global human rights governance system should be jointly developed by all countries. And the achievements of human rights development should be shared by all people around the world. It is important to faithfully observe the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, adhere to the principle of state sovereignty, respect the path of human rights development countries choose for themselves and carry out human rights exchanges and cooperation as equal partners. We all should take a fair and objective view on other countries' human rights development. No one should politicize human rights or interfere in other countries' internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, not to mention attempting at regime change. To impose one's own values and model of human rights development on others, willfully interfere in others' internal affairs or even wage wars will only result in chaos and persistent turmoil, just like opening the Pandora box. There are quite many examples.

Peace and security are the prerequisites for promoting and protecting human rights. Security is the paramount human right. War, conflict and turbulence in a region are the primary cause of massive violations of human rights. Alan Kurdi (Aylan Kurdi), the little Syrian boy, lost his right to survival even before he could grow old enough to understand what human rights are. This sobering case gives us much food for thought. How could one possibly enjoy human rights, dignity and freedom without first having peace, security and stability? Use of force must give way to a pursuit of peace and harmony to ensure an external environment needed for human rights promotion and protection. Domestic security and stability, too, is indispensable for any country to develop human rights. There are no such things as good criminals and bad criminals, just like no distinction could be drawn between good terrorists and bad terrorists. All are equal before the law. Any organization or individual that has violated the law must be duly punished. This is the only right way to interpret the rule of law. In this connection, the efforts of countries to crack down on criminal offences and maintain public order and security deserve respect and support.

Development for all is crucial for promoting and protecting human rights. As an old Chinese saying goes, "People begin to pay attention to manners only when they have enough food to eat." Development, an eternal pursuit of mankind, creates the basic conditions for human rights to be realized. The 2008 financial crisis dealt a heavy blow to global development and added to the challenges of people around the world to pursue a better life and uphold their right to development. We should follow the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, take a development-based approach in implementing the 2030 Agenda, promote coordinated economic, social and environmental development, and deliver a decent life to all. Countries are entitled to participate as equals in development undertakings, and all peoples have the right to a fair share of development benefits. The international community should step up assistance to developing countries through North-South cooperation as the main channel. In rendering such assistance, elimination of hunger and poverty must be prioritized so that people in developing countries can realize their rights to survival and development. We must make sure that no one is left behind.

Inclusiveness and mutual learning are conducive to promoting and protecting human rights. No two tree leaves are exactly the same. Inclusiveness makes a society vibrant, while diversity defines a splendid civilization. There is no one-size-fits-all path or model to develop and protect human rights. As an integral part of any country's economic and social development, human rights must be advanced in light of specific national circumstances and people's needs. The varied approaches and practices of different countries in human rights development should serve as a source of strength for human rights development in the world, rather than a cause of confrontation or rivalry. Different countries, civilizations and ethnicities should communicate as equals, learn from and complement each other, and make progress together. We need to respect the path of human rights development chosen by the people themselves, and pursue constructive dialogue to properly handle differences and jointly explore effective ways to promote and protect human rights.

Democracy and people's well-being are important means to promote and protect human rights. They are two dimensions of human rights, like the two wings of a bird or two wheels of a vehicle. They both are important goals of international human rights development. Economic, social and cultural rights are connected with and inseparable from civil and political rights. The various human rights are equally important. None should be emphasized at the expense of another. Countries should advance these two main categories of human rights in a balanced way that reflects their social and economic reality and the needs of their people. In this process, due regard should be given to both the universality and particularity of human rights, both individual and collective rights, and both rights and obligations.


China is committed to advancing human rights. While striving to improve human rights of its own people, China is also contributing to human rights development in the world.

China has been actively exploring a path of human rights development. We believe that human rights have both universality and particularity, collective and individual human rights should be harmonized, progress in democracy should come with betterment of people's lives, and the two categories of human rights should be advanced in a coordinated way. We have blazed a distinctly Chinese path of human rights development tailored to China's national circumstances, and have scored many proud achievements. With its GDP exceeding RMB70 trillion last year, China has become the world's second largest economy. The government is able to provide adequate food and clothing for the 1.3 billion people. Over 700 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, which accounts for more than 70 percent of poverty reduction worldwide, making China the first to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people living in poverty. This is a major contribution to the world. Currently, the government creates jobs for 770 million people. Every child and teenager enjoys nine-year compulsory education. Care and support is provided to 230 million senior citizens, over 7 million college graduates and 85 million people with disabilities. More than 60 million urban and rural residents receive subsistence allowance from the government. The life expectancy of the Chinese people has been raised from 35 years in 1949 to over 76 years now, which has been hailed by the UN as the biggest increase of all nations in the last 30 years. Democracy and the rule of law have been advanced in China, judicial work and human rights protection have registered major progress, and Chinese people enjoy far greater democratic rights and freedoms than before. The lawful rights of ethnic minorities, women, children, senior citizens and the disabled are safeguarded and upheld. These notable achievements are there for all to see and demonstrate the strength of the Chinese system and development path.

China plays an active part in global human rights governance. Following the principles of equality, mutual trust, inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation, China is deeply involved in all aspects of international human rights cooperation and works for a just and fair international human rights system. Last year, China was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the fourth time with as many as 180 votes. The fact that few countries have been elected as many times is a good demonstration of the world's recognition of China's progress. China has joined 26 international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and five other core human rights conventions. China takes its human rights obligations seriously and has duly received Universal Periodic Reviews and reviews on implementation of human rights conventions. We conduct human rights dialogue and exchange with nearly 40 countries and carry out constructive cooperation with UN human rights agencies. All this contributes to international human rights governance. We feel keenly that dialogue and cooperation works better than confrontation, and that exchange and mutual learning works better than finger-pointing. This view is shared by the majority of UN member states.

China is a strong supporter of the international human rights cause. By the end of 2016, China has provided over RMB400 billion of foreign aid, and rendered medical assistance to 69 countries. Over 600,000 Chinese aid workers have been sent abroad and help has been given to more than 120 developing countries in meeting the MDGs. The China-UN Peace and Development Fund is up and running and the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund has been launched, both of which will contribute to the cause of world peace and development. This May, China will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing to make sure that the Belt and Road Initiative will deliver greater benefits to the world. As President Xi has pointed out, China will do well only when the world does well, and vice versa. The world will see that while developing itself, China will make an even bigger contribution to global human rights.

The Communist Party of China will hold the 19th National Congress later this year, a pivotal conference that coincides with a crucial stage of China's development. We will continue to act on the vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development; advance balanced progress in five key areas; implement the four-pronged comprehensive strategy; and remain confident as ever of the path, theories, system and culture of our own country. We are determined to meet the goals we have set for 2020, including doubling the 2010 GDP and per capita income in rural as well as urban areas, eliminating poverty, improving people's democracy and realizing law-based governance.

The Chinese people are pursuing the "two centenary goals" and the Chinese dream of great national rejuvenation. China's human rights aspiration is for our country to be strong and prosperous, for our people to enjoy happiness and for the world to have peace, development and win-win cooperation. Let us work together to promote and protect human rights worldwide so that human rights are truly enjoyed by all humans.

The author is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China.

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