Thorbjorn Jagland, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and some other Western critics, recently published articles trying to justify the Committee's decision to award this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. However, instead of providing answers, many of their opinions provoke more questions.
The articles put forth many controversial assertions. They tried to imply that human rights are superior to sovereignty and that the international community has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of China. Yet, some assumptions that the authors called "universal" are far from universal. There is no consensus among the international community that "human rights are superior to sovereignty". States are still the fundamental elements of constituting international relations.
Sovereignty tolerates no violation. The domestic affairs of nations should not be interfered with. These are the fundamental principles of international law, as emphasized by 2005 World Summit Outcome. The Charter of the United Nations and many other UN documents affirm that sovereign states shoulder primary responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights.
Indeed, human rights can only be safeguarded when a state's independence and sovereignty are guaranteed. In this sense, the sovereignty of a state is the very foundation for its people to enjoy rights and freedom. This has been well demonstrated by the history of many African and Asian countries, including China.
The one-sided emphasis on human rights' superiority will only put peace and human rights in jeopardy. The NATO intervention in former Yugoslavia and Iraq were both conducted with the nobly declared aim of liberating the people. However, both have led to humanitarian disasters and violations of human rights on the ground.
The concept of human rights superiority becomes even more tenuous when it is always the Western powers doing the intervening, while the developing countries are the recipients of their actions. The United States' refusal to permit group visits to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp illustrates that the superiority of human rights does not apply to those who advocate it.
Thorbjorn Jagland and his colleagues spared no efforts in their attempts to promote the value of freedom of speech. But, while freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, freedom of speech does not mean one can say whatever one wants. As Charles de Montesquieu said, liberty is the right to do what the law permits, there is no absolute freedom in the world. Absolute freedom will only bring infringements on the rights of others.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights emphasizes that freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and it may therefore be subjected to certain restrictions so as to respect the rights or reputation of others, and the protection of national security, public order or public health or morals. The Covenant also clearly stipulates that propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred shall be prohibited by law. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other international conventions also set out restrictions on freedom of expression.
Based on the above, some countries have restrictions in their laws on freedom of expression, such as speeches inciting subversion, undermining national security and social stability. US Code 2383 provides that whoever incites, sets in motion, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the US shall be fined or imprisoned. In addition, the laws of the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and Canada also include articles on subversion. It is unfair to point a finger at Chinese law.
It is even more surprising to see that the incident of the cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad was cited in the articles as an example of freedom of expression. Such incidents causing religious and racial hatred have already triggered international condemnation and violated human rights.
In their articles, Western critics imply that the Chinese are not open to different voices. But on the contrary, being open to constructive criticism has long been a virtue of Chinese culture. What the Chinese people do not accept are attacks against China's judicial sovereignty, or rhetoric seeking to subvert Chinese law or awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to persons trying to overthrow the government.
Western critics label the Nobel Committee as "independent" and "just", and honor it as a moral court. However, the Committee that comprises five Norwegians only represents the voice of some of the Norwegians or, at best, the values of some in the West. It is far from representative. Indeed, the Nobel Peace Prize is a national award with certain international fame rather than an award showing the consensus of the international community.
Historically, the Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to Andrey Dmitriyevich Sakharov, Mikhail Gorbachev and even the Dalai Lama, the logic behind the selection of recipients is clear: those who try hard to split or oppose a Communist country or cater to the West's agenda will be selected.
This year, the Committee put itself in the center of international criticism by awarding the Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese criminal. Fredrik S. Heffermhl, a Norwegian jurist commented that the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize decision is yet another example that this is no longer Nobel's Prize and it is the prize of the Norwegian Storting (the supreme legislature in Norway). Some people and media in Britain also pointed out that Liu Xiaobo did not make any contribution to world peace and there is no sign that this person would make any contribution to world peace. Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo only hurts the reputation of the Peace Prize as the decision does not comply with the will of Afred Nobel. As made clear by media in Pakistan and Russia, the decision this year is another political means of handling a non-Western country. The Prize itself has long lost its independence.
All these show that the Nobel Committee has adopted an exclusive and political approach in its selection process. If the Committee is indeed independent and just, or if its selection of the Peace Prize recipient is convincing, Jagland and his colleagues would not need to defend and justify their decision.
Jagland asked China to give heed to different voices, probably the same should be said to Mr. Jagland himself.
The author is an international issue observer.
(China Daily 11/01/2010 page8)