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China a committed defender of human rights

By Liu Huawen | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 07:10
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While some Western politicians and scholars unreasonably and rudely point fingers at China regarding human rights, they only make a mockery of themselves, as China consistently stands as a true guardian of human rights.

This year marks the 76th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And the UDHR stands as one of the most significant international instruments to promote and protect human rights. It serves as the foundation of core human rights treaties and other important documents within the UN framework. It is even referenced in or recognized by the constitutions and laws of many countries. Translated into more than 500 languages, it holds the record for being the most translated document, reaffirming its timeless relevance.

UDHR embodies principles of United Nations Charter

First, the UDHR embodies the original principles and goals of the UN Charter. The UN was founded after the end of World War II, with its Charter emphasizing collective security, shared economic development, social progress and respect for and promotion of human rights as fundamental objectives.

Since the turn of this century, peace, development and human rights have been globally recognized as the three pillars of UN reform and development. In particular, the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council, to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, in 2006 marked a significant step toward bringing human rights protection into the mainstream of the international community.

For 76 years, the UDHR, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has been referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights. It symbolizes global human rights governance under the UN framework and serves as a foundational charter.

Second, the UDHR is a comprehensive international human rights document, aimed at protecting and promoting human rights. Traditionally, international law had not been truly international till the establishment of the UN. Thanks to the UN's efforts, international law started to slowly become universal, as the UDHR is applicable to all countries irrespective of their size, national strength and wealth.

The concept and classification of human rights vary from country to country and people to people. But the UDHR transcends ideological divisions, emphasizing that human rights means protecting the dignity of every individual. It emphasizes the equality of all people and advocates that everyone be treated in the spirit of brotherhood. Also, it encompasses both civil and political rights, traditionally emphasized by Western countries, and economic, social and cultural rights, which are of concern to oriental countries, providing a comprehensive and systematic overview of human rights as fundamental rights and their main aspects and contents.

According to the UN declaration, all human rights constitute an indivisible whole, and all countries and their peoples are equal. No one should be left behind, and states should adopt a systematic approach to comprehensively promoting and protecting human rights.

Third, as a pioneering and foundational international human rights document, the UDHR embodies the inclusiveness and diversity of human rights. The drafting of comprehensive international human rights documents was prioritized only after the establishment of the United Nations.

Not legally binding but backed by all

Unable to adopt a legally binding global treaty of human rights or establish an international human rights court with universal jurisdiction in the short term, early UN member states wisely chose to draft a non-legally binding declaration to uphold the banner of global human rights protection.

Western countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom were not the only ones that contributed to the drafting of the declaration, countries like China and other developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, especially those countries that had suffered greatly during World War II, also made valuable contributions to the draft of the declaration. Representatives from both Western and Eastern countries, whose ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds were very different, jointly created the historic document, with the Americas leading the way with the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and providing a regional version of UDHR.

The Chinese delegate to the UN, Chang Peng-Chun, not only participated in the drafting but also served as the vice-chairman of the drafting committee. His wisdom and knowledge helped to resolve differences and bridge gaps, integrating Chinese wisdom into the declaration. China's contribution to the drafting of the declaration is a highlight of international human rights law.

Fourth, as a comprehensive international human rights document of the UN, the UDHR is forward-looking and pioneering in nature. The UN has established human rights mechanisms based on the UN Charter and various human rights treaties. Yet the UN Human Rights Council is the most important UN human rights body promoting and protecting human rights.

The UNHRC addresses comprehensive human rights issues in UN member states, including freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women's rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. The UN Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, is responsible for coordinating human rights mechanisms, spreading awareness about human rights and capacity-building worldwide.

The UDHR serves as the foundation for not only all UN human rights treaties but also many regional human rights treaties, guiding the work of all human rights institutions, especially UN human rights institutions.

And fifth, as the most scrutinized and representative international human rights document, the UDHR embodies the cohesive force of human rights values and serves as the cornerstone of international human rights law. But unlike treaties, it does not require ratification by states, nor does it have special global monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure its implementation.

However, in international law, "less is more". Precisely because of its nature as soft law, it has gained widespread and universal support and endorsement. Over the decades, many provisions of the declaration, such as those prohibiting slavery and torture are reflected in customary international law and have legally binding force, even constituting peremptory norms.

The UDHR is powerful not because it provides material resources or has great coercive force, but because it embodies the common ideals and goals of humankind as a whole. It has vitality, widespread influence and enduring appeal.

At the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in March of last year, China, together with representatives from more than 70 countries, issued a joint statement on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR, giving suggestions on how to promote mutual respect, cooperation and dialogue to implement the declaration.

For 76 years, China has been a staunch advocate, promoter and practitioner of the declaration. China is working with the UN and the international community to firmly uphold the banner of human rights and promote the healthy development of the human rights cause.

The author is executive director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Center for Human Rights Studies. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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