Wednesday, 16 November 2011

New thinking on human rights & cooperation

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New thinking on human rights

REFLECTING ON THE LAW By SHAD SALEEM FARUQI

Compliance with human rights by a country must be examined both as to domestic conduct as well as international conduct, and theory must always be read in the light of practice. 

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY is approaching and many organisations worldwide are putting forth their views on this noble, transcendental quest.

A few weeks ago, the Fourth Bei­­­-jing Forum on Human Rights enunciated a bold Third World perspective.

Last week, a Malaysian NGO co-sponsored The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.

Scholars at the Beijing Forum pointed out that human rights were not born in the crucible of any particular culture or civilisation.

All cultures, religions and regions have a concept of the sacredness of human life and of some common aspirations and needs.

There is universal acceptance that humans are entitled by birth to certain inalienable rights.

These rights do not depend on the charity or generosity of the state but are inherent in the human condition.

In the human rights discourse around the world, there are many commonalities, shared beliefs, core ideas and basic elements. These must be highlighted and honoured.

However, though the idea of human rights is universal, the substantive content of human rights may vary from society to society and from time to time.

As we move from the core of the doctrine to the fringes, cultural, religious, economic, political and historical differences become relevant.

Priorities begin to vary. Value pluralism manifests itself. Context begins to determine the content.

The ideal equality of nations and people requires that these diversities and differences be recognised and allowed to find expression.

The richness of the human rights discourse has manifested itself in the analysis of human rights into many conflicting or overlapping categories.

Among them are:

  • > The first generation civil and political liberties. These are referred to as the “negative liberties” which thrive best if there is non-intervention by the state.
  • > The second generation socio-economic rights or the “positive liberties” which require vigorous, affirmative action by the state to create the socio-economic conditions in which civil and political liberties may flower.
  • > The third generation development rights.
There is universal agreement that the eradication of absolute poverty is necessary for the realisation of human dignity.

However, there is no universal agreement on the path to the goal of social amelioration.

To most Western observers, electoral democracy is the surest catalyst for the evolution of a regime of human rights.

Along with political democracy is the instrumentality of a free market economy.

Others feel political democracy and a free market economy do not always result in economic democracy and socio-economic justice. Various models of “social democracy” and “welfare state” are put forward as alternatives.

There are differences of opinion about whether the government alone should be responsible for supplying the welfare net or whether the family and the community must play a role to help their kith and kin.

Traditions and religion can be harnessed to involve the community in kinship welfare.

It is also agreed that without enforcement, human rights have no practical value. Rights without remedies are like lights that do not shine and fires that do not glow.

Traditional reliance on judicial remedies is inadequate because of the weaknesses of the judicial method and the unbearable expense for the development of Western style judicial institutions, hierarchies and methods.

Attention must therefore turn to development of remedies that are informal, inexpensive and expeditious.

There are many threats to human rights.

Among them are poverty and lack of human rights education. Along with state institutions, there are many private, religious and social centres of power that violate human rights.

Multi-national corporations often act like a state within a state.

The pervasiveness of Western global dominance in the economic, political, cultural, communication and educational fields is not always acknowledged.

Rating institutions like Moody’s exercise vast extra-territorial influence over a government’s economic policies.

Global institutions like the World Bank, the Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the International Criminal Court consistently act to preserve the unfair advantages for the West.



Some aspects of globalisation, notably the patents regime and the selective way in which the war against terrorism is being waged, are deeply destructive of the rights of the peoples of Asia and Africa.

Realisation is growing that human rights are an evolutionary process.

New claims, demands and expectations are emerging.

The human rights theory must remain abreast of the felt necessities of the times.

We must be cognisant of the problems from environmental degradation, pollution of the rivers,de-forestration of traditional lands for “development” and the inequitable way in which the benefits and burdens of development are shared.

The problems of an ageing population and the right to privacy in an age of electronics call for attention.

In evaluating human rights, we must realise that human rights are not a destination but a continuing journey.

Nations must be judged by their direction and by their progress.

Theory must always be read in the light of practice.

Compliance with human rights by a country must be examined both as to domestic conduct as well as international conduct.

The Third World must not shy away from articulating its own concept or concepts of human rights.

The institutions, methods and procedures for the realisation of human rights in Asia, Africa and Latin America must reflect the priorities, peculiarities and existing resources of each country.

Third World countries must seek to banish the idea that human rights are incompatible with Eastern traditions.

They must articulate their problems, challenges and accomplishments. They must combat distortions and lies.

They must, if need be, reciprocate the “ranking exercises” of some Western nations that selectively evaluate the human rights record of Third World nations.

Throwing stones is a game two can play.

The significant link and occasional conflict between human rights and human dignity must be studied.

Human rights must go hand in hand with duties to the family, to the community, state and all humanity.

Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM

New thinking on human rights cooperation

By Wang Qinghong, China.org.cn, March 16, 2011 

Western mainstream media and think tanks applauded the Chinese government's determination and efficiency in evacuating its citizens from Libya when civil strife recently broke out. This can be interpreted as an indirect and unintentional recognition of Chinese government's achievement in protecting the human rights of Chinese people by the West. This is significant, not only because it shows what kind of new efforts China has made for its people, but also because it triggers an inquiry into what kind of new thinking the West and China can adopt in their human rights dialogue.
Obviously, the first point for the West and China in their discussion of human rights should be both sides recognizing each other's progress rather than pointing out each other's problems. But if they only focus on each other's flaws, they then risk neglecting the successes and goodwill efforts of each other in protecting and improving human rights, which will hinder the buildup of mutual trust and cooperation. However, if both sides broaden their vision regarding each other's human rights achievements, they can deepen mutual understanding of relevant issues and find common ground for bilateral cooperation.
As for recognition, the West should pay more attention to the human rights implications of China's cancellation of the death penalty for 13 crimes and the regulation of "Demolition with Administrative Coercion" earlier this year. Correspondently, more China should offer more recognition of President Obama's recent efforts in improving American human rights in the areas of health care and education. This could substantially balance the negative atmosphere of human rights dialogues and eventually lead to more positive and constructive cooperation.
Secondly, both sides must not only eliminate Cold War mentalities, impatient and arrogant attitudes, biased and oversimplified judgments, and radical rhetoric, but also re-identify shared values and different preferences in the realm of human rights. To this end, they should understand each other's concepts of human rights within historical and cultural context, and should communicate with each other patiently and respectively.
The two international human rights treaties and other human rights agreements of the United Nations could serve as a good starting point for renewed dialogue. However, all human rights values and principles are built upon and evolve with the social, political, and economic development of societies. They have to be in turn codified as laws in accordance with cultural and historical specificities. For example, Western liberal traditions emphasize the equality and integrity of the rights of the individual, while Chinese Confucian traditions prioritize social stability and justice. Accordingly, although the notorious shooting incident by a political extremist in Arizona earlier this year was unanimously condemned by the American public, it is still difficult and extremely controversial to change the individual's right to possess firearms in the United States, which is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. On the contrary, it has been debated in recent years in China whether policemen should be equipped with guns routinely, due to the conflict between protecting the safety of individual policemen and the potential danger to public security. The strict gun control regulation in China reflects Chinese traditions of prioritizing collective human rights over individual human rights.
Thirdly, both sides should not only strengthen the dialogue about the connotations of human rights but also enhance cooperation and innovation in social management that aims to improve the real status of human rights.
Western societies mainly pursue protecting and enlarging human rights through checks and balances as well as by laws, while Chinese traditions emphasize enhancing social harmony and prosperity through promoting social fairness, responsibility, morality, and education.
Both sides can learn from each other if they maintain an open mind. In a recent speech, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for safeguarding the rights and interests of Chinese people and for improving their livelihood through strengthening China's social management mechanisms. And Premier Wen Jiabao's regular chats with the public via the Internet, which resembles US town hall meetings, shows the determination of Chinese leaders to improve human rights through social and political innovations and their ability to learn from Western experiences in social management.
Perhaps President Obama and American politicians could study the Chinese government's recent regulations in controlling real estate prices and inflation, increasing social welfare, and narrowing various socioeconomic gaps and could be inspired to enact reforms for financial, social security, and Medicare in the United States.
In addition, both sides should also upgrade previous exchanges and cooperation in governance and self-governance to a more detailed and pragmatic level. Both American and Chinese people deeply understand that their human rights have to be protected and improved through law and order and that a Cultural Revolution style "great democracy" will only jeopardize human rights and bring anarchy and chaos.
Furthermore, China and the United States should expand the range of participants in the human rights dialogue by promoting people-to-people exchanges and by following a new perspective of building up a "community of common interests" initiated by Chinese and American leaders and senior strategists. Although individuals have their own views on human rights that might contrast from what government officials, distinguished scholars, media, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations have advocated, the more people-to-people exchanges, the deeper human rights communication at the grassroots level.
People-to-people exchanges could enhance the perspective of a "community of common interests" that could in turn strengthen the foundation for human rights cooperation. The international disaster relief for China's Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, the Chinese government's humanitarian withdrawal from Libya of more than 21,000 citizens from 12 countries, and the Chinese rescue efforts for the victims of the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan have shown the strength and potential in protecting and improving human rights under the perspective of a "community of common interests."
The author is an Adjunct Fellow of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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