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China's Human Rights Gap
Wider Than You Think
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The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues. Jimmy Carter[1]A Cruel and Unusual Record. By Jimmy Carter, June 24, 2012. New York Times

A revolution in the world’s human rights dialog has been brewing since at least 1997, when China ratified the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a step the US has yet to take. Barely twenty-four years later, on June 1, 2021, the country will set a human rights benchmark by becoming a xiaokang[*]Lesser prosperity: a necessary precondition for Confucius’ datong society, in which everyone loves everyone equally and is so trusting that ‘everyone leaves their outer doors unlocked at night’. society, in which everyone without exception has a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care.

On that day there will be more poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China–simply because they have different human rights priorities.

We prioritize the Roman ideal of the individual self, abstracted from community, seeking salvation through personal freedom from worldly bondage–the antithesis of China’s human rights values–and the basis for our criticisms of them.

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They prioritize the Confucian self, defined by community, family and mutual interactions, and finding liberation through service to socioeconomic harmony. As Randall Nadeau[3]Confucianism and the Problem of Human Rights. Randall Nadeau. Intercultural Communication Studies XI: 2 2002 says, “Christian-based Western values like radical autonomy of the individual, the soul in a transcendent relationship to the world, the prioritizing of the individual over the family and the prioritizing of the individual over the state are alien to the Chinese. The West defines human rights as ‘freedom from’ oppressive tendencies of the family and state, and grounds human rights in the fundamental equality of all persons. Thus, human rights are equated with human liberation–liberation of the autonomous individual from the restrictive community”. Nadeau observes that the Chinese language even lacks equivalents for freedom, liberty, individual, autonomy, rights, choice, equality and dignity.

Their priorities are elsewhere. Mencius insisted that the government must first provide food and shelter for everyone before it can expect lawful behavior, “The regulation of the people’s livelihood is such that, above, they do not have enough to serve their parents and below they do not have enough to support their wives and children. Even in years of prosperity their lives are bitter while in years of dearth they barely escape starvation and, under such circumstances desperately try to avoid death. How could they spare time to observe rites and lawfulness?” Yet, though the Chinese have always prioritized collective rights over individual rights, they have no fundamental disagreement with the West, as Premier Wen Jiabao said, “Science, democracy, rule of law, freedom and human rights are not concepts unique to capitalism. Rather, they are common values pursued by all mankind throughout history: the fruits of human civilization. It is only that–at different historical stages and in different countries–they are achieved through different means and in different forms”.

Though the US and China foster human rights through different means and in different forms, we can compare their degree of success thanks to The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which both are signatories. Instead of scrutinizing China’s record, as is usually done, the comments focus on our own shortcomings to explain why, when the transition to Chinese leadership occurs, it will be more from recognition of a fait accompli than a revolution.

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Preamble. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was voted into existence on December 10, 1948 so that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. China’s policy of liangshaoyikuan–charging and sentencing minorities more leniently for the same criminal offenses–and similar positive discrimination towards minorities compare favorably with America’s.

2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. China’s 1979 attack on Vietnam was disgraceful but America’s attacks on other nations are more frequent.

3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. As Jimmy Carter observed, “Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended”.

4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. While critics labeled employees of Foxconn (Apple’s manufacturer in China) ‘slaves,’ forced labor in American prisons and on farms seem worse.

5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Jimmy Carter: “Our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the Declaration’s 30 Articles, including the prohibition against ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’”.

6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Prisoners are held in Guantanamo specifically to avoid recognizing them as persons under the law.

7. All are equal before the law and are entitled, without any discrimination, to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. The US does not prosecute its criminal elite. China does, and treats its minorities more generously than the majority.

8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. America denied effective remedy to Guantanamo prisoners and to Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and imprisons and executes more blacks than South Africa at the height of apartheid, mostly without trial.

9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. The US kidnaps and imprisons people at home and abroad.

10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. Jimmy Carter: “Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations. This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration. In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention”.

11.1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed. America holds twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population, most of whom never received a trial. Guantánamo Bay houses forty men, some of whom have been tortured a hundred times.

12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. America operates 360-degree, 24-hour surveillance and makes regular police home invasions.

13.1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. America’s secret, no-fly list denies this right to 50,000 citizens while China’s hukou deny the right to freedom of residence within its borders.

14.1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. The US denies Edward Snowden and Julian Assange this right.

15.1. Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

16.1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

17.1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property. Without proving a crime, American police, using civil forfeiture, take more money from Americans than robbers.

18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. China restricts publicizing religion while in the US, as Carter observed, “Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship, or with whom they associate”.

19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. America observes this right more fully than China.

20.1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association. The US flunked its United Nations ‘peaceful assembly’ inspection while Chinese protesters hold thousands of noisy, nonviolent assemblies each year.

21.1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. Neither Chinese nor American voters directly elect their heads of State. Chinese prisoners retain their right to vote and voter participation is sixty-two percent compared to fifty-five percent in the US. Twenty percent of Americans approve of their government’s policies compared to ninety percent of Chinese.

22. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

23.1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. China’s per capita union membership is double America’s and Chinese wages have risen faster than the economy for forty years.

24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. Chinese have sixteen paid, mandatory vacation days each year. Americans have none.

25.1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates there are roughly half a million homeless people in the United States on any given night, in a country with 18 million empty homes. China has none. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection. China has higher home ownership, lower food insecurity and better access to medical care than the US. Longevity is rising in China and will surpass the US in 2025.

26.1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Poor Chinese children outscore American children in PISA tests.

27.1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized. The USA has deprived the people of thirty-five countries of their rights and since World War II by invading them.

29.1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Notes

[1] A Cruel and Unusual Record. By Jimmy Carter, June 24, 2012. New York Times

[*] Lesser prosperity: a necessary precondition for Confucius’ datong society, in which everyone loves everyone equally and is so trusting that ‘everyone leaves their outer doors unlocked at night’.

[2] Statement on Visit to the USA. Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Washington, December 15, 2017

[3] Confucianism and the Problem of Human Rights. Randall Nadeau. Intercultural Communication Studies XI: 2 2002

[4] The Great Learning. Confucius

 
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