Western concept of human rights too rigid
2010/10/30

By Zhang Weiwei

A few days ago, Thorbjoern Jagland, a retired Norwegian politician and the president of the Nobel committee, published an article in the New York Times, using the claim that human rights override national sovereignty to defend the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo.

But what are human right standards? In real politics, there are huge differences between human rights standards in each country.

For example, the Swedish welfare system is built on a high tax basis, which would be considered a violation of private property in the US.

The French government's monopoly on television lasted to 1982, which would also be unimaginable in the US, just as the French government's ban on the wearing of the burqa in classrooms would be in China.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee chose to award the Peace Prize to someone who openly praised 300 years of Western colonization of China. The committee owes an honest explanation and apology to the Chinese people.

Who should determine the violation of human rights?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has no such legal authority, as the international community has never given it such authority and its decision-making process is undemocratic, leading naturally to the deteriorating quality of its decisions.

The Western concept of human rights is facing increasing opposition. According to research by Richard Gowan and Franziska Brantner, both scholars at the European Council on Foreign Relations, this year 127 members of the 192 countries in the United Nations General Assembly voted against the EU's position on human rights.

They pointed out that the EU could count on a support rate of 70 percent in the 1990s. But today the rate has dropped to 42 percent, which roughly the same as the 40 percent support giving to the US stance.

In contrast, China's and Russia's stance on human rights has a support rate of 69 percent.

The Western hegemony on human rights has long gone. The 10 failed China-related proposals of the West submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights are good examples.

Can human rights override sovereignty? The first principle of the United Nations Charter is the equality of national sovereignty, on which the whole international law system has been built, with the principles of non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states and peaceful settlement of international disputes.

With the evolution of international law, only in conditions of "widespread and gross violations of human rights" such as aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and apartheid can the international community authorize the UN to intervene in accordance with international laws and legal means.

However, there are always some forces in the Western world trying to be global judges and police, and using "human rights overriding sovereignty" as an excuse to interfere in other nations' internal affairs and even go to war.

Practices of this kind have violated the human rights of people worldwide, such as the massive damage done by the US-backed invasion of Iraq.

Most nations are firmly opposed to Western "human rights diplomacy." Just like China, they have suffered from the loss of life and the destruction of families caused by Western colonialism and imperialism.

The West should start from their own parts to implement "human rights overriding sovereignty." The EU should first condemn and sanction the US over its invasion of Iraq and the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, which is undoubtedly a large-scale violation of human rights.

If they are reluctant to propose this, it means the Western nations are using double standards. The so-called argument "human rights overriding sovereignty" should be phrased as "human rights recognized by the West overriding the sovereignty of non-Western countries."

The world is undergoing great changes and Western hegemony has already shaken, a process which has been accelerated by the rise of China and other emerging countries.

What we need today is to build a new political and human rights culture to put an end to the rigid Western interpretation of human rights and to the Cold War mentality.

Only in this way can different nations learn from each other and exchange experience in protecting human rights and ultimately make the world a more equitable, just, and peaceful place.

The author is professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations and a research fellow at the Chunqiu Research Institute. forum@ globaltimes.com.cn

 

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