The Dutch Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and Media, Ari Slob, has forwarded a bill concerning civic education that will be discussed in parliament on Monday. November 9, 2020. The phrasing of that bill has raised concerns among certain religious schools in the Netherlands. The CCHRC is supporting these organizations in sending a joint letter to the Minister. We are sharing the entire letter here in the original Dutch and an English translation.
Brief van bijzondere scholen over burgerschapsonderwijs
A.s. maandag behandelt de Tweede Kamer het wetsvoorstel van minister Slob waarin het burgerschapsonderwijs in het teken wordt geplaatst van de basiswaarden van de democratische rechtstaat. De invulling van die basiswaarden door minister Slob roept vragen op. Zo rekent de Onderwijsinspectie daartoe wel gelijkwaardigheid, verdraagzaamheid en democratische gezindheid, maar niet de grondwettelijke onderwijsvrijheid en vrijheid van godsdienst.
Een aantal bijzondere scholen van verschillende denominaties is hier niet gerust op. In het debat missen zij de erkenning dat bijzondere onderwijsinstellingen juist prima in staat zijn om de opdracht van het burgerschapsonderwijs in de praktijk te brengen. De religies die de inspiratie vormen voor hun onderwijs verlangen van de gelovigen dat zij zich inspannen om goede burgers te zijn: zij respecteren de overheid, komen hun juridische verplichtingen na en maken actief deel uit van de samenleving. Daarom groeien leerlingen en studenten van bijzondere instellingen uit tot tolerante en weerbare burgers die vanuit de kracht van hun identiteit een actieve en constructieve bijdrage leveren aan onze pluriforme samenleving.
Naar hun mening wordt deze positieve rol van godsdienst en bijzonder onderwijs als peilers van burgerschap in het debat wel eens uit het oog verloren. De Nederlandse Grondwet kent geen hiërarchie van rechten, dus is het niet aan de politiek om die daarin toch aan te brengen, en al helemaal niet door seculiere waarden te plaatsen boven grondrechten die religieuze minderheden beschermen. In zijn advies over het wetsvoorstel heeft de Raad van State terecht benadrukt dat het primaat ten aanzien van de invulling van de burgerschapsopdracht bij de scholen blijft liggen. Dit betekent dat de Inspectie voor het Onderwijs het toezicht op het burgerschapsonderwijs terughoudend moet verrichten en niet een eigen interpretatieve koers moet gaan varen.
De scholen hebben minister Slob dan ook bij brief gevraagd om maandag uit te spreken dat de Grondwet het uitgangspunt vormt voor de in het wetsvoorstel genoemde basiswaarden van de democratische rechtsstaat, dat de godsdienstvrijheid en onderwijsvrijheid daarvan onverkort deel uitmaken, en dat hij het vertrouwen heeft dat bijzondere onderwijsinstellingen de burgerschapsopdracht naar behoren vervullen en kunnen blijven vervullen zonder dat zij seculiere waarden in de plaats hoeven te stellen voor hun identiteit. Het Cross-cultural Human Righst Centre ondersteunt deze actie.
Letter sent by religious schools regarding civic education
This coming Monday, the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will discuss the bill tabled by Education Minister Arie Slob, according to which civic education needs to serve the key values which are part of democracy and the rule of law. The way in which Minister Slob interprets these key values raises questions. Thus, the Education Inspectorate, for which he is responsible, counts equivalence, tolerance and a democratic attitude among them, but leaves out the freedom of education and the freedom of religion, despite the fact that they are guaranteed by the Dutch Constitution.
A number of religious schools of different denominations challenge this position. They argue that there is a lack of recognition of the fact that religious schools are particularly well placed to provide civic education. The religions which inspire their teaching expect their believers to act as good citizens: they have to respect the government, to obey the laws and to play an active part in society. Consequently, their pupils and students grow into tolerant and resilient citizens who contribute actively and constructively to our pluralist society while relying on their own identity.
According to the schools, those taking part in the debate tend to lose sight of the positive role played by religion and religious education as pillars of civic education. The Dutch Constitution does not put civil rights in a particular hierarchical order, so politicians are not allowed to do so instead. Consequently, secular values cannot trump civil rights which secure the position of religious minorities. In its advisory opinion regarding the bill the Council of State has rightly emphasised that it is up to the schools to determine the content of their civic education. This means that the Education Inspectorate has to show restraint in its review of civic education programs and should not replace the approach of the schools by its own interpretation.
Therefore, the schools have sent a letter to Minister Slob requesting him to express during the debate on Monday that the Constitution is the foundation of the key values of democracy and the rule of law mentioned in the bill. This definitively includes the freedom of religion and the freedom of education. They have also urged the minister to express his confidence in the ability of religious schools to provide civic education without them having to put secular values above their identity. The Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre supports this campaign.
The prestigious Li Buyun Law Prize, which is annually conferred by the legal community in China on a person who has made an eminent contribution to Chinese legal studies and legal education, has been awarded this year to Prof. Tom Zwart, the Director of the Cross-cultural Human Rights Centre at VU.
The prize has been endowed by the SIFL Institute, a private, non-profit institution devoted to the development of the rule of law in China through liberal reforms. The winner is selected by a panel of senior legal scholars and practitioners. Prof. Li Buyun, after whom the prize has been named, is a highly distinguished legal scholar who played a pioneering role at the end of the Cultural Revolution by calling for legal reform, in particular the introduction of human rights and the rule of law.
Zwart has been involved in research and teaching law, in particular human rights law, in China for almost two decades. He has taught numerous human rights classes to Chinese students. He campaigns for an active role to be played by China within the existing international human rights system to secure its future. Zwart has encouraged Chinese NGO’s to start organising side events at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva when Chinese reports would be on the agenda, and he has taken part in many of them. Together with Chinese colleagues he has promoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in China by highlighting the important, but hitherto unknown, role played in its drafting process by Zhang Peng Chun, the Chinese delegate.
Zwart is also involved in attempts to remove the stigma of those living with HIV and the intellectually disabled. He has set up a project to enable Chinese Muslims to fully exercise their freedom or religion and to play an active part in Chinese society. He has started a campaign to combat terrorism with the help of Islam and the Muslim community rather than through ‘de-radicalisation’. As part of the attempts made to strengthen the rule of law in China, he is assisting in indentifying ways to prevent wrongful convictions.
The award will be presented during an online ceremony on 19 September. Zwart has donated the prize money to the Linfen Red Ribbon School in Shanxi Province, China, which offers an education and a home to children and teenagers with HIV.
The internet conference on Addressing Contemporary Forms of Racism: Challenges Posed by the Pandemic and the National Responses was successfully held on July 3rd, 2020. Guided by China Society for Human Rights Studies, the conference was co-hosted Central South University Human Rights Center, Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre-Vrije University Amsterdam and China Top Think Tank-Wuhan University Institute of International law. Nearly 20 experts and scholars in the field of human rights from China, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and other countries as well as the United Nations attended. The theme of the internet conference is to address contemporary forms of racism, the challenges posed by COVID-19. The presentations given have important theoretical significance and practical value to eliminate racism and promote inclusiveness for the international community.
In her conference statement, Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, said that we have witnessed an alarming rise in racist and xenophobic incidents directed at certain groups solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin and religion all over the world. She further calls upon international cooperation on combating COVID-19 and to ensure that the coordinated efforts contribute to a holistic concept of health and well-being, including freedom from racism and xenophobia.
The participated experts and scholars conducted in-depth discussions concerning contemporary racism issues, the challenges brought by COVID-19 pandemic and the national responses. They agreed that racism and racial discrimination were deep-rooted and that the COVID-19 pandemic had deteriorated the situation of specific racial groups. In order to effectively address the new challenges brought by racism during the COVID-19 crisis, countries are obliged to respond accordingly and positively.
Ⅰ. General Awareness of Contemporary Forms of Racism
For a long time, the international community has made great contributions to eliminate all forms of racism and to promote universal respect for human rights as well as fundamental freedoms. Systematic racism and racial discrimination, however, have existed for such a long time that the elimination of malpractices requires the concerted and coordinated efforts of all parties.
A. Contemporary forms of racism are deeply rooted
Racism and racial discrimination have been around for a long time, said Augustine Hungwe, research fellow of Cross-cultural Human Rights Centre of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He explored the episteme-historical construction of African and people of African descent as racialized, inferior, dispensable “other” as a global phenomenon. He regarded key concepts, themes, schema, frameworks and paradigms to be interrogated include the problematization of the history of ideas (Hegel) and the philosophical intellectualization of race and racism by Kant, Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke and Montesquieu as a toxic racist legacy of the European Enlightenment. He pointed out that Enlightenment thinkers provided a philosophical justification for racism. In this regard, Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga, professor of Human Rights, Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, University of South Africa, agreed that racial discrimination rooted in Enlightenment philosophers as John Locke supported the view that Blacks have no history and did not contribute to humanity and he found that “it took the scientific thought of the Enlightenment to create an enduring racial taxonomy and the ‘color-coded, white-over-black’ ideology with which we are familiar” today in the USA. In addition, Professor Brij Mohan, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work at Louisiana State University, spoke about the recent Floyd case in the United States, argued that poor and black families have disproportionately suffered the ravages of natural catastrophe as well as misguided social engineering in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. The Inequality Engine (Geoff Mann, LRB, 4 June, 2020:25) is, however, driven by ideologies of “poverty of culture” (Mohan, B. 2011) that sustains White Privilege, Black Plague and many systemic brutality and injustice.
B. Racism and racial discrimination is widespread and needs to be addressed urgently
At the end of May 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man in Minnesota suffered police brutality, which claimed his life and caused “Black Lives Matter” protests in many cities in the United States and beyond, attracting much attention and has become a heated discussed issue in the international community. In fact, the occurrence of racial discrimination and its rapid upsurge is not accidental but the result of a cluster of factors, the omnipresence of racial discrimination plays a fundamental role.
Experts and scholars extensively cited racial discrimination and xenophobia in various countries, and agreed that racism seriously hindered the overall pace and effectiveness of global epidemic prevention and control. Professor Tom Zwart, director of the Cross-cultural Human Rights Centre of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Professor of Cross-cultural Law at Utrecht University, pointed out that the Chinese community in the Netherlands has suffered and is still suffering from racism, but members of the community have replaced and developed tactics to combat such racism at the micro level. Krish Chetty, chief researcher at the Inclusive Economic Development Division of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, stated that income and wealth inequalities in South Africa largely present in terms of racial differences. The poor black working-class majority have very different lived-experiences from the wealthy whites racial group. These differences exacerbate racial tensions in South Africa. Peter Herrmann, professor at Central South University Human Rights Centre, pointed out that the murder of George Floyd had been the suffocation of a man, and also part of the killing of social spaces of society. Racism is an ultimate expression of individualism, he maintained.
Ⅱ. COVID-19 Brings Great Challenges to the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Almost all pandemic in history has been accompanied by the prevalence of racism and xenophobia. The global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has become a severe test and posed great challenges to the elimination of racial discrimination.
A. COVID-19 deteriorated the situation of specific ethnic groups
Krish Chetty pointed out that the underlying cause of the inequality have roots in capitalist class system which treat people differently based on income. Opportunities for the rich are far greater and more easily accessible than those experienced by the poor. Access to food, basic services (such as water, electricity, sanitation) and justice is often delineated along racial lines. These differences and challenges have been exacerbated by the corona-virus crisis. Dr. Peng Qinxuan, associate researcher at China Top Think Tank-Wuhan University, further argued that during the COVID-19 pandemics, people of African–origins, female and senior age are disproportionately affected on the basis of their lesser health and socioeconomic status, and such disadvantage are amplified by the overlapped social categories. COVID-19 is not, as many people think, the great equalizer; it actually is an inequality amplifier and reinforces the existing racism, sexism and ageism, she concluded.
B. The erroneous remarks of some public figures and politicians contributed to racism and xenophobia
Since the outbreak, some public figures and government officials have repeatedly played up the “blame games” and “theory of virus discrimination” in public places and the media. Instead of using the scientifically endorsed name of the virus, they adopt names such as “Chinese Virus” and “Wuhan Virus” with geographic references, typically referring to its emergence in China. Given the influence of public figures, these erroneous statements that linked virus to specific regions may well serve to the spread of pre-existing racism and xenophobia as well as isolate and stigmatize specific ethnic groups, causing widespread doubt and universal condemnation in the international community.
Professor Hao Yaming of Human Rights Center at Nankai University used the term “officially-driven racial discrimination” to refer to the fact that some authorities made use of COVID-19 pandemic to promote and guide discrimination and prejudice against specific ethnic groups, so as to achieve their specific political, economic, social, cultural and even illegal purposes. Professor Sun Shiyan, researcher at the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argued that as an aspect of racial discrimination and a type of hate speech, COVID-19-related racist hate speech has multiple manifestations and target groups, which not only affect many racial groups, but also may threaten international solidarity crucial to the response to the pandemic. When mainstream media are controlled by public figures to make racist remarks, the consequences are the most serious. Professor Mao Junxiang, executive director of the Central South University Human Rights Center, pointed out that the “virus discrimination” played up by state leaders and the media were the expression of racial discrimination, ethnic discrimination and other forms of discrimination in the name of freedom of speech.
III. All States Need to Engage in Coordinated Efforts to Deal with Contemporary Forms of Racism
A. Nation states should take positive measures to eliminate racial discrimination
Nation states are at the forefront to fight against the pandemic and to eliminate racial discrimination. At the critical stage of the global coordinated endeavor against COVID-19, all countries are suggested to actively take measures to eradicate all forms of racial discrimination, and to take priority in protecting the right to life and the right to health of the people, for an international community free of apartheid and racial discrimination.
Professor Mao Junxiang emphasized that in accordance with the state obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, states shall regulate the remarks on “virus discrimination” publicized by private media and take positive measures to eliminate racial discrimination within their territory. Professor Sun Shiyan seconded that states are obliged to counter COVID-19-related racist hate, on top of which, a large number of non-state actors also have an important role to play.
B. The international community should shape the value of racial equality in a right manner
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Under the guidance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is a common aspiration that people all over the world strive to achieve. Hence, Professor Mao Junxiang called for further international cooperation to promote the formation of a constructive discourse concerning “virus discrimination”. Professor Brij Mohan stressed that a pernicious creed, belief system, breeds the “virus of injustice” that demands radical transformations to combat “the politics of pandemics”. He further argued that racial equality could only be achieved by changing people’s underlying perceptions of racism. Ding peng, PhD candidate of Wuhan University Institute for Human Rights Studies, stated that to deal with the pandemic, people need to find scientific solutions together. He further suggested that we need to reestablish the common baseline of fundamental human rights such as life, health, freedom and dignity, and advance global solidarity beyond the narrow identities of nation and country.
C. Public figures and the media should assume greater responsibility in eliminating racism
Public figures, government officials and other groups with greater influence play an important guiding role in eliminating racial discrimination and promoting racial equality and non-discrimination principles. Professor E. Tendayi Achiume stated that if public officials have no real understanding of the meaning and requirements of international human rights racial equality and non-discrimination principles, it is less likely they can fully leverage the potential of these principles. Professor Mao Junxiang emphasized that politicians and media shall bear a sense of social responsibilities to avoid spreading, dispersing or supporting racist and xenophobic statements that are not conducive to international cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
D. The international human rights legal system needs to be further improved Professor Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga pointed out that we needed to take a systematic change of measures while strictly enforcing our anti-discrimination laws so that a community of shared future for mankind could be jointly built. Professor E. Tendayi Achiume noted that more substantive education in law schools and beyond on racial and xenophobic discrimination are needed, because human rights problems subject to a comprehensive international human rights legal framework. Dr. Peng Qinxuan argued that multiple discrimination is not only a mere legal concept, but a reality faced by many people. That’s why multiple discrimination gets adopted in the international legal documents and that the law could intervene and offer appropriate remedies when people suffered inequalities for one or more reasons.
Summary provided by Central South University on 25/7/2020
For news and opinions about racism, human rights and COVID-19, visit the News/opinion page of this site.
In light of the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 where a variety of restrictive policies have been adopted in the affected regions on a scale that is unprecedented in human history, the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan organised an international web-seminar themed “Comparison of Human Rights Values between the East and the West in Epidemic Prevention & Control” on 30 May 2020 that brought together over forty human rights experts from all over the world.
Amongst them are Professor Tom Zwart and Dr. Congrui Qiao, senior researchers at the Cross-Cultural Human Rights Centre who presented their analysis on legal actions against China that were brought overseas, and on liability of government actions, respectively.
In analysing a case of a litigation against China in Missouri, Professor Zwart, together with Professor Alexander Knoops from the University of Amsterdam, examined its legal standing in detail as well as defences applicable in the case, and argued that provided the commonly accepted elements in deciding a party’s legal standing and potential defences invokable to the defendant party, Missouri case against China and Chinese entities is unlikely to succeed.
Dr. Qiao started with measures known as ‘social distancing’ or ‘flattening the curve’ some of which are considered to be intrusive to individual freedoms and rights and refereed to a fundamental issue that deserves timely clarifications: whether and to what extent can a government be held liable for damages arising from its actions? To that end, she explained grounds for recognising government liability and factors that can suffice to establish government liability, and concluded with a hypothetical case on consequences of a lawsuit against governments’ anti-COVID-19 actions in selected legal systems.
In essence, this text is an opinion statement. However, in view of the gravity of the issue, we are placing it on the landing page of our site
On April 21st, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt initiated proceedings in federal District Court against the People’s Republic of China and some of its entities, such as National Health Commission, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the local governments of Hubei and Wuhan. While relying on a 47-page complaint, General Schmitt is seeking recovery for the loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil resulting from the COVID-19 virus as experienced by Missourians. According to General Schmitt, the Corona pandemic was caused by a failure to act by the Chinese authorities.
The Missouri case is one of several such cases, including class actions, which have been brought in the US against China. The state of Mississippi has since joined the Missouri case. It is unlikely to be successful for the following reasons:
First, the evidence mainly consists of US media reports which do not contain any views expressed by the Chinese side. Apart from a few Wechat messages, the complaint also does not refer to original Chinese sources. This amounts to hearsay, which is not admissible as evidence under Rule 802 of Federal Rule of Evidence.
Second, foreign states, like China, enjoy sovereign immunity in US Courts under the US Foreign Government Immunities Act and in accordance with international law. General Schmitt has tried to circumvent this bar in three ways:
1. The complaint listed the Communist Party of China as a defendant, while claiming that “the Communist Party is not an organ or political subdivision of the PRC, nor is it owned by the PRC or a political subdivision of the PRC, and thus it is not protected by sovereign immunity”.
This position is contrary to international law, according to which state immunity extends to all organs, components, and entities of the state, which, of course, also includes the Communist Party.
Furthermore, the Secretary General of the Communist Party also serves as the head of state, who by definition enjoys the protection of state immunity. The actions challenged in the Missouri complaint are all attributable, either directly or indirectly, to the President of China.
2. In addition, the complaint has invoked the commercial activities exception to sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2) by claiming that the conduct which allegedly caused the pandemic was commercial in nature. These commercial activities allegedly included the operation of the Chinese healthcare system; commercial research on viruses conducted by the Wuhan Institute and the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the operation of traditional and social media platforms for commercial gain; and the production, purchasing and import and export of medical equipment.
The complaint fails to identify which specific activities performed by which entity or entities should be characterised as ‘commercial activities’ within the meaning of this provision. Instead, it limits itself to making sweeping and generalised statements and therefore it does not meet the legal requirements of § 1605(a)(2).
Since the complaint fails to identify concrete activities, it cannot be established whether these activities meet the test developed by the US Supreme Court in Verlinden B.V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria, according to which a foreign state engages in commercial activities when it exercises powers that can also be exercised by private citizens.
Missouri invokes the third clause of § 1605(a)(2) which confers jurisdiction over actions that are “based upon … an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere that causes a direct effect in the United States”. It fails to demonstrate which direct effects the activities it described in general terms may have had in the United States. In Republic ofArgentina v. Weltover, the US Supreme Court stated that in order to be ‘direct’ the effect must follow as an immediate consequence of the foreign state’s activity. Missouri has not showed that the activities it listed did have direct effects in the US which could be characterised as the immediate consequences of activities performed by China or its instrumentalities. Furthermore, since all activities complained of took place within China they are covered by the Act of State doctrine, according to which states enjoy immunity for acts performed within their territory. The importance of this doctrine was recognized by the US Supreme Court in Underhill v. Hernandez, where Chief Justice Fuller for a unanimous Court stated that “the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another, done within its own territory.”
Therefore, the Act of State doctrine provides China with immunity for all ‘commercial’ acts referred to by Missouri.
3. Finally, Missouri has invoked the tortious conduct exception laid down in § 1605(a)(5) by claiming that the activities which allegedly caused the pandemic amounted to torts occurring in the US. It has not identified any damage or loss of property which resulted from the acts that were listed in the complaint, let alone demonstrated that those occurred in the United States, to which § 1605(a)(5) is limited, according to the Supreme Court in Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp.
Third, in the unlikely case that the Court would refuse to grant China immunity, the claim would face insurmountable barriers at the merits stage. Thus, the complaint clearly interferes with US foreign policy towards China, which currently amounts to a balancing act involving highly sensitive trade negotiations, and is therefore bound to be declared a non-justiciable political question. Courts traditionally address executive decisions taken in the realm of foreign relations with deference.
Furthermore, the outbreak of the Corona virus, which was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the WHO, is covered by the defence of force majeure, or alternatively, the defences of necessity and distress, which absolve China from state responsibility.
In the meantime Republican Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw (Texas) have introduced legislation to amend the Foreign Government Immunities Act, which, if enacted, would deprive China of immunity in Covid-19 cases. This it would do with retroactive effect to January 1st, 2020, while it would also apply to cases which are already pending, such as the suit brought by Missouri. Congress is prohibited from passing such ex post facto laws by Article 1 § 9 of the US Constitution. In addition, even if a later act can set aside an earlier act under the lex posteriorrule, it cannot revoke the Act of State doctrine, because it has constitutional underpinnings. This was made clear by Justice Harlan for an almost unanimous US Supreme Court in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino. Justice Harlan emphasised that the separation of powers prescribes the immunity of foreign states for acts performed within their territory. Since the Act of State doctrine has its
basis in the Constitution, it can only be set aside or amended through a Constitutional amendment and not through an Act of Congress.
It will be clear from the above, that these initiatives will go nowhere. However, it should be borne in mind that the cases have not been brought to achieve victory in a court of law, but in the court of public opinion. They are meant to discredit China in order to draw attention away from the handling of the corona pandemic by US authorities in view of the November elections. Therefore, the cases are not part of regular litigation but of lawfare. To beat the virus, close cooperation across borders is necessary. Lawfare is not going to help.
Tom Zwart: Professor of Cross-cultural Law, Utrecht University, Director of the Cross-cultural Human Rights Centre, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Qinxuan Peng: Researcher, China Top Think Tank-Wuhan University Institute of International law
CCHRC’s Peter Peverelli has participated in the conference on “Guaranteeing the Right to Life in Epidemic Prevention and Control” organized by the Human Rights Institute, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, May 9, 2020. The Chongqing-based participants attended physically, while those from other parts of China or abroad participated online. The conference was an overall success, in terms of richness of content and from a technological perspective. The screen shot shows how well the physical and virtual participants could interact.
CCHRC has reported on some of the public discussions about the various ways governments are trying to cope with the COVID-19 epidemic that have been going on our New/opinion page. The May 9 conference was the first international academic conference discussing a broad spectrum of political and philosophical aspects of the impact of a pandemic as the world is experiencing right now.
The remainder of this item is a summary of the topics discusses kindly provided by the Human Rights Institute.
The May 9 conference was the first meeting in a series of international seminars on “Global epidemic prevention and control and human rights protection”, under the guidance of China Society for Human Rights Studies, featuring “Guaranteeing the right to life in epidemic prevention and control”. The conference consists of two topics, “The value hierarchy and legal protection of the right to life” and “Guaranteeing the right to life of vulnerable groups in the context of the epidemic”. COVID-19 is undoubtedly the first worldwide catastrophe that mankind has faced together. The reason why we call it a catastrophe is it will take countless fresh lives.
Facing such an unprecedented epidemic, to save the lives of those who are helpless is the primary task that all human should work for. Fifteen experts and scholars from five countries attended the conference, which provided an in-depth discussion on six issues, including the concept of “life first”, the nature of the right to life, the balancing of the right to life and other rights, the protection of vulnerable groups, the positive responsibility of governments and scientific prevention of the virus. While this meeting brought together the above-mentioned consensus, the participating scholars also offered some wonderful understandings from their respective fields.
I. With regard to the first subtopic, “The value hierarchy and legal protection of the right to life”, the professors have discussed from different perspectives.
1. The common position of human society for “life first”
According to Professor Han Dayuan of Renmin University of China, the so-called supremacy of life means that the value of life is higher than everything else, and life is the measure of all things, and there is nothing in the world more precious than life. Professor Zhuo Zeyuan at the Central Party School believes that epidemic prevention and control must be aimed at maximizing the protection of life. According to Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing Institute Of Technology, advocating that the right to life is paramount and essential to the cultivation of humanity, the promotion of ethics and the identification of the way for development. Professor He Zhipeng at Jilin University believes that, in the broader society of the future, respecting life and health and prioritizing these rights in situations where the life and health of social groups and the individual’s own claims are in conflict is an effective means to protect human rights more practically. Professor Cheng Zhimin at Hainan University argues that the attention we have paid to the right to life so far is not in place, and that perhaps too much attention has been paid to rights that appear to be more advanced, while ignoring the basis or ontological significance of the right to life.
Professor Liu Huawen at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes that the right to life and health is not a simple human right and needs to be given higher attention and protection. Professor Li Zhongxia at Shandong University believes that the right to life as a fundamental right is the foundation of the constitution, the highest fundamental right, and is related to human dignity. Prof. Zhang Yonghe, a professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that we must value the life of each individual, which is about the bottom line of humanity, and if we cannot keep this bottom line, we will not be a real human.
2. The right to life, not just a negative right
According to Professor Chang Jian of Nankai University, the right to life must not be understood only in a negative sense, but should be further extended to a positive sense. Professor Han Dayuan at Renmin University of China believes that in modern society, the right to life cannot depend only on the right to freedom, but needs to be realized through the active function of the state. According to Qi Yanping, a professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, in this battle against the epidemic, it is clear that the right to life, which needs to be discussed, must be discussed in the context of the universal connection and balance of social conditions. According to Professor He Zhipeng at Jilin University, if we refer to the theory of natural rights, it could not explain the arbitrariness of people’s actions or errors of judgment, especially the perception of their actions’ consequences, which may put themselves and society in danger. Zhang Han, a PhD candidate at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that the criteria for classifying positive and negative rights are not absolute, and we cannot just focus on the negative obligations of the state, but must also require the state to fulfill its positive obligations.
3. Active responsibilities of the government
Jayanath Colombage, Director of Pathfinder Foundation of Sri Lanka Center for Indo-Lankan Initiative and Law of the Sea discussed the relationship between the government and the right to life. He believes that the Sri Lankan government and the Chinese government have many similarities in understanding the right to life. The Sri Lankan government also follows the concept of “the right to life first” to formulate anti-epidemic measures. Professor Han Dayuan at Renmin University of China believes that the right to life is a right with legal effect, which on the one hand creates the obligation of the State to protect citizens’ right to life and on the other hand provides positive conditions for the protection of the right to life. Prof. Cheng Zhimin at Hainan University believes that life is not just being, but well-being, it must be a good life. The government’s inaction actually violates the social contract it is supposed to assume and results in a zero-sum game.
According to Professor Zhuo Zeyuan at the Central Party School, the government’s compulsory measures to protect people’s right to life in the epidemic, are just a guarantee of the right to life for the each person in the society, as well as the right to life of others. Professor Liu Huawen at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes that China’s current epidemic prevention work has achieved a stage-by-stage victory and has two distinct characteristics: “people-centered” and “scientific prevention and control, according to law”. Zhang Han, a PhD candidate at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that the state only performs its duties in the sense that it does not violate the “right to life”, which in fact does not fully perform its obligations, so we still needs to ensure the people’s minimum material supplies through positive actions in order that they can maintain the life they are all entitled to.
II. The second sub-topic, “Guaranteeing the right to life of vulnerable groups in the context of the epidemic”, was discussed from a different perspective by the professors.
1. Protection of vulnerable groups in epidemic prevention and control
According to Professor Zhuo Zeyuan at the Central Party School, there is a complex structural relationship between the right to life of individuals and the right to life of others. The right to life of every human being is not something that can be exercised or enjoyed arbitrarily for the sake of the lives of family members, neighbours, colleagues and strangers.Christian MESTRE, Honorary Dean & Professor at University of Strasbourg，from a legal approach, believes that the protection of vulnerable groups in epidemic prevention and control must focus on the shortcomings of their ability to withstand aggression, while Muhammad Naseem, Director of University of Lahore Center for Sustainability Research and Practice, believes that the epidemic prevention policy in Pakistan faces a complex situation. There are many types of social groups. How to protect their right to life is an important part of epidemic prevention and control.
Professor Chang Jian at Nankai University believes that under the epidemic, the protection of vulnerable groups mustnot only be based on established rules, but also increase the supply of needed resources. Professor Han Dayuan at Renmin University of China believes that the words and ideas of “life is priceless, life is equal and life is dignified” should be reflected in the concrete practice of preventing and combating epidemics.
There is no difference in the value of life from a freshly born baby to a 100+ year old person. According to Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing University of Technology, it is actually a matter of choice between the critically ill patients. To choose one necessarily means to give up another’s right to life, and the choices available here are often fraught with contradictions. Professor Qian Jinyu at Northwest University of Political Science and Law believes that in the context of large-scale urbanization, the primary task and key to the prevention and control of the corona virus epidemic is to ensure that the prevention and control of urban epidemics is effective and the right to survival and security of the urban vulnerable groups can be guaranteed.
Professor Li Zhongxia at Shandong University believes that epidemic prevention and control may result in interventions on the right to life, such as abandonment of the elderly, treatment of patients with other diseases, etc., which need to be carefully weighed by the principle of proportionality. On this subject, Prof. Zhang Yonghe, a professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that there is no way to draw a line between the weak and strong in terms of life. A civilized society is the one in which the weak can be best protected, and only if the weak can be equally protected, can anyone be expected to be protected as well.
2. Careful weighing of the conflict between the right to life and other human rights
Peter Peverelli of the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in Netherlands, argues that it may be difficult to resolve conflicts on fundamental rights among different cultures only standing at their own positions. According to Professor Han Dayuan at Renmin University of China, when the value of the right to life conflicts with other rights and freedom, China insists on the goal that life first and the right to life first, and has made tremendous investments regardless of the cost.
Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing Institute of Technology believes that life and the right to life are in a complex system supported and maintained by external resources, energy, systems and conditions, and that life and the right to life cannot be paramount when divested from this social system. Professor Chang Jian at Nankai University believes that under the special circumstances of a major epidemic, the protection of the right to life will face a series of conflicts, including conflicts between the protection of the right to life and other means of realizing human rights, conflicts with other means of realizing the public interest, and conflicts between different subjects and different stages of realization. Professor He Zhipeng at Jilin University believes that in the situation of rights conflict, human rights can be well protected only if they are ranked according to the fundamental, important and influential nature with scientific basis and careful consideration, which is scientifically proven, convincing to the public and truly effective in administrative services.
3. Scientific epidemic prevention
Professor Chang Jian at Nankai University believes that in the course of China’s fight against the corona virus epidemic, resources can be reasonably allocated and efficiently utilized through the establishment of a hierarchical and categorical management mechanism to reduce costs and expenses; the development of Internet technology provides many feasible alternatives to interpersonal communication in the field; and in order to resume production and livelihood activities in the context of the long-term prevention and control of the epidemic, China has established a regularized epidemic prevention and control mechanism. Professor Han Dayuan at Renmin University of China believes that the development of modern science and technology should be viewed rationally, and that science and technology is a double-edged sword in any case, bringing convenience to human beings on the one hand, and “disaster” to human life on the other, challenging human lifestyle and dignity. Professor Liu Huawen at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes that to scientifically understand and respond to the epidemic, fundamentally, it should be based on scientific understanding, not on ideology or political system.
In those presentations, we also found that there were different cultural perspectives, different views on life and different epidemic prevention and control measures.
1. Different dimensions of the “life first” concept
From a philosophical perspective, Professor Cheng Zhimin at Hainan University explores the ontological meaning and sociality of the right to life, and based on this, he proposes a demand for a political system. Prof. Han Dawuan at Renmin University of China and Prof. Li Zhongxia at Shandong University argue from the perspective of the right to life as a fundamental constitutional right. Professor He Zhipeng at Jilin University discusses the priority of “respect for life and health” from the perspective of conflicting rights. Professor Zhuo Zeyuan at the Central Party School discusses the meaning of the right to life from the perspective of epidemic prevention and control. I, on the other hand, explores what we should really think about humanity and life based on the commensurability of the two systems of rational perception of life. Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing Institute of Technology, starting from the legal arguments of the right to life, pointed out that in practice of the rule of law, the legitimacy of the right to life claim needs to be based on the normative logic and harmony.
2. Multiple attributes of the right to life
Peter Peverelli of the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in Netherlands explores the different approaches to the value of life between Sweden and China from a different cultural perspective, using the 7-Dimension Cultural Model. And Professor He Zhipeng at Jilin University believes that the right to life is under the theory of natural rights, there are certain misunderstandings. Professor Han Dayuan of Renmin University of China argues from the dichotomy between the “right to freedom” and the “right to society”. Qi Yanping, a professor at Beijing University of Technology, believes that in the theoretical discussion of the fight against the epidemic, it is clear that the primary and main focus is the treatment of biological life in a narrow sense. According to Professor Chang Jian of Nankai University, the right to life is, in a positive sense, the “right to live”. Zhang Han, a PhD candidate at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that there is a certain “gulf” between the right to life and the right to subsistence.
3. Diversified protection of vulnerable groups
Professor Christian Meister of the University of Strasbourg, France, sheds light on the crisis of legal protection of vulnerable groups in the context of the epidemic, based on the shortcomings of their resistance to the virus. Professor Zhang Yonghe at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, based on the idea of equality of life for all, opposes the classification of the weak and the strong. Professor Chang Jian of Nankai University, on the other hand, discussed the protection of vulnerable groups from the perspective of resources supply. Professor Zhuo Zeyuan at the Central Party School, based on the social connection to the life of family, neighbours, colleagues and strangers, pointed out that the right to life of every person is not something that can be arbitrarily exercised or enjoyed. Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing Institute of Technology argues that the protection of vulnerable groups cannot be isolated from the mutual support of specific social conditions. Professor Qian Jinyu at Northwestern University of Political Science and Law argues that the discussion starts from the dilemma of large-scale urbanization governance. Professor Li Zhongxia at Shandong University, on the other hand, believes that the prevention and control of the epidemic may result in interference with the right to life, such as the abandonment of the elderly, the treatment of patients with other diseases, etc.
A diversified society provides different perspectives for us to look at these issues. Prof. Li Zhongxia at Shandong University and Prof. Qian Jinyu at Northwest University of Political Science and Law, respectively, conducted researches on the guarantee of the right to life in epidemic prevention measures from the perspective of risk society and urban governance. Professor Liu Huawen at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, for his part, viewed the epidemic from the perspective of “morality, law and nature”, arguing that the global spread of the epidemic posed a worldwide challenge and that the successful response to the epidemic depended on how to overcome the shortcomings in the fight against it. According to Professor Chang Jian of Nankai University, there are three pathways to resolving conflicts over the right to life in major epidemics: a rules-based pathway can provide a prioritization of rights and interests, a resource-based pathway can provide the resource conditions needed to resolve these conflicts, and a mechanism-based pathway can provide an integrated solution that takes into account rights and interests. Professor Qi Yanping at Beijing University of Technology argues that the legitimacy of the claim on realistic right to life does not lie in its abstract and absolute priority, but in its reasonable acceptability arising from its mutual support with specific social conditions and its logical self-consistency within the legal framework.
Overall, this discussion has elicited so many reflections, both theoretically and in practice, that contribute to the discussions about guaranteeing the right to life. The epidemic is not over, nor is our thinking about life. At this time when all mankind is living together, we need to join hands to fight the epidemic, and there are still many issues in epidemic prevention and control that deserve our consideration. Our discussions have just begun and we are looking forward to the next seminar. However, in spite of the success of this conference, we are looking forward to the next time we can all meet in person again and interchange formal discussions with informal one during the breaks, lunches and dinners.
Dr. Peverelli, on invitation by Prof. Mao Junxiang, held a guest lecture at the Law School of Central South University in Changsha, Hunan Province, China on January 7. He talked about his ongoing project to make Fons Trompenaars’ 7-D(imensions) Model, that has been developed for cross-cultural business, applicable to cross-cultural human rights issues. Peverelli has lectured about this work at seminars in China and Europe. This time in Changsha, Prof. Mao had organised a more informal session with a group of his PhD candidates and colleagues during which he could discuss the model on the basis of recent events in non-Western countries that have been criticised by Western governments and NGOs as non-complient with the UDHR. Peverelli’s central proposition was that most discussions about culture and human rights held so far share one major weakness: they lack an academic model of culture. As a result, the discussions seem to repeat themselves, without making much progress. With the 7-D model, we can calculate the cultural profile, i.e. the set of basic assumption people use to make sense of the world. We can then compare any two or more cultures and pinpoint on which dimensions they are more different or similar. This can explain the different interpretations between cultures about concepts like rights, obligations, freedom and other key concepts related to human rights. The insight thus gained can be the key to breaking open the above-mentioned stand-off in the academic and political discussions about human rights.
The 2019 South-South Human Rights Forum was held in Beijing on Tuesday. Over 300 officials and scholars from more than 80 countries, regions and international organizations are attending the two-day forum. Under the theme—“diversity of civilizations and global development of human rights,” the forum is hosted by the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The CCHRC participated with a large delegation, including the participants of the seminar in Changsha held two days earlier (see previous item). Parallel sessions were held on:
Path of Human Rights Development under the Background of the Diversity of Civilization;
Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind and Global Human Rights Governance;
The Right to Development; The Belt and Road Initiative Promotes the Realization of the 2030 Agenda;
China’s Contribution to Global Human Rights Cause since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China
The number of participating nations was considerably larger than during the first South South Forum of 2017. The entire global south was represented, with the most prominent representation from African nations. Delegates were typically senior government advisors, including a number of former state ministers.
A clear development could also be seen in the contents of the speeches. Those of 2017 were still relatively general, emphasising the rights of the southern nations. Several of this year’s contributions were specifically criticising former colonial powers and the attitude of Western nations, in particular the US. Very outspoken was the address Mr Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Pakistan Senate, who blasted recent US criticism on China’s anti-terrorist policies in Xinjiang. This view is consistent with the views vented by Pakistani representatives to the UN as reported in the News/opinions page of our site. Another conspicuous speech was that by Ms Bouthania Shaaban, Political and Media Advisor of the Syrian president, who directly blamed the US for the suffering of so many Syrians during the past few years. These are all opinions virtually banned in Western media.
The importance of the Right to Development was another topic shared in many contributions to both the plenary and parallel sessions.
Prof. Wim Janse of the Faculty of Theology of the Vrije Universiteit and member of the CCHRC delegation was interviewed by CCTV, you can see (a Chinese version of) that interview here.
This was the second time that this bi-annual event was held. For more information, see the web site of the Forum.
The CCHRC, jointly with the Central South University Human Rights Center, the National High-Level Think Tank Wuhan University Institute of International Law, has organised the International Seminar on International Human Rights Mechanisms from a Cross-cultural Perspective in Changsha, China on December 8, 2019. The seminar was attended by appr. 70 participants from all continents. The papers presented at the seminar were grouped under four main topics:
Global Human Rights Governance from a Cross cultural Perspective
Building a Global Community of Shared Future and Global Human Rights Governance
Developing Countries and International Human Rights Mechanisms
Western Countries’ Human Rights Diplomacy Trend and International Human Rights Mechanisms
Reform of International Human Rights Mechanisms from a Cross cultural Perspective
A salient feature of the CCHRC delegation to this seminar was the high number of young scholars, for several of whom this was their first visit to China.