News/opinions

This page comprises of factual news as well as blogs and other publications related to cross-cultural human rights issues. Opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily express the opinions of the CCHRC, but have been added here after careful selection

Amnesty International strips Aung San Suu Kyi of award

It is with regret that the CCHRC has learned that Amnesty International has stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of the Ambassador of Conscience Award. It is one action in a long chain of similar ones, in which the Myanmar leader has seen one honorary title after another taken away from her.

It shows once more that Amnesty International and other givers of such awards or titles are more focused on rituals like the ceremonial handing out awards, than on practicing what they preach in the everyday reality in the field.

Aung San Suu Kyi received most of these titles, it is a long list, during the time of her house arrest following a major victory of her party in the parliamentary elections. During those years, she remained a very vocal advocate of human rights in Myanmar. Her activities were mainly making herself heard and read, from that relatively comfortable and isolate space, but she was able to inspire a major part of the Myanmar population through those activities. None of those honorary titles played a role in this success.

However, when she succeeded in creating such a critical mass that the military saw no other option than to grant her a certain political influence, she did not shun her responsibilities and became Myanmar’s civil political leader as Foreign Minister and State Councillor.

She has to fulfill these functions and make the most out of it, while still having to share power with the army that kept controlling part of parliament. This requires a high level of political and interpersonal skills. The rapid social and economic developments since the moment she took charge are sufficient proof that Aung San Suu Kyi has the proper skills. To mention one concrete example: private entrepreneurship is thriving in present day Myanmar. It is now possible to initiate business activities without involving the army in one way or another.

It would be unfair to expect that she would eradicate all political issues in this highly diverse nation with its complex recent history. Moreover, it would be inhuman to expect her to do so on her own, without the cooperation of political associates and at least a considerable part of the Myanmar population. Aung San Suu Kyi has been able to organise that cooperation. Unfortunately, small groups of the Myanmar population are taking advantage of the newly gained freedom to start provoking the government by propagating more ‘freedom’ or even independence of their own ethnic group. Their actions include armed attacks on government agencies and officials with the clear objective to provoke counteractions. No national government can ignore such actions. As Myanmar still lacks a fully functional police force, such armed actions are dealt with by the army. This is an unfortunate course of action that can easily lead to excessive violence. However, that does not alter the fact that that violence was provoked by equally inappropriate hostilities.

The CCHRC obviously would like to see the armed conflicts in Myanmar stopped. We regret that the Western world is once more reacting to these conflicts by pointing fingers and shouting names, while it would be better to offer Myanmar help, e.g., to develop a proper police force that can respond to such issues in a more restrained way and take measures to prevent them from happening. Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be doing her utmost to maintain the development of Myanmar that she helped starting up. However, being human, she also has her limits. It would be unfair to expect her to prevent militant groups to provoke the army. Once a provocation has taken place, she is not in a position to deter the army from making reprisals.

Fortunately, Aung San Suu Kyi is again continuing the work she has committed herself to. Just as the honorary titles played no role when she had them, having them taken away is also of no consequence to her dedication.

Beijing rebuts human rights allegations from Human Rights Watch

There has been another negative report about current Chinese policies in China’s westernmost Xinjiang region, known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW). The allegations have been rebutted by a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry (see: China Daily, 11 Sept., 2018). The latter not only dismissed the most recent accusations, but also pointed out that “Human Rights Watch NGO has always been full of prejudice against China”.

That counter-accusation is not unfounded. HRW has been accused of being biased and employing poor research methods numerous times, including by other NGOs engaged in human rights issues.

Accusations by HRW towards China and rebuttals by the Chinese government have become a recursive ritual that does not add to the improvement of the human rights of any person or group of people. The Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre has been erected to break this vicious cycle of accusations and initiate an ongoing dialogue between nations with different cultural traditions, based on mutual respect of one another’s cultural values and social practices embedded in those values. To attain that goal, affiliates of the CCHRC are constantly building and fine-tuning academic methods that they exchange during periodic seminars, like the ones reported in the Events page of this site. The CCHRC would be delighted to see members of HRW participate on our academic exchanges.

Chinese human rights delegation visits UK

A delegation of China’s largest national nongovernmental organization in the field of human rights wrapped up its visit to Britain on Tuesday after meeting with politicians, researchers and senior lawyers.

The China Society for Human Rights Studies delegation, during its four-day visit, held symposiums with Alex Pinfield, head of the East Asia Department of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Champa Patel, head of the Asia-Pacific Program at Chatham House; Lord Davidson of Glen Clova; and Lord Garnier of the House of Lords and attended a roundtable discussion organized by the Great Britain China Center.

Fu Zitang, head of the delegation, vice-president of the society and president of Southwest University of Political Science and Law, said that the visit aims to enhance mutual understanding between the Chinese and British sides in the field of human rights and to reduce misunderstandings.

He said the delegation introduced to the British side the latest achievements of China’s human rights protection and development.

“China has combined the universal principle of human rights with the country’s reality and found a route suited to its own national conditions,” he said.

The British side welcomed the delegation and appreciated China’s remarkable achievement in poverty reduction, hoping to conduct deeper and more extensive discussion and cooperation with China.

(source: China Daily, July 5, 2018)

United States withdraws from Human Rights Council

The United States has announced that it will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called the organisation a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias” and “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”. The US has long called for the body to reform, saying it allows members that have been accused human rights violations. Ms Haley pointed to the involvement of countries like China, Cuba and Venezuela in her speech on Tuesday.

Comments

The CCHRC favours an open dialogue between all nations about the nature and practical application of human rights. The most basic requirement for starting and maintaining a dialogue is the existence of differences of opinion and an attitude of the participants in the dialogue of respecting those differences.

The goal of the dialogue is not reaching some kind of one single opinion, after which the dialogue can stop, but maintaining the dialogue to allow nations to continuously exchange opinions on concrete issues related to human rights. Such a dialogue will produce an endless stream of ideas and propositions that practitioners in the field, or politicians facing difficult decisions, can use to formulate practical solutions.

Running away from a dialogue means that you are no longer willing to participate in that dialogue. The CCHRC welcomes all nations to participate and regrets it when any nation withdraws, regardless the size of that nation. However, we also believe that the dialogue can continue as long as there are at least two nations willing to do so. In fact, the number of such nations is much larger than two. This means that the US decision to withdraw will not harm the dialogue and will only result in the US not being able to enjoy the fruits of the dialogue, at least not to the largest possible extent.

Having said this, the naming of concrete nations by the US Ambassador to the UN does violate one basic principle of the CCHRC: we do not exclude any nation from the dialogue. An individual nation can be criticised for a particular issue during the dialogue, after which that nation will have the right and opportunity to defend itself, again in a way that complies with the spirit and principles of the CCHRC. This could theoretically lead to a nation left alone without any other nation defending its actions. We believe that such a lonely position will sooner or later lead to changes, behaviour that will attract support from other nations participating in that continuous dialogue. The CCHRC is inclusive and definitely not exclusive.

To summarise: the CCHRC regrets the US decision to withdraw but does not see any consequence of that decision for the continuous dialogue about human rights between nations. The CCHRC will at any time welcome the return of the US. However, we sincerely hope that by that time the US attitude will be inclusive, rather than exclusive

New post on the Culture and Human Rights blog

The Veil of Sexual Shame: The Impact of Sexual Violence and its Social Stigma in the Case of the Rohingya

Use of mother tongue is a human right

The compulsory use of English in higher education is a topic of public discussion in a growing number of non-English speaking nations. This blog positions these debates as a human rights issue.

New post on the Culture and Human Rights blog

New Chinese Discourse on Human Rights

The China University of Politics & Law (CUPL) announces its 2018 Summer School program

the Institute for Human Rights of CUPL will organise the 10th session of its CUPL Human Rights Academy will be held on July 2 -13. The instructors will include a number of international scholars. You can read more about the program and conditions to participate here.

 

Freedom House publishes its latest mapping of the free world

“Political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom.”

This is a paragraph of the explanatory text of the Freedom in the World 2018 map recently published by the Freedom House. Indeed, when we start calculating the non-free world by adding the purple and green nations, we end up with 55% of less-than-free countries. From the other side, the not-unfree nations are still good for 75%. While not contending the importance of freedom, this map and the reasoning on which it is based are highly problematic, when interpreted from the philosophy of the CCHRC. First of all, culture does not seem to play a serious role for the members of Freedom House. A search with ‘culture’ using the site’s own search engine, generates phrases with the structure ‘culture of X’, where X stands for words like: rape, fear, corruption, tolerance, compromise. Some of these have a positive connotation, but the majority are negative. Culture as a set of basic values that people of a region use to make sense of the world is completely absent. One could contend that Freedom House is focusing on freedom, only one aspect of human rights. However, even then, to colour a country like India green and China purple, completely ignoring the enormous differences in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, is at least ironic. What is the meaning of ‘freedom’, like free elections, if such a large part of the population is starving? We at the CCHRC are not the only ones wondering about this, as shown by this discussion on Quora. Back to China, one of the most populous of the purple nations on this map, how can the information provided by Freedom House explain the high ratio of Chinese who believe that their country is on the right track (90% for Chinese; 79% for Indians)?

Yet another organization spends its days monitoring the degree of happiness of the peoples of the world. Here is their latest mapping, the World Happiness Index 2017. The darker green the happier the people of that nation; the darker red the unhappier the people of that nation.

Continuing with China and India as two populous non-Western nations that are so frequently compared, we can look up the exact indices of these nations. China tops India with their respective ranks of 79 and 122. While we can readily relate freedom to human rights, happiness seems like a more elusive state of mind. However, the Happiness Index is a compound including indices for ‘healthy life expectancy’, ‘freedom to make life choices’, which are directly linked to human rights. The ‘freedom’ in this context refers to everyday life, while Freedom House concentrates on political freedom.

And then there is the World Inequality Report 2018. Let’s zoom in on one of the tables on this site, showing the share of the top 10% income shares in the GDP of selected nations in 2016.

According to these figures, income inequality in China is considerably smaller than in India, and even smaller than in North America.

Finally, there is the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. This continuous study monitors the trust in NGOs, business, government and media by the general online population and the informed public in 28 countries. While the global trust situation deteriorated a little in 2017, that of both India and China increased slightly. China even tops the 2018 list with 74 (from 3rd in the 2017 report with 67). India ranks 3 with 68 (from first in 2017 with 72). Most of the purple countries on the Freedom list end up on the less than 50 sections of the Edelman Trust list. We can hear people argue that people with more freedom will vent their feelings of distrust more freely. However, Edelman has taken than into account. The high score for China can be attributed to the efforts of the current government to fight corruption, which used to be the major concern of the man in the street in China. The fact that only non-Western nations end up in the positive section seems to indicate that culture is mediating the outcomes. However, the Edelman Trust Barometer does not take culture into account, like Freedom House.

The CCHRC does not have all the answers ready, but we would never claim that we have. The common problem we have will with all these mappings is that they has been done while looking at humanity through a very narrow lens. The CCHRC proposes that the human rights situation in each nation should be judged using a combination of a commonly accepted set of basic human rights and a model of national/regional culture. The practical implementation of the same human right can differ between regions with different cultures. Moreover, regional developments can take place at a speed that defies the annual drawing of simplified maps. We prefer thorough case studies like the ones you can find in the Publications section of this site.

Berlin celebrates Human Rights with Christmas

The United Buddy Bears, each decorated using the unique symbols of a different nation, were one of the highlights of the Christmas decorations of Berlin in 2017. The bears could be admired in the Walter-Benjamin-Platz. In the middle of the square, a single bear was dedicated to Human Rights, with all national bears staring at him in awe. The bears moved elsewhere on January 8, but your webmaster was lucky enough to shoot some pictures and make this the first news item on the CCHRC’s new site.

The First South-South Human Rights Forum adopts the Beijing Declaration

More than 300 officials, scholars and representatives from over 70 countries, regions and international organizations attended the South-South Human Rights Forum that was held in Beijing December 7-8, 2017. CCHRC’s Tom Zwart (see the About page on this site) was one of the speakers during the opening session. The two-day forum centred on the theme “Building a Community of Shared Future for Humanity: New Opportunities for South-South Human Rights Development“. According to the Beijing Declaration issued at the forum, participants agreed that the right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights. The main body of the right to development is the people. Developing countries should pay special attention to safeguarding the people’s right to subsistence and right to development, especially to achieve a decent standard of living, adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, the right to housing, security, work, education, health and social security, said the declaration.

You can find the full text of the Beijing Declaration here.