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 do not necessarily express the opinions of the CCHRC, but have been added here after careful selection

Cross-cultural aspects of disease control 2: a note from China

Posted on 21/2/2020

To counter the various negative press reports and media comments regarding the Chinese government’s handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, in particular the accusations that many of the measures amount to violations of human rights (see our previous item), The Human Rights Institute of China’s South West University of Political Science & Law (SWUPL) has issued a public statement. You can find the full statement here.

On this page, we would like a present the core arguments of the statement and analyze them from a cross-cultural perspective.

The most conspicuous cultural trait of SWUPL’s paper is: particularist. Chinese culture is strongly particularist, which means that exceptions are usually more important than universial rules and regulations. The first section, entitled: ‘The Right of Life & Health as “Top Priority”’ explains that the Chinese government had to, temporarily, give up certain human rights, to give priority to health and people’s livelihood. This applies especially to restricting part of people’s freedom of movement. This fits in with what we stated in the previous item on this page. In the same way, the US government is sacrificing the right to life & health to protect the freedom of movement. However, US administrators would never publicly admit that they have to sacrifice one human right (health) to uphold another (freedom of movement).

The second paragraph reminds the Western world that according to the UDHR, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. The SWUPL statement attacks stigmatizing and discriminatory terminology like: ‘”Wuhan virus”, “China virus” and even the “yellow peril”, “sick man of East Asia” ’ frequently used in Western publications, including news media that like to profile themselves as dedicated to reporting the ‘truth’, or ‘the whole picture’.

The third paragraph states that several temporary (particularist) rules have been issued to safeguard the rights of all people in this uncommon situation.

The remaining paragraphs list measures taken to ensure that all people have enough to eat while public and economic life have almost come to a standstill, to ensure that all people have access to medical care and measures to safeguard the provision of electricity, telephone and Internet services, so people can continue to interact (important in a communitarian culture like the Chinese).

While the opinions expressed in the original paper lie with the Human Rights Institute of SWUPL, the CCHRC endorses the guiding ideas on which the paper is based.

Cross-cultural aspects of disease control: China vs USA

Posted 3/2/2020

The development of the novel corona virus infection in China and the Chinese authorities’ fight against it have been occupying the global media for a few weeks. While the WHO praises China’s large-scale response to the epidemic, hysteria seems to be the mainstream in the media outside China, in particular the Western media. Some even refer to the measures as a violation of human rights; reason for the CCHRC to get interested. It is hard not to conclude that most Western media and governments are happily embracing China’s problems with the epidemic as an indication that the country is actually not doing as well as it has been trying to make us believe. The CCHRC implores this reaction as an abuse of the misery of those infected with the virus and the next of kin of those who died from it. However, that itself is not a cross-cultural issue. In this post we want to concentrate on the criticism to the Chinese measures to contain the epidemic in the Western news and social media and point out the cultural aspects of those measures. Moreover, we intend to compare the Chinese way of containing the novel pneumonia to the measures taken by the US government to contain the current influenza epidemic in that country.

At the time of writing this text, the number of people infected with the new corona virus in China is 11,791; deaths: 259. The number of people infected with influenza in the US in the period 29/9/2019 and 29/1/2020 was 13 million, with 12 million hospitalised and 6600 deaths. Comparing these figures make you wonder which disease is the more serious threat. Influenza is a well-known annually returning disease, while the new corona virus is a new organism for which a medicine still has to be developed. And that is exactly the reason that this epidemic, though actually quite small, calls for strong measures. The city of Wuhan, where the disease started, has been virtually sealed off from the outside world. No one is allowed to enter or to leave without detailed scrutiny. Public transport in the city has been severely restricted. Shops are closed, but for supermarkets necessary for people’s livelihood. A few other cities have taken similar measures. No comparable measures have been taken in the US. This is undoubtedly the reason for the huge number of people infected and therefore also for the large number of deaths. While the death rate of the US influenza is lower, the absolute number of deaths is still high, due to the considerably larger number of infections. The big question is: how many of those 6600 deaths could have been avoided, had the US authorities take Chinese style measures?

We will never know the answer, because US governments, national or local, would never even think of such measures. The reason is that Chinese and American cultures are based on very different sets of basic values. On the dimension Individualist – Communitarian, US culture occupies the very Individualist end, while China is located on the Communitarian half. In the US, the rights of the group (nation) are best served by serving the rights of all individuals, while in China the rights of each individual are best served by serving those of the group. Even if half of the population of New York would be in bed with the flu, the municipal government, nor the national one, would even think of sealing off the city from the outside world. That would endanger the other half still on their feet, but even those people wouldn’t think of asking the authorities for such measures. It is not in their cultural DNA.

Another cultural dimension that is working here is: Universalist – Particularist. Again, US culture lies at the very Universalist end of this dimension, while China is much more on the Particularist side. The US authorities react to the outbreak of an epidemic by means of protocols, pre-planned scenarios, etc. (the Invisible Hand). Their Chinese counterparts take measures based on what they deem best for the situation here and now (Visible Conscious Hands). The former strike the latter as inflexible, while the latter strike the former as chaotic. This can explain much of the Western reporting on the Chinese handling of the new epidemic.

So, to what extent do the Chinese measures ‘violate human rights’? UDHR 25.2 says:

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.

It seems that US handling of an epidemic is so focused to the rights of the individual, like the right to move around freely, that the same individual’s right to health is threatened, because the spreading of the disease is not maximally restricted. The Chinese measures prioritise the rights of the group (e.g. the entire city of Wuhan) by restricting certain rights, like the right to move around freely,  of individuals. This decreases the risk of those individuals of being infected. Our conclusion is that the Chinese measures could indeed have saved American lives. However, this does not mean that we believe that the US government is the one violating human rights. Both governments take measures fitting the own set of basic cultural values. Neither nation is violating human rights. We do hope that the Western media will consider this when writing their comments on the situation in China.

Update 21/2/2020: the total number of COVID-19 deaths in China on Feb. 20,  2020 was 2236. On the same day, the number of influenza deaths reported by the US CDC was 14,000. No further comments needed.

Who gives NGOs the authority to determine what counts as complying with human rights?

Posted on 17/01/2010

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has presented the world with another human rights yearbook. After a HRW official was denied access to Hong Kong, the organization is now aiming all its arrows to China, framing that nation as the worst performing region in human rights. Your webmaster happens to be in China while reading the various news reports about this yearbook. This time the trip started in China’s capital, flying on to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, spending a week with friends in Fujian’s port city Xiamen and now writing this comment from one of China’s largest cities, Chongqing, along the Yangtze River. If the situation is as grave as the HRW report is trying to make us believe, Chinese citizens are masters in hiding it. I have enjoyed free discussions with all types of people in various public and private spaces. Chinese are as eager to express irritations about red tape, unfair regulations, and other issues that we like to discuss with our friends and colleagues. I have not witnessed any of them being even corrected by others in hearing distance. I have given a guest lecture in the field of Human Rights for Chinese PhD candidates in Changsha. I was not restricted in any way by the organizers of the lecture. We had an open discussion afterwards and the lecture + discussion were reported on the university’s website almost immediately, without leaving out any detail of the discussion. However, more importantly: the various pages of this site, in particular China’s organizing of the South South Forum on Human Rights (see the report earlier on this page) clearly show that China is leading in maintaining an open international discussion about the nature of Human Rights and that this leading role is recognized by the governments of a growing number of nations. This brings up an essential question: who has given a so called NGO like HRW the authority to hand out praize and accusations like they do? They reply is: no one. However, certain governments like to support HRW, because they can use its annual reports to give their policies a varnish of being supported by NGOs. HRW and similar organizations have been founded by private individuals. The CCHRC does not only not deny people the right to do so, but encourages anyone to participate in discussions about the nature of human rights. However, the international community needs to be wary to confer such an organization the authority to point the finger at a nation and mark it as ‘violating human rights’. This should be a task of that entire international community.

Julie Fraser wins Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award 2019

Posted on 12/01/2020

Culture should not be set aside in order to implement human rights, but rather instrumentalised.

For het dissertation “Every Organ of Society”, Julie Fraser (also see the Publications page on this site) has been awarded the Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award 2019. Fraser is Assistant Professor of International and European Law at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the role of cultural norms in addressing human rights. Fraser is a researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) and at the Montaigne Centre for Rule of Law and Administration of Justice, both at Utrecht University.

The Max van der Stoel award is given to the best PhD and the best Master thesis or article in the field of human rights. It is organised by Tilburg Law School, together with the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research. The purpose of the award is to stimulate human rights research in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is named after Max van der Stoel, who served as OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

 “I am thrilled and honoured to receive this award”, Julie Fraser says, “It is wonderful to have one’s work recognised in this way. I similarly want to recognise and thank my supervisors Tom Zwart and Yvonne Donders, and all of my colleagues particularly at SIM,The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, at Utrecht University, who helped me throughout the PhD.”

The full title of Frasers dissertation is: “Every Organ of Society”: Exploring the Role of Social Institutions in the Effective Implementation of International Human Rights Law.” As part of her doctoral research, Fraser assisted the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women with their 65th session in Geneva in 2016, and undertook field research in Java, Indonesia in 2017. She thinks the qualitative field work helped her.

“Secondly, my PhD provides a new take on an old issue – the relationship between human rights and culture. Rather than pitting the two against one another, my PhD emphasises that the law, value systems, beliefs, and even human rights are themselves part of culture. As such, culture should not be set aside in order to implement human rights, but rather instrumentalised. While culture, and particularly religion, is often portrayed in human rights discourse as a violator of rights, my field work demonstrated its positive role as an asset in protecting rights.”

In 2020 Julie Frasers work will continue to focus on culture and international law. A revised version of her PhD will be published as a monograph by Cambridge University Press. Later in the year a volume she is editing with Brianne McGonigle Leyh will also be published, which explores intersections of law and culture at the International Criminal Court.

Japan accused for violating human rights – a rare event

Posted on 1/1/2020; updated on 4/1/2020

The news of Carlos Ghosn’s flight from Japan, where he was placed under home arrest awaiting his trial, to Libanon has shocked Japan and astonished the rest of the world. This by itself is not news fitting the pages of the CCHRC site. However, Ghosn is accusing the Japanese government of violating his human rights. While under house arrest was forbidden from seeing his wife, including in the presence of lawyers, or talking to her on the phone. Prosecutors say the restriction is needed to prevent evidence tampering. Ghosn’ lawyer, Takashi Takano, had already referred to this as a human rights violation. “It’s cruel and unusual.” Ghosn’s lawyers recently filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, arguing that the restrictions on seeing his wife amount to a deprivation of fundamental human rights. Ghosn’s wife has petitioned Human Rights Watch to protest Japan’s “cruel and inhumane” system of “hostage justice”.  As far as known to us, neither the Working Group nor Human Rights Watch have so far responded. The CCHRC will follow the events closely until more information is provided on which we can comment on the cross-cultural aspects of Ghosn’s case.

More biased reporting on Aung San Suu Kyi

Posted on 14/12/2019

These days, when Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is in the Netherlands to defend her country’s anti-terrorist policies in the Peace Palace in The Hague, the language of the coverage of this event in the Western press is once more (see an earlier comment on this page) uniformly negative. We repeat that the CCHRC obviously would like to see the problems in south Myanmar ended. However, we regret that the Western world is once more reacting to this type of issues by pointing fingers, while it would be better to offer Myanmar help. Your commentator would like to point at the conspicuous similarities between the problems in southern Myanmar and western China (also see earlier items on this page). Both conflicts have been initiated by a small group of separatists who seek to increase their influence through terrorism. Both governments, inexperienced with dealing with this type of violence, resort to anti-terrorist measures that are effective on short term, but can lead to other problems when continued for a longer period. Assistance from international organizations would be welcome, but a court case like this will not lead to a solution, regardless the outcome. We commend State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for the brave decision to represent her country in person, knowing how the Western media and politicians will react. It proves that she is a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The relativity of hardship

Posted on 11/12/2019

Yesterday evening I had just started out on a walk through Beijing at night with a colleague, when we met two African fellow attendants of the 2019 South South Human Rights Forum. We invited them to join us. I know the town probably better than most of its more permanent inhabitants, having first arrived their as a student in 1975. In fact, I started talking about that with our friends, pointing out the significantly harder conditions of living in a 1975 Beijing campus. One of the Africans calmly replied: ‘Oh, at that time I was a child soldier in Eritrea’. He made that announcement, that struck me as the most severe type of violation of rights of children, in an extremely matter of fact way. My world stood still for a second, in which I had to rethink my own perception of ‘hardship’. The four of us had a great walk through the heart of this ancient city, and talked about many issues, related to the contents of the Forum. We did not only catch a little fresh air, after an entire day inside the hotel, but also learned a lot about the relativity of hardship from our new friends. That alone made participating in the Forum worth its while.

Cross-cultural Human Rights Review meets with Kunming Delegates in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS – On 21 November, Cross-cultural Human Rights Review (CCHRR) was invited to attend a meeting with members of the Kunming delegation who visited the Faculty of Religion and Theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). Delegates Dong Yun, Du Zhongchu and Qian Weiguo were visiting the Netherlands from Kunming, the capital city of the southern Yunnan province of China.

CCHRR Editor-in-Chief, Professor Wim Janse, organized a purposeful meeting for the delegates to meet with members of the VU’s Faculty of Religion and Theology, the Cross-cultural Human Rights Centre and CCHRR. All attendees were allowed to present their expertise and shared their latest developments for there to be a proper exchange of knowledge.

The meeting began with a warm welcome from Professor Ruard Ganzevoort, Dean of the Faculty, and was followed with presentations from fellow faculty members Dr. Samuel Lee, Dr. Bert Dicou, Professor Henk Bakker and Dr. Qiao Cong-rui.

CCHRR Managing Editor Vivian O. F. Aiyedogbon, alongside Researcher for Communications Sarah Njoroge, shared the Review’s mission and aims and informed the delegates on what to expect from the Special Issue – released on 2nd December. The delegates also received information on how to get involved with the Review for future publications.

CCHRR members were thrilled to learn from delegate Dong Yun, Standing Vice Principle of Yunnan Provincial Christian Seminary, who presented on the delegation’s efforts in education and theological management in regional seminaries that are a part of the Yunnan Province.

Delegates Du Zhongchu and Qian Weiguo* provided insight into the cross-section of religion and ethnic relations in the region of Kunming. The delegates added that their ambition is to partner with international academic institutions to broaden their mission.

As CCHRR aims to broaden the scholarship on human rights, we also see the importance of allowing for a deeper dissection into the relationship between human rights and religion. Together, CCHRR and the Kunming delegation found that there is room to explore scholarship in the future.

Long awaited: the launch of the Cross-cultural Human Rights Review

Patrons of culture and human rights finally have a publication platform of their own: the Cross-cultural Human Rights Review (CCHRR). CCHRR is a peer-reviewed periodical devoted to cross-cultural human rights studies. It contains articles in this field as well as in other specialized related areas. The Cross-cultural Human Rights Review is an unrivalled resource for the subject both in the major research libraries of the world and in the private collections of scholars. With an international circulation, the Cross-cultural Human Rights Review provides its readers with articles in English. Frequent theme issues will allow deeper, cutting-edge discussion of selected topics. An extensive book review section is included in every issue keeping you up to date with all the latest information in the field of cross-cultural human rights studies. The Review offers you an easy way to stay on top of your discipline.

Recent Dutch laws said to violate Muslims’ rights

(October 2019) Dutch academics highly criticize a series of laws recently enacted in the Netherlands because they believe these laws have increased discrimination against Muslims and the violation of their rights.

Martijn de Koning of Amsterdam University’s Anthropology and Sociology Department told Anadolu Agency (AA) that legal regulations affecting religious groups have been made in the past in the Netherlands, but recent steps are now aimed entirely at Muslims.

In August, the Netherlands brought into force a ban on burqas — a full body covering including a face veil worn by some Muslim women – in public institutions.

Clothing that “covers the face,” such as burqas or veils no longer to be worn in public institutions such as schools, hospitals and government offices or on buses and trains, authorities said in August when the new law came into force.

In May, the Dutch parliament introduced a bill for the second time to ban ritual slaughter of animals, which would prohibit the methods of humane slaughter followed by Muslim and Jewish communities.

In addition to the burqa ban and restrictions on the animal slaughtering practices, Dutch Education Minister Arie Slob in September ordered a review of schools providing Islamic education.

 “Cases such as the ban against halal slaughter and restriction of religious education have affected other religious groups as well. However, with the recent ban on burqas, we have seen that the aim of religious regulations is aimed only at Muslims,” Koning said, adding that this is a serious situation and the government needs to do something about it.

Professor Annelies Moors of Amsterdam University also told AA that politicians have used anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of gaining votes that each restriction now targets Muslims. Moors said that negative reactions toward women wearing burqas may increase because of the legal proceedings, noting, “Such restrictions trigger violence and discrimination against Muslims in the community.”

Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre Chairman Professor Tom Zwart said that the Dutch government’s intervention in the course content of Islamic education institutions and Islamic schools is a result of its efforts to make Islam “more democratic and European.” He explained that while Islam instructs Muslim minorities to be committed to the country where they live as long as they have religious freedom, these restrictions harm Muslims’ commitment due to the conflict of loyalties.

The Dutch government’s main advising body in 2015 said the choice to wear an Islamic veil is protected by the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and that it saw no ground to limit that right. It is also said the law was unnecessary, as only about 150 women in The Netherlands wear such clothes. In 2012, the Dutch Senate scrapped a ban on ritual slaughtering put into law two years prior, allowing exceptions for Jews and Muslims to produce meat in line with religious guidelines. The senate cited violations of freedom of religion in its decision. The new bill introduced by the Party for the Animals calls for scrapping the exceptions for Muslims and Jews.

Great choice for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize

Several of the Nobel Peace Prize awards of recent years have been quite controversial. However, this year’s laureate, Mr. Abiy Ahmed, is a choice that fully complies with what the CCHRC is standing for: the implementation of human rights taking local culture and social practices into account. We congratulate Mr. Ahmed with the award, and the Nobel Organization with their excellent choice.

US social problems seen from a Human Rights angle

As an academic organisation, we are careful not to repost discussions on popular platforms. However, a recent post on Quora (Sept. 30, 2019) by an academic of Chinese descent who has been living in the US for a decade does highlight a number of problems in US society that are directly related to human rights. The original question is a long one: ‘Since China’s population dwarfs the US’s population, and China’s GDP seems destined to surpass the US’s GDP, what’s the smartest thing the US can do to set up a situation as favorable as possible to the US while it still has the larger GDP?‘ The reply is well informed from embedded data sources. We are quoting the core arguments here, with only a few belligerent sentences altered or deleted.

  1. 7% of US citizens are in prison at any moment (this statistic is terrifying, considering China and Canada have roughly 0.1%, Japan and Germany 0.06%). The justice system clearly doesn’t work for average citizens. Americans are NOT born criminals that need to be locked up, but rather the draconian laws, arbitrary law enforcement, etc. intentionally trying to imprison people that have done no harm to the society. Every time someone mentions this, American nationalists will claim they are just locking up criminals. It’s ridiculous. Why aren’t any other country having so many criminals? How hard is it to just admit you did something wrong?
  2. The US doesn’t have wealth problem (like being robbed by Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, or Mexicans) like Trump claimed, what the US has is a wealth distribution problem. In fact, the US has an average wealth that’s higher than countries with much higher living standard.The problem is, the wealth is concentrated on so few people that vast majority of people are worse off than what they used to be. Since 1980s, the top 1% owns 21 trillions more, while the bottom 50% have lost 900 billions. You see the problem here, and why this model is unsustainable?
  3. The US has a declining life expectancy along with Afghanistan and Somalia.I don’t think I need to explain why people in Afghanistan and Somalia are dying. The bizarre thing is the US, a country with no wars in its homeland, and one of the richest countries on this planet, somehow managed to climb onto this list. Americans are dying, they live 4 years shorter than most developed countries.
  4. Oh boy, where to start about the glorious American healthcare? The prices tend to be 20~100 times higher than rest of the world. Even after insurance Americans pay more than rest of the world without insurance. This level of absurdity shouldn’t have happened in anywhere other than a sarcastic fiction, but here we are. This Korean tourist was charged 18k for basically nothing.The doctors did do the check, but in rest of the world it wouldn’t cost more than $180.

Apart from the factual nature of this article, it is also interesting from a cross-cultural point of view. In spite his 10 years in the US, the commentator is still influenced by Chinese cultural values. The same applies to the horrific adventure of the Korean tourist. This story has been widely discussed on the Chinese Internet. On the US side, we see an extremely Universalist ‘rules are rules’ attitude, while the Asian judge this from the opposite particularist perspective. Universalism vs. Particularism plays a major role in the debates about the global employment of human rights. We will go into this deeper on this page in the near future. For the original Quora article, click here.

Exhibition on China’s progress in human rights opened at the United Nations’ main office in Geneva

An exhibition showcasing China’s progress in human rights opened at the United Nations’ main office in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, September 9, 2019. The exhibition, named Pursuing Happiness for the People: 70 Years of Human Rights Progress in China, displays some 120 photos as well as films and virtual reality videos related to the topic. You can read more on this topic here.

Diplomatic debate about China’s HR record reveals diverse political agendas

Ambassadors representing 37 countries praised China for its “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” on July 12, 2019. Although not mentioned verbatim, the fact that this joint statement came just a day after a group of 22 other countries formally condemned Beijing for the mass detention of ethnic and religious minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region leaves no doubt that the second statement is meant to counter the former one.

We will not copy the full texts of either statement here, you can consult the links in the above paragraph for that. Here, we want to focus on the nature of both camps. The best cue for that is the list of participants.

Condemning China Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Praising China Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cuba, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, Kuwait, Laos, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Zimbabwe

It is obvious at first sight, that the condemning faction mainly consists of Westers nations, that have been criticising China for many alleged ills almost from the founding of the People’s Republic. More or less the same group regularly issues similar critical reports about other nations, taking their shared political system as THE benchmark for the entire world to follow.

The praising faction is a much more diverse group of nations, some of which are not at all natural friends. This indicates that it is not a group of usual suspects, but one that was composed specially for this joint statement. The most salient feature of this group is that it comprises more than a few Islamic nations, including Saudi Arabia. Several of the nations of this group have been the object of similar public accusations from the Western nations. For them, the large-scale attack on China apparently functioned as a red rag, triggering them to unite in a counter statement.

Most of the praising nations are emerging economies that have to fight for a piece of the global economic pie that is so tightly guarded by the developed Western nations. This is reflected in the following paragraph in their statement:

“We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by adhering to the people-centred development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development”

Emphasis on the Right to Development is a core aspect of the new Chinese discourse on Human Rights.

In the heat of this debate, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China published a white paper titled “Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang“.

The CCHRC is not neutral in this debate. We firmly support the initiative of the 37 ambassadors giving a powerful counter-statement to the one-sided, culturally biased, statement of the Western nations.

A related debate took place in the UN on October 29, 2019. Belarus made a joint statement then on behalf of 54 countries (including Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Serbia) in firm support of China’s counter terrorism and de-radicalization measures in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere

The Punta del Este Declaration commemorates the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), celebrating its recognition of human dignity at the core of the panoply of human rights and recommitting to protecting it for everyone everywhere. The Declaration was adopted at a conference convened in Punta del Este, Uruguay from December 2-4, 2018, shortly before the formal 70th anniversary of the UDHR (December 10, 2018).

Biased reporting of Bangladesh elections

Sheikh Hasina’s party has won the Bangladesh general elections with a landslide victory once more. The reporting on this event in some of the Western media is quite biased in the perspective of cross-cultural human rights. On one hand, the high percentage of voters endorsing the prime minister is linked to the great economic growth that Bangladesh has seen during her term in power. On the other hand, the prime minister is accused of ‘running an authoritarian government that allows human rights abuses to spread’.

Although we have not (yet) performed a detail investigation into the nature of the facts leading to that accusation, it is very likely that at least part of the accusations is based on cultural biases. Several individuals interviewed by Western journalists freely confirmed that they voted for the Awami League in the hope that the economic growth will continue. Until proven otherwise, the CCHRC stresses that fulfillment of the basic economic needs of people is also a human right. The Awami League has definitely performed well in this respect.

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.

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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.