Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Different cultures show same respect for human dignity

(China Daily) Updated: 2011-09-22 07:59

Luo Haocai, president of China Society for Human Rights Studies, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the 4th Beijing Forum on Human Rights on Wednesday. The full text of his speech follows:

In September the clouds are thin and the sky is high in Beijing. In such a fine season, the 4th Beijing Forum on Human Rights, jointly sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies and the China Foundation for Human Rights Development opens today. On behalf of the sponsors, I extend my warm welcome and sincere thanks to all friends who have come to attend this forum.

Since 2008, the Beijing Forum on Human Rights has convened three times. The forums held in-depth discussions on human rights and their development as well as security. Today we meet again and will focus on the topics of cultural traditions, values, human dignity and human rights. The objective of the forum is to promote development through dialogues and reach a consensus. We hope that this time the forum will produce practical results which respect cultural diversity and the various ideas on human rights. I would like to make a few remarks as an introduction to more of those valuable ideas.

1. To enhance mankind's happiness and dignity and build a solid foundation to protect human rights.

Man's dignity, by definition, is man's inherent nobility and stateliness, which are the essential qualities of being a person. From a historical perspective, the concept of dignity derives from man's reason and morality. In terms of content, dignity incorporates a generality and recognition of the importance of man's value, and the need to ensure equal treatment for everyone and oppose discrimination and unfair treatment. In other words, one should treat man as man.

Man's dignity is the basis on which man becomes a man and is the foundation where other ideas of human rights are based on. The realization of human rights is to safeguard human dignity. Recognizing and respecting human dignity is the theoretical point of departure and fundamental principle of international human rights laws and the basic opinion of the Chinese government.

The 1945 Charter of the United Nations stressed in its preamble the "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person". The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights pointed out that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world".

As the two most important human rights covenants of the United Nations, the 1966 International Covenant and Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights both reaffirmed in their preambles that basic human rights derive from the core values of human dignity, that is "recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person". The Vienna Declaration on Human Rights in 1993 clearly pointed out that "all human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person".

The Chinese government places great importance on respecting human dignity. In April 2006, President Hu Jintao said in a speech delivered at Yale University that "the Chinese civilization has always given prominence to the people and respect for people's dignity and value". While delivering the Report on the Work of the Government at the Third Session of the 11th National People's Congress in March 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out that "everything we do, we do to ensure that the people live a happier life with more dignity and to make our society fairer and more harmonious". Safeguarding and promoting human dignity has become both the starting point and the final objective of the work of the Chinese government. Currently the Chinese government has ratified over 20 international human rights treaties, indicating that China has clearly approved the international human rights norms and that China is willing to work with other countries to promote international exchanges and reach a wide consensus on human rights.

We believe that in order to improve human dignity, we need to eliminate all social conditions which jeopardize man's inherent nobility and stateliness and subject people to servitude and discrimination. This is to ensure the rights to equal development and equal participation for all members of society. We should make efforts in the following three aspects. Firstly, we should guarantee citizens' liberty and rights according to the rule of law. Every citizen shall be endowed with freedoms and rights in accordance with the constitution and law. We should ensure that all citizens are equal before the law and systematically provided a guarantee of human dignity.

Secondly, we need to clarify China's development goals. We must stick to the "development for the people and by the people and its benefit should be shared among the people". We should clarify that the final development goal of the nation is to satisfy people's growing material and cultural needs.

Thirdly, we should ensure people's free and all-round development. "The free development of each person is the condition for the free development of all" and also the prerequisite for the comprehensive development of the whole society.

Therefore, we should actively create favorable conditions to ensure guarantee individuals' free and all-round development to give their intelligence and wisdom full play. In a nutshell, we should put people first and use scientific development concept and the rule of law to protect and guarantee citizens' happiness and dignity.

2. To protect and promote cultural diversity and cultivate fertile soil for human rights protection

Human rights is a cultural phenomenon. The nourishment of culture is indispensable for human rights protection. Culture is a historical phenomenon and it originates from social and historical development of human beings. Culture is also a social phenomenon. It is closely connected with society. Without society there is no culture. Culture includes outlook of the world, life, values and a multitude of other ideas.

With these ideas, culture affects people's cognition and understanding of other people, nations, nature and society. As a result, it produced certain human rights outlooks and practices. Cultural diversity produces diverse values and outlooks of human rights. The basic human rights values represented by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the consensus reached by the entire human race, and they are the contribution of all human beings and the result of exchanges and integration of different cultures of the world.

In fact, the modern concept of human rights itself is a product of cultural integration. The concept of human rights originated from the age of Western Enlightenment and flourished and spread widely during the bourgeois revolutions.

After World War II, human rights concept was raised to the level of international politics and became a universal pursuit. Compared with the French Declaration of Human Rights in the 18th century, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights not only largely expanded the outlook of human rights, but also enriched the contents, absorbing and integrating values of the world's major religions and cultural traditions. Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood". The use of the world "conscience" is a proposal made by Chinese representative Zhang Pengchun and is incorporated in the declaration considering the value of Confucian culture. Historically speaking, the spread and popularity of human rights concept has never been solely determined by a certain human rights culture but, on the contrary, reflected the exchange and integration of various cultures.

The Chinese nation has a history of 5,000 years and Chinese cultural traditions dated back to ancient times. Many thoughts crystallized during the long process of cultural development constituted the source of modern human rights concept. For example, the Chinese civilization has always given prominence to the people. Hundreds of years ago, Chinese pointed out that "people are the root of a country; when the root is firm, the country is in peace" and that "nothing is more valuable in the universe than human beings". The Chinese always put people at the core of social and value systems, which coincides with the basic idea of modern human rights' concept of respecting people and putting people first.

Here is another example: Mencius' thoughts raised and defined the concept of "righteousness" and expounded "discrimination of righteousness and benefit", pointing out that human dignity has absolute value and cannot be replaced by other equivalents. These thoughts include theoretical presupposition of human dignity in modern human rights concept.

Here is one more example: traditional Chinese culture has always stressed the coordination between one man and another and between man and society, advocated self-restraint and self-control and the philosophy "don't do unto others what you don't want others do unto you". It also emphasized collective awareness and social responsibility. It is the historical explanation and cultural roots why currently we stress the unity of rights and obligation in human rights protection and why we place great importance on collective human rights.

We have many other similar examples, In fact, traditional Chinese culture has countless modern human rights ideas that provide new perspectives and arguments for the human rights concept that was first developed in the West. These ideas enrich the human rights connotation and become an important element of the multicultural soil of the human rights concept.

Diversity of cultures and civilizations is an objective reality, which evolved from the social development over hundreds of years, constituting the primary character of the present world and is an important impetus to drive human beings forward. The historical development of human beings is a process of constant exchanges, integration between various civilizations. All kinds of civilizations have made their spectacular contributions to the advancement of humankind and collectively decorated the colorful garden of world culture, just as the old saying goes: "A single flower doesn't make a spring."

The coexistence and integration of various cultures have created a sound environment for further development of the human rights cause. We should actively protect the diversity of the world and promote the dialogue and integration between different civilizations, cultivate the fertile soil of human rights protection, make the world more colorful and human beings happier and their coexistence more harmonious.

3. To respect different value systems and expand the reach of human rights protection.

Value is people's reflection toward social existence, which determines people's attitude towards issues and reflects the relationship between people and conflicts of interests. In modern society, there are different values, which are determined by the level of social development and its various stages. The many value systems are comprehensive reflections of history, culture and geography. There are no superior or inferior values; people just choose their values according to their own perspectives.

A diverse culture offers a variety of choices in terms of value systems, and the objective reality is that this leads to differences of opinion on the subject of human rights and the ways they are achieved. Such differences may cause misunderstandings and sometimes even conflicts. This has happened quite often in history.

Facing diverse value systems and outlooks of human rights, we believe that those improper self-centered stance and attitude should be discarded and that we should hold high the flag of consultation and reason, trying to build a consultation mechanism on the basis of quality and mutual respect.

A rational and mature consultation mechanism should include the following three aspects: equality between different parties, openness of the topics and interactivity of the process. Equality between different parties is a precondition for democratic consultation. Openness of topics decides extensiveness of consultations. Interactivity of the process can ensure the effectiveness of the consultation results. In this regard, Chinese traditional culture, especially the Confucian humanism of unity and harmony, can provide support of rich ideas for the implementation of the consultation mechanism.

We believe that the forming of a nation's culture and values is the growing process of a nation. Culture and values embody a nation's cognition of the world and life and include a nation's in-depth spiritual pursuits and basic code of conduct. Respect for diversity of culture and values is itself a guarantee of human rights. Respecting the many values, setting up and improving the negotiation mechanism and forming and sticking to a scientific development model for human rights protection will surely largely widen the room for developing the protection of human rights.

The commonality of culture and the outlook of human rights between different countries form the basis for dialogue. The differences make the dialogue and exchanges necessary and more colorful.

I hope all parties should stimulate each other and complement each other through this forum. We shall hold an all round discussion of the human rights problems that include concepts, systems, theories, practices, history and reality so as to expand the existing consensus, increase understanding and continuously make new contributions to the realization of human rights for all human beings.

Finally, I wish all guests and deputies good health, pleasant experiences working here and I wish the forum a complete success.

(China Daily 09/22/2011 page9)

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