This is the second part of a post on the Beijing Human Rights Forum held in September 2013 in anticipation of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of China. Part I introduced the pending Review, described recent human-rights-related legal reform in China, and summarized governmental attitudes on human rights expressed at the Forum. (photo credit)
Voices against human rights universalism
The most vocal human rights relativist at the Forum was Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, House of Lords, UK, a former General Advocate for Scotland. He asked the question “Is it correct to regard human rights as universal?”, and answered it with a vigorous “no”, drawing on examples of prisoners’ voting rights, same-sex marriages, and the like.
Professor Li-Ann THIO from Singapore gave another powerful human rights-relativist talk. According to professor Thio, the goal should be human welfare, whether through human rights or other venues. The focus should be more on results, more on “doing good than on feeling good”. Professor Thio concluded with the question that she thought should be asked to everyone: Do you want the right to a house, or do you want a house?
The answer might seem obvious to rights-sceptics like THIO. But it merits two remarks: First of all, the realisation of most needs and wishes of personal life such as having a house, depends on complex economic, financial and political conditions. People wanting a house are completely dependent on those external conditions if they cannot at least have a say in shaping policies that influence them. Even with regard to the house itself, most people will prefer to decide for themselves whether they indeed want a house, or whether to spend their money first on the education of their children, or on world-wide travelling, for example. Some individuals who prefer non-settled living may indeed not even want a fixed house, and want to remain free to decide on their lifestyle.
Second and most importantly, people do not only want a house but they also want to be able to rely on their home and want to be sure that they cannot be simply evicted for the sake of some infrastructure project. This security is only given when they have a right to the house. In that sense, having a right to a house is an indispensable precondition of securely having a house.
The “putting the people first”-philosophy of the Chinese Government and the “Chinese dream”
The idea that a government should first of all provide a house (without necessarily granting a right to a house) is just one concretion of the Chinese Government’s philosophy of government for the people. In fact, a number of Chinese speakers highlighted the Chinese concept of “putting the people first”-philosophy. This appears to mean both that the group has a certain priority before the individual and also that the welfare of the people must be the objective of government, that “the state is for the people“, as HUANG Mengfu, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of the 11th CPPCC, Chairman of the China Foundation for Human Rights Development, said. Besides, and somewhat in contrast, LI Junru, Vice-President of the China Society for Human Rights Studies said that “the dignity of the state is a precondition of dignity of individuals“.
The idea of a government for the people implies that a pure output-legitimacy of governance suffices. My objection would be that the outcomes are often controversial. Read the rest of this entry…