C. Raj Kumar on Human Rights in China

Kumar: As I told you, I’ve been living in Hong Kong for the last, almost 6 years, and I’ve been teaching Human Rights Law and Law and Development in Hong Kong, and, of course, having very close ties with a number of Chinese in Hong Kong, or from mainland China, and also a number of Chinese institutions in mainland China, visited and even spent some time there. And, in fact, last year I got an opportunity to teach at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai for almost a month, and I was teaching a course on human rights to some 60 Chinese students, mainland Chinese students, in Shanghai. Now, obviously, there are huge challenges relating to human rights protection in China, and its implementation and its enforcement continues to be a huge challenge. Now, there are a number of things here it is useful to mention, one is that the Chinese commitment to international law is also very interesting because when it comes to issues like international trade law, WTO law, even issues relating to intellectual property rights, increasingly, and the larger area of say, international commercial law, there is absolutely no second thoughts on, as far its commitment to these areas of law and its effort to enforce it is also increasingly seen. I mean, they might be ineffective at times, for example, IP violations and things like that, but that is not, that doesn’t mean the government is not committed to it, since the violations are so much, in the large scale, it becomes sometimes difficult to enforce it. So we have to understand, one, is the commitment of the government to that body of law and, second, its enforcements problems and that we have seen in other jurisdictions as well. When it comes to international human rights law, if you look at the statements that emerge out of China, the government’s official statements, it has profoundly committed to it. So it’s… And l is that China obviously does not want to, with its huge economic rise and its huge economic and political power, which it has attained in the last few decades, China does not want to be seen to be somebody in the global arena to be sort of a state which does not adhere to the principles of human rights or principles of international law. Where the problem comes is that when it comes to one actual enforcement of it, as understood by the international community, and, two, when it comes to redressal of human rights violations. Here, there are huge challenges.   There are certain aspects of human rights violations which any government does, including China, ought to be seriously handled and should be absolutely exposed, and there should be mechanisms, and that’s where the rule of law development initiatives that take place in China and India become very critical because institutions have to be created to ensure that the rule of law is protected. Now, unfortunately, the kind of independence of judiciary that prevails in a number of countries, as it is understood in that manner, does not prevail in China, and one has to improve the independence of judiciary that is prevailing in China. But also, along with it, what is important is to recognize that there are other aspects of human rights which Chinese have taken great progress in, and it is universally acknowledged that the removal of poverty and a significant number of people being eliminated out of suffering of that kind over 3 to 4 billion people have been removed out of poverty in the last two decades in China, and this is, this is not a small achievement. And the reason I mentioned this is that anybody who is seriously committed to human rights should ensure that the human rights violations in a particular country or jurisdiction is highlighted with a certain degree of integrity so that the legitimacy and credibility of those individuals and institutions are at all times protected, because for a human rights advocate, it is important to protect that because that will be the basis for him or her to be taken seriously by the international community. Now, in the Chinese context, one thing which I have noticed is that while, for the international community to recognize that there are indeed human rights issues in China which needs to be addressed, I would like, in the same way, that the achievements in the progress of human rights within China should also be sufficiently highlighted, and that’s where the role of economic, social, and cultural rights, the role of development discourse comes into the center of human rights discourse. Now, of course, when it comes to issues relating to torture or freedom of speech and expression, or, for that matter, political rights, there is a lot of work to be done in China, and I’m also familiar with the kind of work which is happening within China, not at the government level but at the level of individuals and scholars who are doing, in some ways, a very gradual, institution-building, nation-building process that takes place in China. Now, in the field of, say, environmental protection, there is some amount of, you know, activism that is tolerated by the government. In the field of anti-corruption, also, the government is taking efforts to ensure that people who are exercising power do not abuse it. So there are areas that there is some room for development and change and improvement in China, but, at the same time, I think once the moral coherence of a human rights advocate is protected when it comes to exposing the human rights violations of a country, that will be the critical barometer to assess to what extent these NGOs or human rights advocates are effective or not. Now one of the biggest unfortunate things that have happened in the world today is that no longer any country in the world is having that sort of moral credibility to, in some ways, you know, engage with regard to human rights violations that take place in another country because all of them, in some ways, have been participants in, or have contributed to, human rights violations which they have themselves engaged in. It could be China, it could be the US, too. I mean, Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo Bay are not obviously encouraging situations for the US to… it has undermined its credibility to expose or even talk about human rights violations that take place in other country.

According to C. Raj Kumar, it is important is to recognize that there are many aspects of human rights with which the Chinese have made great progress.

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