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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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.