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Human Rights are Subjective

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The Old Codger on Human Rights


This thing called “human rights” is indeed a confusing subject.  Seems like there are a whole lot of definitions of this term that can be applied at the will or whim of whoever is talking about them.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides:

“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.”

It could be argued that this is a rather simplistic view, but one with quite a bit of depth.  These days, looking at the political climate in America, and using this definition, it could be argued that both the Democrats and Republicans are violating each other’s human rights because they certainly are not acting "towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood."

Quite often these days, it seems as though human rights depend on whose ox is being gored.  Take for example the controversy brewing down in Australia which, as a nation is opposed to the death penalty.  However, Australians are waiting with baited breath for the execution of three Bali terrorists who killed 201 people in night club bombings in 2002.  Eighty-eight Australians died in that terrorist attack.  However, Australia is pressing Indonesian authorities not to execute a number of convicted Australian drug smugglers, part of the Bali Nine, claiming in part that executions would violate their human rights.

The European Parliament yesterday awarded a Chinese dissident, Hu Jia, its top human rights award.  Hu is currently serving a 3-1/2-year prison sentence for sedition.  The charge stems from police accusations that he had planned to work with foreigners to disturb or disrupt the Olympic Games in August.  This award comes on the eve that China is to host a summit of leaders from the European Union and Asia to attempt to tackle the global financial crisis.

There is little doubt that Hu is an activist.  He is an outspoken advocate of human rights, the environment and social fairness.  Initially an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, Hu expanded his efforts after the government gave little ground and he began to see the country’s problems as rooted in authorities’ lack of respect for human rights.  As a result of his activities, he has been under government surveillance for a long time, and has been placed under house arrest numerous times.

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Whether he is substantially guilty of the crime of sedition -- of planning to disrupt the Olympics -- is something that many of his supporters and those in the West would deny.  According to the Chinese authorities, he is guilty, and that is the final word.

If Hu was planning on disrupting the Olympics, then his subsequent incarceration is justified under Chinese law.  Had he actually attempted to or succeeded in disrupting the Olympics, then he would have incurred the justifiable wrath of the vast majority of the Chinese population.

When violations of human rights are alleged, it must always be remembered that there are two sides to every story and situation.  Of course, Hu’s supporters are going to claim that he was, in essence, just sitting in his apartment minding his own business, and had no intention of doing anything untoward.  Of course, his history would belie that contention.

In the absence of any reputable evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that Hu is guilty of sedition.  This would make him a criminal under Chinese law, and his punishment just.

Human rights groups are calling on China to release Hu from prison.  “The Chinese government should see Hu Jia as the European Parliament clearly does: not as an enemy or embarrassment, but rather as someone whose courageous advocacy embodies the best of China,” Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.  Richardson of course has no idea of what is best for China or its citizens.

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No one, except perhaps Hu’s wife,  Zeng, is alleging that Hu is being mistreated in prison.  She said he has in been in poor health and, in the past, was forced by his jailers to rake leaves for seven hours a day.  In her blog she wrote yesterday: “Hu Jia said the condition of this prison is better than (the other) prison, but he is still without hot water for bathing.  He hasn’t started prison labor yet,"  Zeng wrote, "For now, he studies everyday.”

Recently China has announced that it is going to take stronger steps towards democracy as time goes on.  The government realizes that democracy is not something that can be rushed, but must be a well thought-out process and procedure.  China no doubt wishes to avoid the pitfalls of democracy that other countries have and are experiencing.

Every country in the world has its own human rights issues that need addressing.  Every country observes the demands for human rights differently, and can rationalize its actions in the name of national security and social order.

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Doc is semi-retired, currently living, working and investing in China. Background in medicine (trauma), business and education. Neither a progressive or a conservative; more of a centrist/libertarian who is a strong proponent of personal (more...)

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