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Development of the Cause of Human Rights

(Statement by Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya at the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights)

2003-06-30 14:09
Geneva, 2 April 2002

Mr. Chairman,

First of all, please allow me to extend, on behalf of the Chinese Government, my congratulations on your election as the chairman of this session of the Commission on Human Rights. I am convinced that your outstanding ability and rich experience will guide this meeting to a complete success. I would also like to express my gratitude to H.E. Ambassador Despouy, chairman of the last session of the Commission, for his effective and fruitful work.

Mr. Chairman,

Human beings are the most precious among all things on earth. To promote their development and protect all their due rights is not only the common pursuit of mankind, but also the symbol for the evolving progress of human civilization. For hundreds and thousands of years, people of all lands have made unremitting efforts to ensure the fundamental rights and freedoms for themselves. It was the disastrous aftermaths of the two world wars that prompted the United Nations, born in the flames of war, to be determined to ?achieve international co-operation ? in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all?. For more than half a century, the United Nations has done an enormous amount of work in formulating human rights instruments, eradicating colonialism and apartheid, and checking and preventing gross violations of human rights as a result of foreign aggression and occupation. The content of human rights has been constantly enriched, and peoples? awareness of human rights in all countries steadily heightened.

As mankind entered the new century, the international situation has undergone the most profound changes since the end of the Cold War. Realization of the two overriding themes of the world, peace and development, remains elusive, and the international cause of human rights is still faced with multiple challenges. Sufferings of the people in certain countries have continued as racial hatred and bloody conflicts mount. Poverty in a large number of developing countries has worsened. And abuse of the human rights issue to serve highly politicized purposes has lingered unabated. How to effectively protect human rights and facilitate a healthy development of the international cause of human rights have become a subject of widespread concern and pondering. Here I would like to share with you some of my views and propositions:

First, human rights can get nowhere without peace. Peace and stability are a basic guarantee for the full realization of human rights. The international community should cultivate a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, strive to solve all disputes between states by peaceful means without use or threat of force, and ensure a lasting peace and stability at the regional and global level, thus removing from their roots armed conflicts and the gross violation of human rights arising therefrom.

We are deeply concerned over the recent escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international community should pay more attention to the Middle East peace process and make greater effort to this end so that human rights, including the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people could be realized at an early date.

Second, human rights can get nowhere without development. Economic and social development is the foundation for the full enjoyment of human rights. Today, mankind possesses an abundance of material and spiritual wealth that the world has never seen before. Yet not all countries can have full access to the benefits of modern science and technology and economic globalization. There are still about 1.3 billion people across the world living on less than one US dollar a day. And there are over 130 million children of school age in the developing countries who are unable to go to school. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Poverty is the main obstacle to the full enjoyment of human rights. The international community, therefore, must attach greater importance to economic, social and cultural rights as well as the right to development, support the vast numbers of developing countries, the least developed countries in particular, in their efforts to eliminate poverty and promote a globalization that allows all countries to be winners enjoying equality and fairness.

Third, human rights can get nowhere without international law and basic norms governing international relations. Respecting the sovereignty of a country is a universally recognized norm of international law. The discharge of a country?s obligation under the international human rights instruments requires in the main its legislative, judicial, and administrative measures, and its people?s own efforts. The result can only be counterproductive if anyone from the outside tries to impose what is not the country?s choice.

Owing to differences in history, culture, social system and the stage of economic development, it is very natural for countries to differ in ways, approaches and processes in realizing human rights. Our world has more than 200 countries and more than 2,500 ethnic groups. The West has a wonderful saying: All roads lead to Rome. It is neither practical nor democratic to ask all these many countries to follow a single social system and lifestyle, and to measure such a diverse world against one particular value. Countries, regardless of size, strength and wealth, should be equal. And people of all countries are entitled to independently choose their own modality of democracy and path to development, and to pioneer their own model of promoting and protecting human rights.

Fourth, human rights can get nowhere without international exchange and co-operation. The Charter of the United Nations calls in explicit language for international co-operation to advance human rights. As an old Chinese saying goes, ?Whoever is tolerant is great.? Civilizations may be long or short, but none is superior to others. All civilizations invariably value the respect for human rights, which is the common treasure of mankind. As the improvement of human rights has no limit, all countries, developed and developing, are obligated to further promote and protect human rights. In the school of human rights, one should not assume the role of a teacher while viewing the rest his pupils. Instead, we should respect and learn from each other, going for greater co-operation, exchanges and understanding, and refraining from confrontation, prejudice and swagger.

Fifth, human rights must go hand in hand with counter-terrorism. Terrorism grossly violates democracy and human rights. It is a common enemy of humanity. Its cold-blooded disdain for human lives and the wealth created by mankind has cast a dark shadow over what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed as ?the freedom from fear?. China too is a victim of terrorism. We support the international community in its resolute strike on terrorism. There should be no double standard on this question. We should follow a consistent position on terrorism, no matter whatever disguises it wears, whenever and wherever it occurs and against whomever it is directed. Furthermore, we need to address both the symptoms and causes of terrorism and find a way that takes care both the current problems and leads to a long-term and fundamental solution.

Mr. Chairman,

The Chinese nation has always upheld the value and dignity of people. More than 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese sages put forth the thinking that "Between heaven and earth, people are the most precious", an idea that still deeply influences our society today. Having suffered from the aggression and bullying by the big powers in its modern history, China is keenly aware of the preciousness of peace and the importance of development. On the basis of our cultural heritage and historical experience, we have found a way to promote human rights suited to China's national conditions. While dedicating ourselves to economic development, we attach importance to building democracy and rule of law. While protecting individual rights, we also advocate fulfillment of social responsibilities. While standing for reform and opening up, we also work to maintain social stability. This is what makes us a cohesive society, a vibrant country and a hopeful nation.

In the past 50 years and more, China's GDP has increased more than 100 times, enabling it to rank the 6th in the world. The past 20 years saw the reduction in China's poor by 200 million. Today, the Chinese people can elect their legislature deputies and state leaders, can choose their religious belief, can own their houses, and can travel abroad as tourists. Boys and girls can get education, young people have opportunities to make their dreams come true, and senior citizens can spend their old age life in tranquility and contentment. Never before has China seen so much openness and prosperity. Never before has China enjoyed so much equality and freedom in society and the people so much wealth and happiness.

Just like other countries in the world, China's human rights situation is not perfect. We still have a long way to go before human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully realized. The Chinese Government and Chinese people will be, as we have always been, firmly and unswervingly committed to such a goal. On the basis of equality and mutual respect, we stand ready to strengthen our dialogues and exchanges with all countries, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and other international organizations with a positive and open attitude, with a view to learning from each other and making common progress.

Mr. Chairman,

As the core UN body in the human rights field, the Commission on Human Rights has done a great deal of valuable work in international human rights legislation and practice since its establishment in 1946. Undeniably, the Commission was reduced to a Cold War battlefield during the East-West confrontation and thereafter fell victim to the attempts at politicizing it. As for the priorities, approaches and methods of this Commission?s work, member countries have put forward many useful suggestions. Faced with challenges, will the Commission press ahead with the advance of the times or stick to old conventions? Will it work hard to seek and expand common ground or engage in endless recriminations? Will it go for co-operation and dialogues or continue bury itself in useless political confrontation? As an old Chinese saying goes: Nothing is static and everything owes its life to changes. For the sake of the Commission's credibility and the international human rights cause, we need to take a hard look at these questions and make our choices.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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