Wednesday, June 6, 2007


By Francis C. W. Fung, PH.D.

Human rights should not be used as a tool to subjugate nations, but to liberate them and the people within them. The issue of human rights, in American media, is presented as a one-sided, static concept. This presentation convolutes the reality of the unavoidable growing pains, inherent in establishing the infrastructure necessary to foster comprehensive human rights in developing nations. Furthermore, this censuring is meted out with a palpable lack of self-criticism regarding America’s own current human rights records and past transgressions. This double standard often leaves many developing nations suspicious of American motives. Despite the seeds of human rights being nestled in the teachings of major world cultures; an actual commitment to bringing the concept to fruition is quite recent. Judging by the cultural history of the world, essential human ideals such as harmony, freedom and democracy all predated, and were studied far more thoroughly than human rights. As with harmony and democracy, the concept of human rights is quite broad indeed. Although the civilized world generally agrees that human rights are equal and inalienable, the agreed scope and method of implementation are still developing. This lack of consensus is obvious from the current debate taking place both within the U.N. and other global diplomatic arenas.

Numerous articles have been written of late about the “East vs. West” debate regarding human rights. Among those contributing to the discussion is Albert H.Y. Chen who is Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong. His paper, entitled “Chinese Cultural Tradition and Modern Human Rights.”, concludes that “it would be possible for us to rehabilitate the virtues and insights of Confucianism and other precious elements in the rich and great Chinese cultural tradition which modern Chinese deserve to feel proud of, and simultaneously work for the further democratization and better protection of human rights in China of the 21st century. This, I believe, is the way forward for China, and the lesson finally learnt from the immense sufferings which the Chinese people have endured in the throes of modernization in the last two centuries.” This ongoing process of improving human rights, to varying different degrees along with the progress of modern human society is applicable to all nations, and the U. S. is no exception. As the most prosperous developed nation in the world, the massive American penal correction system has failed to stop its crime rate from rising to the highest in the world. This is a telltale sign of the societal imbalance between education and penal correction in the application of the human rights principle.

It is important to note that actions that both support and run counter to the concept of human rights are prevalent in both the East’s and West’s cultural heritage. The modern development of human rights in the West is not culturally specific to the West, but has universal significance and applicability for all cultures. The ideals of universal benevolence and education were the cornerstones of Confucian teaching. Confucian teachings would eventually lead to the creation of the world’s first system to allow for the potential advancement of all members of society in the civil service examinations.

In a featured story published Nov. 24,2006 by People’s Daily online, entitled “Harmony: China’s Creation to Promote Human Rights”, Dong Yunhu, Secretary General of the China Society for Human Rights Study, aptly pointed out that “the value of human rights is universal, but the dynamic of its implementation varies in different countries.” The Hon. Makarim Wibisono, Indonesian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the U.N., added that “the idea of harmony being connected to human rights is significant and relevant to Asian culture, which are largely rooted in Confucianism. Harmony certainly can render the concept of human rights more approachable to many who are not familiar with the notion.” Conforming to mainstream American thought, Prof. James Williams of North Carolina University said, “In Asian countries at large, governments are keen to advocate cultural factors playing a role in universal rights, acting on the principle that the individual rights conflict with a wider social harmony and stability, citing Asian values as contradictory to a Western notion of universality.” This line of thinking is not in touch with the Asian reality when the debate no longer surrounds general acceptance of human rights, but does serve to articulate the general Asian consensus as it relates to the scope and dynamic of implementing human rights in the historical setting.

Implementation of human rights in a complex society with a vast population is a study in engineering systems analysis. The key lies in the dynamic balance of a multitude of parameters. Human rights progress requires painstaking monitoring and iteration by a willing society. Casual judgmental statements from American media and government sources often miss the point and become counter productive. China’s birth control policy to prevent overpopulation is an overwhelming necessity for China as well as for the world. It conveniently became the target of perennial attack by the U. S. media. This type of cultural misunderstanding exemplifies the reasons that more objective independent criteria, such as harmony ought to be used to judge the progress of human rights when global development sustainability is at issue. Harmony is essential to the development of world human rights because it is nature’s order. It can also be seen as the scientific path to sustainable development. Harmony consensus, as a standard, naturally comes to mind when today’s world conflicts continue to exist despite good intentions on the part of major religions and international laws. To quote Dong Yunhu, “Social harmony relies on justice and the right to development because both poverty and injustice are the roots of disharmony in the world.”

The recent Virginia Tech massacre and similar frequent mass murder occurrences in the U.S. are the consequence of the government’s inability to enforce stricter gun control laws. Most of the civilized world sees the proliferation of guns in a society as a threat to the majority of citizen’s human rights. The American government’s reluctance to control the dangerous spread of guns is a remnant problem unique to the fabric of American history. It is up to the U.S. to resolve its own disharmony. No other countries are able to enforce it from the outside short of invasion, despite the fact that the spread of guns within America impacts on other independent nations’ own ability to fully enact a human rights policy. An individual nation’s human rights must be founded in firm sovereignty. Advocating overt force to secure regime changes, thereby disrespecting the sovereignty of other nations, is in serious violation of world human rights codes. The tragic catastrophic Iraqi civilian sufferings as a result of U.S. invasion, is a gross violation of world human rights without consideration of harmony,

In a recent book titled “Keeping Faith in our Values in a Dangerous World”, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the renowned Dean of Princeton University Woodrow Wilson Institute, advocated including tolerance, humility and faith in the American system of values. She also suggested that America practice “value based foreign policy” to improve our image, so that our spreading of human rights and democracy can be more effective. Her theory is well founded but short of the more universal ideal of harmony diplomacy and mutual win-win development already in practice in various parts of the world. Harmony is an ancient ideal that belongs to the world. It is accepted by many cultures East and West. It is an extensive system of common values and certainly more inclusive than just adding tolerance, humility and faith to the American value system. One can also have faith in harmony, which in time will grow by way of resonance.

The truth of harmony diplomacy includes the spirit of working with all nations in the world. Between any two countries there exist complementary advantages for mutual win- win development. Preconception of incompatibility is counter to harmony’s ideal of tolerance, acceptance and respect for others. It also negates the value of humility in practicing tolerance and acceptance. Madam Slaughter proposed working with NATO nations, English speaking and other major nations for the propagation of American values and “value based foreign policy”. Yet in her list of “preferred” nations, many significant nations including China, Russia and other obvious nations who have disagreements with U.S are noticeably absent. World human rights practice must also include respect of all cultures.

The scope of human rights also grows with social and economic modernization of a society and must be in harmony with the society and nature. From the very beginning nature also imposes boundaries on our aspirations for human rights. Harmony as dynamic balance is nature’s order. It exists as a higher order to guide applicable affairs of family, society, nations and the world. When there is no harmony, as in today’s confrontational world, extremism results and human rights are threatened. The ideal of human rights is a universal truism but we must allow cultural diversity in scope, cultural emphasis and the manner in which history impacts upon implementation within the well-planned and engineered system. While an individual nation will undoubtedly adapt its own process of human rights implementation in order to accommodate for various issues associated with establishing this type of infrastructure, the same care needs to be taken on a global platform.

The world needs harmony diplomacy through dialogue and consensus in order to maintain world human rights. The impetus lies with the U.N. rather than any particular nation regardless of that nation’s strength. The weak, in their anguish, have limited means and must be persuaded to refrain from taking on an attitude of defeatism and the suicide mode. The powerful, with their dominant media and overwhelming military, needs to practice humility. To minimize confrontation resulting from extremism and unilateralism, it is time for all to advocate the harmony diplomacy to bring about a change that is beneficial to all. Without harmony, the spread of human rights may become a quagmire of differing opinions and approaches, but harmony would make it possible for disparate people to share in similar protection from a global body. Thus harmony is essential to world human rights as supranational universal guidance and system engineering analysis milestones, in implementation with dynamic balance.

Francis C. W. Fung, PH.D.

Director General
World Harmony Organization

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