Wednesday, June 6, 2007


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

In the U.S. media human rights is used as a one sided absolute standard rather than relative progress to judge developing countries who are striving to improve. At the same time there is a noticeable lack of self criticism of America’s own human rights records. This double standard often leave many developing nations suspicious of American motives. Even though seeds of human rights are contained in teachings of major world cultures, its development to keep pace with modern world is rather recent. Essential human ideals such as harmony, freedom and democracy, judging from world cultural history certainly all predated and had far more thorough study by many cultures old and new than human rights. Just as harmony and democracy, human rights is also a broad principle indeed. As much as is generally agreed by the civilized world that human rights is important and necessary, as a universal common value its agreed scope and its method of implementations are still developing. This lack of consensus is obvious from the current great debate that takes place in U.N. and on world stage.

For representative East vs. West debates on human rights, one is referred to two recent excellent papers. First one authored by Prof. Albert H.Y. Chen, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong, entitled “Chinese Cultural Tradition and Modern Human Rights.” Second one is a featured story published Nov. 24, 2006 by People’s Daily Online, entitled “Harmony: China’s Creation to Promote Human Rights.” It is fair to point out, elements for and against human rights were contained in both East and West cultural heritage. The modern development of human rights in the West is not cultural specific to the West but has universal significance and general applicability for all cultures. In fact the ideal of universal benevolence and universal education were the corner stones of Confucian teaching. The Chinese civil examination was the first historical large scale comprehensive system to provide equal advancement opportunity to all its citizens.

In the first paper, Prof. Chen concluded “Thus 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 on going process of improving human rights in different degrees, with the progress of modern human society is applicable to all other nations and U. S. is no exception. In fact as the most prosperous major nation in the world, the U.S. massive penal correction system failed to stop the crime rate from being the highest in the world. This is a sign of societal imbalance in education vs. penal correction in the application of human rights principle.

In the second paper, Dong Yunhu, Secretary General of the China Society for Human Rights Study also rightly pointed out “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 “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.” Prof. James Williams of North Carolina University not untypical of U.S. main stream thinking 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 type of thinking is not in touch with Asian reality when the debate is no longer in the general acceptance of human rights but in the scope, the dynamic of its implementation and the historical setting.

Implementation of human rights in a complex society of vast population is a study in engineering system analysis. The key lies in dynamic balance of a multitude of parameters. Human rights progress requires painstaking monitoring and iteration by the willing society. Casual and judgmental statements from the U.S. media and government often miss the point and are counter productive. China’s birth control policy to prevent over population is an overwhelming necessity not just for China but for world development sustainability. But it conveniently became the target of perennial attacks by the U. S. media. That is why a higher order universal criteria such as harmony as common value, may be used to judge the progress of human rights in some cases where global development sustainability are at issue. Harmony is essential to world human rights development because it is nature’s order and it prescribes dynamic balance in engineering system analysis. Harmony includes the universal common value of tolerance, respect, equity and most of all humility. It can also be called the concept of scientific development for sustainable development. Harmony consensus as a standard naturally comes to mind when today’s world conflict continue to exist despite well intentions from major religions and intentional 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 civilized world sees the proliferation of guns in a society is a threat to the majority citizen’s human rights. The American government’s reluctance to control the unnecessary spread of guns is a left over problem unique to the U.S. historical setting. It is up to the U.S. to solve its own disharmony. No other countries are able to enforce it from outside short of invasion, even though the spread of guns by American citizens also endanger world human rights. Individual nation’s human rights must be built on its firm sovereignty foundation. A country not respecting the sovereignty of other nations by advocating overt forceful regime changes is in serious violation of world human rights. The tragic catastrophic Iraqi civilian sufferings, as a result of U.S. invasion, is a lesson of violation of human rights lacking harmony consideration to be learned by all.

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 into American system of values. She also suggested that American 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 by 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 American value system.

One can also have faith in harmony, which in time will work its way by 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 ideal of tolerance, acceptance and respect of 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 us 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 human rights aspirations. Harmony as dynamic balance is nature’s order. It exists as a higher order guide applicable to affairs of family, society, nations and the world. When there is no harmony as in todays confrontational world, extremism results and human rights are threatened. Human rights ideal is a universal truism but we must allow cultural diversity in scope, cultural emphasis and historical sequenced difference in implementation within a well planned engineering system. As much as there is engineering system analysis in the implementation of human rights in a nation there needs to be the same consideration in world human rights.

The world needs harmony diplomacy through dialogue and consensus to maintain world human rights. It is within the realm of U.N. and not the judgmental whim of any one nation, no matter how powerful we are. The weak in their anguish has limited means must be persuaded to refrain from suicide mode. The powerful, with dominant media and military, needs to practice humility. To minimize confrontation through extremism and unilateralism it is time for all to advocate harmony diplomacy and win-win mutual development. Thus harmony is essential to world human rights as a supranational universal guidance and system engineering analysis milestones in the dynamic implementation of world human rights.

No comments: