Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 13, 2009

Are human rights universal or conditional?

One of the better post-AP Exam experiences I had was the year that human rights had come up several times during the semester. And we were fortunate enough to find resources to research and sort out debates about human rights. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights differs significantly from the common US conception of human rights. And neither of those identical to the generally accepted ideas about human rights in China or Iran.

Here's a place to begin.

China Tells U.N. Panel That It Respects Rights

"United Nations delegates took China to task on its human rights record Monday, pressing officials about Tibet, labor camps, the death penalty, torture in custody and the treatment of dissidents, in a U.N. rights panel's first full review of the country's progress.

"The Chinese delegation, led by Ambassador Li Baodong, defended the government's treatment of citizens, telling the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that people in China are free to voice their opinions to the media and that the government opposes torture.

"In a report submitted before the proceedings, China emphasized that it believes human rights are related to economic growth. As standards of living have improved, it argues, so have political participation and the robustness of the judicial system.

"'China respects the principle of the universality of human rights,' the document states. But it adds: 'Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights.'...

"The Chinese government dismissed 'serious issues as political rather than as human rights issue'" and admitted the existence 'of virtually no human rights problems in its submission or its comments during the interactive dialogue,' said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

"Of special concern at the meeting was China's treatment of ethnic minorities who live within its borders...

"Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer in Beijing, said China's human rights performance should be looked at in historical context.

"'China has showed relatively more tolerance on expanding civil society,' Pu said. For instance, one might criticize the fact that the house of Zhang Zuhua, one of the original signers of the Charter 08 pro-democracy petition, was searched and some of his possessions confiscated. But 'compared to 20 years ago, China wouldn't even acknowledge that human rights exist. So we can see China has moved forward.'..."

Iranian Arabs seek equal rights

"Iranians of Arab descent, known as Ahwazis, who live in the south of the country, say they are one such ethnic minority who have been persecuted and marginalised by the government in Tehran.

"Seyed Tahir al-Seyed Nima, the chairman of the Ahwaz National Liberation Movement (ANLM), said Ahwazis consider themselves to be under Iranian occupation in much the same way Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation.

"He said: 'We were an independent state until 1925 when oil was discovered in our land and our ruler Sheikh Khazal was killed. Our land was then annexed by the Shah of Iran.'...

"Ahwazi Arabs have not been included in Iran's economic development and prosperity derived from oil exports, according to a 2007 Human Rights report published by civil rights organisations in Europe in coordination with the Belgium–based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation..."

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At 8:37 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Jurists Decry Loss of Rights

"An international group of judges and lawyers has warned that systemic torture and other abuses in the global "war on terror" have "undermined cherished values" of civil rights in the United States, Britain and other countries...

"'Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights,'' said [Arthur] Chaskalson, a former chief justice of South Africa..."

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

China Says U.S. Report on Rights Distorts Facts

"Chinese authorities reacted caustically on Thursday to the release of an annual State Department report on global human rights that called China’s respect for rights not just 'poor,' but worsening in its persecution of ethnic minorities and dissidents.

"The state news agency Xinhua called the report’s section on China groundless and irresponsible, saying it 'willfully ignored and distorted basic facts' about human rights conditions and the nation’s ethnic, legal and religious systems. 'The report turned a blind eye to the efforts and historic achievements China has made in human rights that have been widely recognized by the international community,' the Xinhua statement said. It called the annual report an American pretext for interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations..."

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Judiciary official defends Iran's human rights record

"A ranking Iranian judiciary official defended his country's human rights record Saturday, lashing out at a recent State Department report that condemned the Islamic Republic's record on upholding the rights of minorities and dissidents.

"'Claims by America and some European countries on the violation of human rights by certain states are not aimed at defending human rights, and they are rather used to exert political pressure on Third World and developing countries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran,' Ebrahim Raisi, first deputy of Iran's judiciary branch, told journalists in Tehran, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency...

"In recent weeks, Iran has charged seven leaders of the country's outlawed Bahai faith with espionage after holding them in prison for months. Authorities also arrested dozens of university students opposed to the burial of Iran-Iraq war victims on the campus of Amir Kabir University in Tehran. All but about 10 were released, according to a university website and the New York-based Human Rights Watch...

"[R]ights advocates say Iran's treatment of women's rights activists, political dissidents, ethnic minorities such as Kurds, and leaders of religious groups such as the Bahai has deteriorated dramatically as the Islamic Republic has sought to crack down on any potential domestic opponents...

"Iranian officials regularly accuse the West of hypocrisy in zeroing in on Iran's human rights record, citing abuse allegations at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and what they call European and American complicity in alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. Iranian officials say they do their best to protect the rights of minorities and they accuse the West of using activists to foment political unrest.

"'The Islamic Republic of Iran will not allow any trend to harm national security by its organizational, illegal and unauthorized activities,' Iran's chief prosecutor, Ayatollah Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, said Friday, according to the official news agency..."

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Asian Summit Snags on Human Rights: Activists Pull Out of Meeting After Ultimatum by Burma and Cambodia

"A summit of Southeast Asian countries got off to a rocky start Saturday when the leaders of Burma and Cambodia threatened to walk out of a meeting on human rights if activists from their countries were included. The activists reluctantly offered to withdraw, and the meeting went ahead without them...

"Rights groups said that Saturday's ultimatum from Burma and Cambodia shows that they are already trying to undermine the agreement...

"The refusal of Burmese and Cambodian authorities to engage with their critics will bolster skeptics who say the organization has always put the principle of noninterference above its promise to better the lives of the 570 million people who live in the 10 member countries..."


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