14 August, 2022


The Beijing Consensus On Human Rights

By Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

The very first ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ was held in Beijing on the 7th and 8th of December this year with the participation of over 300 delegates from more than 70 countries, according to Xinhua , China’s state news agency. It reported that Mikhail A. Lebedev, Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council, also spoke at the meeting.

True to President Xi Jing Ping’s promise at the 19th Party Congress this year to play a central role in world affairs, China offered an alternative to the established discourse on human rights. While not rejecting the existing values of human rights, China’s intervention proposed the idea of combining the ‘universality’ of human rights with what it termed the ‘particularity’ of national conditions. China noted that it regarded “the right to subsistence and the right to development as the primary basic human rights”.

The Diplomat reported that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who attended the Forum “made China’s point clearer in his opening speech” claiming that “China’s experience shows that human rights can be protected in more than one way. Countries can find their own models of human rights protection in light of their national conditions and people’s needs.”

The new South-South Human Rights Forum said in a joint statement that human rights should “take into account regional and national contexts, and political, economic, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds.” It said that “The cause of human rights must and can only be advanced in accordance with the national conditions and the needs of the peoples.” This is an emerging alternative paradigm of Human Rights.

The idea of “South-South cooperation” emerged from the Bandung Conference 1955 with its theme of Afro-Asianism. The Diplomat reports that Beijing regards Bandung 1955 as “a landmark in the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) diplomatic history” where Zhou Enlai — the iconic first Premier of China “called for developing countries to unite.”

At the conclusion of the South-South Human Rights Forum, a statement called the “Beijing Declaration” was adopted which contained 9 articles around the topic “Building A Community of Shared Future for Human Beings: New Opportunities for South-South Human Rights Development“. They are as follows:

“Article 1

In order to ensure universal acceptance and observance of human rights, the realization of human rights must take into account regional and national contexts, and political, economic, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds. The cause of human rights must and can only be advanced in accordance with the national conditions and the needs of the peoples. Each State should adhere to the principle of combining the universality and specificity of human rights and choose a human rights development path or guarantee model that suits its specific conditions. States and the international community have a responsibility to create the necessary conditions for the realization of human rights, including the maintenance of peace, security and stability, the promotion of economic and social development and the removal of obstacles to the realization of human rights.

Article 2

Human rights are an integral part of all civilizations, and all civilizations should be recognized as equal and should be respected. Values and ethics of different cultural backgrounds should be cherished and respected, and mutual tolerance, exchange and reference should be honored. All governments and peoples should work together to build a community of shared future for human beings based on the principles of mutual benefit and sharing, build a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness, tolerance and cleanness, so that humanity is free from fear, from poverty, from disease, from discrimination and from isolation. The community of shared future for human beings represents the yearning of peoples of the world for peace, development and prosperity. 

Article 3

The right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights. The main body of the right to development is the people. In order to maximize the overall interests of mankind, it is necessary to uphold the unity of the right to development at individual level and the right to development at collective level, so that all peoples have equal opportunities for development and fully realize the right to development. Developing countries should pay special attention to safeguarding the people’s right to subsistence and right to development, especially to achieve a decent standard of living, adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, the right to housing, the right to security, work, education, and the right to health and social security. The international community should take the eradication of poverty and hunger as the primary task, and strive to solve the problem of insufficient and unsustainable development and create more favorable conditions for the realization of the people’s right to development especially in the developing countries.

Article 4

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human dignity is not only related to human freedom, but also decisive to the all-round development of human beings. Human rights are the unity of individual rights and collective rights. The right to subsistence and the right to development, the right to peace, and the right to the environment are both important collective human rights and the prerequisite and basis for the realization of individual human rights. All human rights are indivisible and interdependent. The acquisition of civil and political rights is inseparable from the simultaneous acquisition of economic, social and cultural rights, which are equally important and interrelated.

Article 5

Human rights are inalienable, and all countries should make efforts to promote the legal guarantee of human rights. Restrictions on the exercise of human rights must be determined by law, and only for the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of other members of society (including freedom from religious desecration, racism and discrimination) and meet the legitimate needs of national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morals and the general welfare of the people. Everyone is responsible to all others and to society, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be balanced with the fulfillment of corresponding responsibilities.

Article 6

States should, in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, focus on guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of specific groups, including ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic groups and migrant workers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and displaced persons. States have an obligation to respect and protect religious minorities, and religious minorities have the same obligation to adapt to their local environment, and this includes the acceptance and observance of the Constitution and laws of their localities, as well as their integration into the local society. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs, including the choice of believing or not believing a religion, and the choice of believing one religion or another, without being discriminated.

Article 7

South-South cooperation is an important way to promote development and human rights progress in developing countries. The South-South countries should adhere to the spirit of solidarity, sharing of responsibilities and obligations, mutual help and win-win cooperation, and insist on promoting cooperation with unity, advancing development through cooperation, and promoting human rights through development, making efforts to achieve more adequate human rights protection. The international community should, in line with the principles of balance, inclusiveness and sustainability, actively support better development of developing countries and constantly improve the protection of human rights in those countries.

Article 8

The international community’s concern for human rights matters should always follow the international law and the universally recognized basic norms governing international relations, of which the key is to respect national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. All countries should adhere to the principle of sovereign equality, and all countries, big or small, have the right to determine their political systems, control and freely use their own resources, and independently pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. The politicization, selectivity and double standards on the issue of human rights and the abuse of military, economic or other means to interfere in other countries’ affairs run counter to the purpose and spirit of human rights. The relevant actions of the international community to protect human rights must be in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and should respect the views of the concerned states and regional organizations.

Article 9

The realization of human rights is never-ending and the development of human rights is always ongoing. In terms of human rights protection, there is no best way, only the better one. The satisfaction of the people is the ultimate criterion to test the rationality of human rights and the way to guarantee them. It is the responsibility of governments to continuously raise the level of human rights protection in accordance with the demands of their peoples. The international community should promote human rights cooperation through dialogue and exchange, mutual learning and mutual understanding and consensus-building on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” 

This is an opportunity for developing countries to support a collective effort to build a world free of fear, poverty, disease and discrimination with adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, housing and public health as important human rights, in an alternative paradigm to the hypocritical politicization of human rights such as the 2015 and 2017 Geneva resolutions on Sri Lanka.   

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Latest comments

  • 5

    “This is an opportunity for developing countries to support a collective effort to build a world free of fear”

    You mean ” 10 year fear under Mahinda & Gotapaya horror is over?

    • 3

      Spring Koha

      We know, like Khushwant Singh and M. F. Husain you appreciate women, hopefully it would not cloud your judgement. And never did in the past.

      Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka types/strikes again:
      The Beijing Consensus On Human Rights

      However The Guardian has a different story:

      ‘Slow-moving crisis’ as Beijing bolsters South China Sea war platform”
      US thinktank reveals satellite images showing new munitions depots, radar systems and fighter jet deployments to disputed region in 2017
      The South China Sea is dotted with small reefs and islands, and parts of it are claimed by a host of south-east Asian neighbours.

      China claims nearly the entire sea and has artificially increased the size of some islands and deployed fighter jets to bolster its claims, with the islands frequently described as “unsinkable aircraft carriers”. Beijing has reclaimed 1,280 hectares of land in just one area, according to the US department of defence.
      The Guardian
      Benjamin Haas
      Friday 15 December 2017 03.46 GMT

      How do you reconcile the Guardian story to her typing?

  • 5

    Main focus of Geneva resolution on Siri Lanka is “rights to live” and “rights to live with dignity” its own people ….

  • 3

    Presently, human rights is a joke. It is a western country’s political tool to oppresses smaller countries that are not aligning with them. So, china if they want to raise heads out of this conspiracy, they also need some program. Otherwise, china doe snot have the same kind of exploitation of other countries. For Tamils and all the extremist minorities living in Sri lanka, they should first start respecting the majority rights to live and dignity. IF not leave.

    • 4

      Jim softy the dimwit

      “Presently, human rights is a joke. “

      Isn’t it why you support the party that kill and maim most?

      “It is a western country’s political tool to oppresses smaller countries that are not aligning with them. “

      A small time mugger mugs locally with a small weapon, big time mugger mugs internationally with bigger weapon. Whether one mugs locally or internationally mugging is mugging. Why complain only when bigger mugger tell you to behave according to his rules and ignore/celebrate when your local mugger mugs you day in and day out?

    • 4

      Tell the Tibetans that China does not have the same kind of exploitation of other countries or Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia and other countries whose off-shore spaces are being taken over. It is for the majority to respect minority rights.

  • 4

    All this verbal hogwash is a replay of the Asian values debate that took place a while back. This notion of development is the refuge of states that terrorize their people. Marcos said he was developing philippines. Pinochet said the same for Chile. Chinese say it all the time. So there is now a declaration that is so verbose that it is difficult to construe. The International Covenant recognises certain rights as sacrosanct and as non-defeasible. They are that for all countries. Full Stop. Beijing Consensus or not, we are not toadies to the Chinese yet.

  • 3

    A spokesman for the White House once spoke of ‘Alternative Facts’. China is now proposing a new concept of ‘Alternative Human Rights’ that would go well with oligarchies, dictators and other repressive governments. Yet, there are people who will endorse these ‘principles’ and also people who will swallow them whole!

  • 6

    Yesterday, the British High Court found British soldiers of guilty of war crimes . It found the British Ministry of Defence responsible.
    So it is necessary that half-baked dunces stop talking nonsense that human rights are a Western plot against Africans and Asians. The US Supreme Court has an impressive list of cases on the rights of detained persons alleged to be terrorists. Margaret Thatcher lived in fear of prosecution. Tony Blair seldom appears in public because he will get shouted down. Please do not write fake articles insulting the intelligence of CT readers. The Beijing Consensus is a counter to the Washington Consensus both ideas being restricted to economic theories involving neoliberalism. They have little to do with human rights. No one in her right senses would condone the repression of human rights in China, or India, or Sri Lanka. The fact that the violations occur in developing states does not provide an excuse. In modern times, the right to life, the right against torture,, the right to liberty and freedom of expression and association are non-defeasible rights. The fact that there must be repression in Kashmir, Tibet and Xinjiang and the North-East of Sri Lanka are no good reason why this human progress must be denied.

  • 2

    Native Vedda

    The flashing-sparkling-crescent smile of Sanja will not detract from the fact that she is only a functioning appendage of the living leg-end.

    The fact is that these days everybody has their own definition of ‘human rights’.

    China is as inscrutable as ever, and as birds of a feather flock together, so do those professing ‘human rights’.

    Alas, in our magical tropical bubble, human rights mean different things to different shades of the political spectrum. Most of the time, you have to stretch your imagination to understand their various and varying definitions.

    As for China, they are the new bully on the block, and they are quietly but surely building a formidable position in preparation for the day when the West self-destructs. Then together with Russia, China will carve out a new world order, and it will be chop suey for us all.

    • 4

      “together with Russia, China will carve out a new world order, and it will be chop suey for us all”. Can’t wait for the day. That is exactly the remedy the world needs to save it from blood sucking American=European colonialism. When that day comes, we will expel all western left overs from our country, take back our land and begin to make Sri Lanka the Dharma Dweepa it was 2500 years ago, Hora veddas will have to pack up their bags.

    • 2

      Spring Koha

      I doubt the peacefully rising Middle Kingdom China wishes to share anything with others, including Russia.

      Of course China is a piece loving country, a piece from Russia, a piece from North Korea, a piece from Mongolia, a piece from Kazakhstan, a piece from Kyrgyzstan, a piece from Tajikistan, a piece from Afghanistan, a piece from Pakistan, a piece from Nepal, a piece from Bhutan, a piece from Myanmar, a piece from Laos, a piece from Vietnam and a LARGE PIECE India and the entire South China Sea.

      Oh by the way a piece or maybe several pieces from Sri Lanka as well.
      Self hating SJ, wouldn’t be happy until China gobbled up the entire island.

  • 4

    Sanja De Silva Jayatillaka
    Human rights is plain and simple – it is the right to live with dignity and as equal in every respect. This is possible if all are protected by the state.
    You are trying to distort this basic attribute.
    The Nazis had their interpretation and so did the apartheid regime of the then South Africa.
    In China the Uighurs are actively persecuted – they are not allowed to pray. Even the names given to a new born needs state approval. Are the Tibetans living with dignity?
    The Forum absolves the Burmese Junta over the genocide of Rohingyas.
    Sanja – You are scrapping the barrel bottom. Ask yourself – Successive GoSL have terrified Lankans. In which regime are we feeling ‘less’ terrified?

  • 3

    What about Organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China by Chinese authorities behind the curtains of the Beijing’s Human Rights Forum? This is like GoTa and MaRa clan’s HR talks behind killings of journalists, HR activists, political opponents, and over 40,000 innocent Tamil civilians during their 10 year reign of terror. See the links below for China’s HR record



  • 9

    Bit of a joke holding human right forum in China remind me of having Saudi getting a seat in UN women’s right forum. I guess next human rights forum will be in Pyongyang.

    • 5

      Leonard ~ “……I guess the next human rights forum will be in Pyongyang”
      It will be in Myanmar organised by Dayan, Sanja supervised by Wirathu.

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