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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.