15 April 2009

Human Rights as Indivisible, Interdependent and Interrelated

I've been spending some time looking at China's recently published "National Human Rights Action Plan" for 2009-2010 and thinking about China's motivation for carrying out this exercise. Well, that led me to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a document that came out of the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. The call for countries to establish human rights action plans originates there.

As I was reading over the VDPA, I noted the reiteration of an idea that's been occupying a great deal of my attention of late: that human rights are indivisible and interdependent and not comprised of some rights that somehow are more fundamental than or have precedence over other rights. This is one of the most sacred principles of human rights law, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I've been returning to this idea to rebut the Chinese argument that, because of particular national circumstances related to culture, history, level of development, etc., China chooses to focus on the promotion of economic and social rights as somehow "more fundamental" than civil or political rights. (Cultural rights are the black sheep of human rights, often forgotten.)

What I've often forgotten is that in 1993 the call to remember the integrality of human rights was primarily aimed at those countries—like the United States—that sought to make civil and political rights "more fundamental" than economic, cultural, and social rights. Promoting the importance of economic, social, and cultural rights was meant as a corrective, but might China be trying to take this too far?

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