CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 December 2018

Print Version    Email to Friend
Rights with characteristics?

“EVERYONE HAS THE right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says.

Article 19 continues, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The declaration was drawn up and approved by the United Nations General Assembly in France in 1948.

In answering the question, where do human rights begin, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

She called these the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. “Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world,” she warned.

The preamble to the National Human Rights Action Plan of China 2016 proclaims that it has moved the cause of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics to a new level. The Chinese government further proclaims that it combines human rights with economic, political, cultural and social progress, ecological protection and (Communist) Party building.

Yet the New York-based Human Rights Watch notes, “China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion.”

The description of the Chinese action plan is a long way from the Roosevelt and United Nations description as being the world of the individual person and a recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The action plan on religion, for example, begins with, “Amending the Regulations on Religious Affairs, regularising in accordance with the law the conduct of the government in managing religious affairs and protecting the lawful rights and interests of religious believers.”

This looks more like a description of a government right to interfere where it does not belong.

The Universal Declaration presumes that governments do not manage religions, their only duty being to ensure that their own laws, which respect “the individual right to either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” are not contravened .

While the Chinese Action Plan certainly lays out laudable goals by setting the government tasks in turning the rights of a citizen to food, shelter, education and decent work into a better reality, it ensures that it is the controller of the proportion of freedom enjoyed at an individual and community level.

Is that the Chinese characteristic? JiM