Localizing the International Human Right to Education in China: A Spatial Inquiry into the Usefulness of Human Rights in Cyberspace
March 07,2017 By:CSHRS
Localizing the International Human Right to Education in China: A Spatial Inquiry into the Usefulness of Human Rights in Cyberspace
Abstract: Debates concerning the relationship between human rights and cyberspace (specifically, the internet) ) have recently become fashionable in various disciplines but most of the analysis has paid scant attention to the spatial attribute of cyberspace. In this paper, I outline a framework for a spatial inquiry into the usefulness of human rights in cyberspace, relying heavily on the emerging ‘spatial turn’ in law as well as the continual intellectual redirection toward a locally-focused approach to human rights. To answer the question of whether cyberspace is useful for improving the effectiveness of international human rights law everywhere, I begin by clarifying the significance of the spatiality of human rights from a geographic perspective, and then provide an analysis of the relationship between human rights and cyberspace. Human rights, I argue, are inherently geographic, and are spatially embodied in cyberspace. Accordingly, I try to explore the local relevance of cyberspace in contributing to the investigation of the effectiveness of international human rights law at local sites by an empirical endeavor to emphasize the right to education in China.
Keywords: right to education; geography of law; localizing human rights; China.
The question of whether human rights law is useful has certain spatial implications. The same human rights treaty may create radically distinctive consequences in different places. The conventional dichotomy with respect to the global north and global south, for example, may be of significance for the concrete assessment of the effectiveness of global human rights norms 1. The different performances of human rights in terms of their nonidentical geographical divisions is constantly calling for the spatial concerns in its own right 2 . In other words, rather than questioning the usefulness of human rights law in such general terms, it seems more valuable to analyze the conditions in which international human rights law can be useful. This alternative approach should not be considered an obsolete variation of relativism, or as belonging to the stalemate relating to the universalism of human rights 3. Conversely, a much more pragmatic strategy regarding the methods to use human rights (law) should be firmly adopted in this case to bring to light the local relevance of human rights.
Unlike the two above-mentioned pessimistic extremes 4, it is often contended that cyberspace 5 may play an effective role in enhancing the effectiveness of international human rights law 6. There are many recent examples of successful stories regarding the positive impact of social media on the realization of human rights with the assistance of human rights NGOs 7. Certainly, international human rights standards have already been a beneficiary of the development of information communication technology and its applications in various fields. While the song of victory may be welcome to our ears, a critical question must be raised: is cyberspace useful for improving the effectiveness of international human rights law everywhere? Posing this question already implies how the factor of spatiality in human rights law and its relationship with cyberspace is underestimated. Thus, the spatial aspect should be a crucial element of any empirical investigation in the context of localization of international human rights law.
The aim of this paper is threefold. First, it attempts to anatomize the significance of spatiality of human rights from a geographic perspective and to provide an analysis of the relationship between human rights and cyberspace. Second, it aims at exploring the potential possibilities and benefits of cyberspace to contribute to the investigation of the effectiveness of international human rights law at local sites. Third, it also seeks to define the functions of cyberspace for the process of localizing the right to education in China. To this end, this paper is organized in the following manner. The spatial dimensions of human rights are reviewed in section two. Based on this, section three analyzes the interrelation between human rights and cyberspace. Section four elaborates on the possibilities and advantages of employing cyberspace to deepen research on the local relevance of human rights. This is followed by section five, which tests the impact of cyberspace on localizing the right to education in China by using collected survey data. Section six wraps-up the present study with a conclusion.
Ⅱ. Human Rights and Space
Human rights are somewhere in the world. Indeed, all aspects of human rights are associated with certain spatial elements, and this attention to the relationship between human rights and cyberspace is indispensable. As the inherent rights of all human beings, human rights holders are living in places with geographic certainty as represented in the original concepts of human rights 8. Besides, the universal consensus on international human rights standards was adopted in the form of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 10th December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris, a specific place 9. These international human rights standards were then implemented in various jurisdictions as domestic mechanisms to fulfill the international legal obligations 10. There is always likely a location involved in cases of human rights violations. For instance, it is difficult to neglect mentioning Rwanda when we talking about genocide 11. All of this indicates the significance of necessary awareness of the spatiality of human rights 12.
In fact, the interrelationship between law and space has already been the subject of both legal and geographic studies. In general, the spatial turn 13 in the social sciences has encouraged the in-depth analysis of interrelations “between social organization and processes and space, place and boundary” 14. Although the purpose and focus of these two disciplines differ, there has been a growing body of geographic studies of law during last decades 15. The geography of law has been described as a unique lens through which to observe law with the help of the notion of space. For simplifying the interactional rationale, it has been argued that law and its practice are the representation of the “spaces of political, social and economic life” 16. On the other hand, law is functional as a way to “construct, organize and legitimate spaces, places and boundaries” 17. It serves, for example, to provide meaning, status, or function to specific spaces such as borders, Free Trade Zones, international rivers, and so on.
Yet, the role of space in law is more than the geographic dimension. For geographers, the basic assumption of study is that space is shaped by a wide variety of human activities 18. The active participation of human actions in the configuration of space triggers transformation among other relevant elements. First, the notion of space deconstructs the presence of power and reshapes the scale of exercising power, with a decisive impact on the operation of the discursive machinery of law in the context of politics 19. Besides, it is arguable that space is the container of culture by which it initiates, represents, and influences its evolution 20. The cultural dimension of space has profound effects on the value and form of normative arrangement which leads to the possibility of legal pluralism 21. Accordingly, one thing, that is salient and I fully agree, is that the spatial is the essential explanatory other of the legal 22.
Likewise, human rights law relies on space. In fact, human rights are “inherently geographic in that struggles over rights are often struggles over access to places and spaces” 23. Access, especially physical access, to space is the indispensable precondition or starting point for the realization of human rights. From civil and political rights to social, economic, and cultural rights, it is simply impossible to delink the object of such rights from their corresponding spaces. For instance, access to a primary school is the basis for guaranteeing the right to education. Thus, it is possible to analyze whether the school, as a physical space, has influence on other rights too. Furthermore, physical access is also the premise of other human rights actions. UN human rights fieldwork, for example, underscores its officer’s presence rather than taking remote-control approaches 24.
Apart from matters of access, the spatiality of human rights law also deals with the different needs and challenges of different populations at different spaces. The heterogeneity of spaces in terms of formulation, perception, and implementation results in a wide divergence of preference of human rights claims. Undoubtedly these human rights claims are essentially associated with the disparate needs originating from the reality of space, which sometimes refers to the capacity of resource management. For example, the distinctions between urban and rural populations are one of the most typical topics in the geographic study of human rights (law).
Ⅲ. Human Rights and Cyberspace
Cyberspace is playing an increasingly important role in the world 25. To a significant degree, cyberspace has changed the ways society operates in the digital era, by inventing and optimizing various new technologies. Moreover, people have been trying to transfer scenarios which are usually exhibited in physical spaces into this ‘virtual’ space, not only to facilitate communication but also to extend other components of society 26.
Despite its lack of physical space, it has been argued that cyberspace is a form of reality which parallels traditional spaces in the sense of geography 27. The dichotomy of online and offline, virtual and physical, is too simple to describe the complicated interplay between spaces, since cyberspace is “both a hugely significant social phenomenon of our time in itself and, in turn, a fascinating fieldsite for social science research of all kinds” 28. The bidirectional connection further highlights the importance of perceiving cyberspace in a more comprehensive epistemology 29.
Cyberspace is a space built by human actions 30. Therefore, sociologists might prefer to start with the question of what kind of society is constructed within and by cyberspace 31. On the other hand, anthropologists may prefer to study the evolution of culture reflected through human actions in cyberspace 32. Political scientists, for their part, may be more eager to investigate the politics within cyberspace, including matters of power, liberty, democracy, etc. More importantly for the present topic, geographers would wish to explore where these human actions happened in cyberspace from a spatial perspective. Although the possible analytic angles are multifold, the underlying assumption for each of these disciplines is of significance for the affirmative recognition of the spatiality of cyberspace.
It is, however, still worth clarifying the spatial features attached to cyberspace 33. Due to its distinctive layers 34, the scale of cyberspace thus transcends the narrow imagination of the Internet. Because of its simultaneous involvement in the physical (physical infrastructure) and virtual spaces, an instant emphasis is pushing the renewal of ideas. Unlike conventional space, where people can be physically present, cyberspace, especially that of the Internet, is characterized by physical absence 35. While we gain direct experience from our presence in space, it is indirect experience instead that we obtain from the absence.
Human rights ought to have a connection with cyberspace. In fact, the growing enthusiasm to discuss human rights and cyberspace both in academia and in practice has confirmed this trend 36. Rights in the digital age are based on the right to Internet. Besides, the right to privacy is also included in the popular debate especially with the rise of the big data age. Thus, new rights are being proposed to address the new phenomenon. The right to be forgotten, for instance, has been introduced to deal with the rapid development of networked information and communication technologies. Apart from the creation of new rights, cyberspace has also impacted human rights actions. Take human rights defenders as an example: they are employing social media to monitor human rights situations, to announce human rights campaigns, to construct human rights networks, etc. In a nutshell, there can be little doubt that cyberspace is highly relevant for human rights.
The mainstream of both human rights research and practice, unfortunately, has not seriously taken spatiality into account, albeit some rights claims based on cyberspace sporadically exist. The challenges and confusions associated with some conventional concepts, regardless of the disciplinary location, could be partially understood or explained against the backdrop of the absence of a clear awareness of spatial dimensions. For example, the considerable disagreement over the notion of cyber territory and its variations in the international community [does not make sense] illustrate the (potential) conflict between the boundless perception of cyberspace and the traditional understanding of geographic space which has certain boundary. [preceding sentence is not clear] Because of this, and among others, there are uncertainties in relation to human rights in cyberspace so far. Nevertheless, I argue in this paper that all human rights are equally applicable in cyberspace. This is also supported by the HRC affirming that “the same right that people have offline must also be protected online.” 37 It therefore requires an epistemological adjustment in relation to the spatiality of cyberspace.
Ⅳ. Localizing Human Rights in Cyberspace
Human dignity, the starting point of human rights language, has been increasingly studied from many different angles 38. The development of human rights law has continued to pursue the realization and protection of human rights all over the world since the adoption of UDHR in 1948. The international community has established a relatively comprehensive legal system at the international, regional, and national levels. These legal instruments and institutions have forged a “great wall” for universal human rights. However, the notion of universal human rights has been challenged by its effectiveness in practice. The fact is that human rights violations are happening in every corner of the world every day. The domestic implementation of international human rights law, both in the global south and in the global north, is either problematic or perplexing among most states. Accordingly, skeptics have started to criticize not only the effectiveness of the international legal system in practice, but also the very notion of human rights itself 39.
Growing concerns about the effectiveness of international human rights law have been echoed by the uprising paradigmatic shift in human rights scholarship 40. Instead of scrutinizing the legal architecture, scholars have shifted their focus to the practice of human rights norms in local sites 41. Meanwhile, this shift also evokes a reconsideration of the limitations of law as the dominant discipline in human rights scholarship and practice 42. Numerous projects have used sociological, political and anthropological approaches to broaden or deepen the understanding of human rights issues. Human rights issues have been treated as a component of society or one part of the culture in many cases 43. The trend regarding the “practice of international law” then provides more possible accesses to human rights.
Accordingly, the practice of international human rights law in cyberspace could be an important element of the overall assessment of the local relevance of global human rights norms. Localizing human rights as a strategic research framework for promoting the normative development of human rights from the bottom up proposes to “take human rights needs as formulated by local people as the starting point for both the further interpretation and elaboration of human rights norms, and for the development of human rights action, at all levels, ranging from domestic to global” 44. It emphasizes the significance of local practice of international human rights law originating with local human rights claims. Regarding the human rights claims, it must take place somewhere, in a specific geographic location which reflects that local sites are the essence of human rights claims. Placing the center of gravity on the local relevance of international human rights law, this paper contends that cyberspace may qualify as a local site where human rights claims originate. Since cyberspace is a space beyond metaphor, it is more interesting to investigate the degree of usefulness of human rights within this geographic dimension.
How, then, is cyberspace relevant to the localization process of human rights law? As the local context may impact the implementation of universal rights with respect to environmental, political, economic, cultural, or community-based concerns, cyberspace may be considered a catalyst of human rights. This space may act as the physical area to contain human rights. Also, it may be used as an instrument to convey the flow of rights claims and actions. At the same time, cyberspace can also represent the place of human rights violations.
In detail, cyberspace facilitates the motion of trajectory of localizing human rights due to its spatial feature. The process of localizing human rights can be broken down in five tracks as follows 45:
With regard to the tracks, it may be difficult for human rights claimants at the local level to get in touch with the international human rights organizations which reflect the uselessness of international human rights mechanisms in reality because of physical spatial impediments. This is, however, not the case in cyberspace. On the contrary, cyberspace offers alternative channels to tie together the multiple human rights actors. This connection is also attributable to the networking function of cyberspace which digs out more social values from the relationship concealed in the human rights legal framework.
Ⅴ. Right to Education Useful in Chinese Cyberspace?
The right to education is universally recognized as a fundamental human right for all human beings. Due to its profound importance, this right has been guaranteed by international human rights laws from the very beginning. From the adoption of the UDHR in 1948 onwards, numerous legal documents, both international and regional, have centered on the right to education 46. Each state is subject to certain international legal obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education through making education available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable in the domestic level by national law 47. The significance of the right to education might be reflected by the persistent incorporation with important political commitments as well. Apart from these pioneering commitments, notably including the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 48, the right to education has also been placed high on the post-2015 agenda 49.
As the largest developing country in the world, China is responsible for the education of 1.3 billion people. The number is as huge as the responsibility. In doing so, China actually has already ratified various kinds of international legal documents concerning the right to education 50. Meanwhile, a relatively comprehensive legal system guaranteeing the right to education has been formulated. In addition, more and more Chinese courts have dealt with claims involving the right to education 51. However, so far human rights notions have not been part of important political discourse in China. Despite formal commitments to international human rights law on paper, the actual application in practice of the right to education has been limited. Although the Chinese government is quite confident with its achievements in the educational field, numerous violations, both in direct and indirect forms, still exist, especially within marginalized groups 52. For example, for those disabled, left-behind, rural-urban children etc., education, in most cases, presents inequality and discrimination 53. The reality indicates that international human rights law in certain contexts may be ineffective.
The question that arises is whether cyberspace may be able to improve the effectiveness of the right to education in China. How is cyberspace relevant in this case? In addition to the relevance of human rights in cyberspace described in the previous sections, its importance may be underlined by China’s status as a cyber ‘superpower’ with more than 400 million Internet users 54. The cyber domain has brought profound changes in people’s lives, especially in terms of their economic behavior and social networks 55. In the macro sense, the rise of Chinese cyberspace has changed the monopoly of US cyberspace. Nevertheless, China views cyberspace as constitutive for territorial integrality, and thus needs control and surveillance in order to ensure the cyber security 56. Taking all of this into account, one question needs to be answered: to what extent does cyberspace influence the local relevance of the right to education in China?
To answer this question, a survey has been done on people’s perceptions of cyberspace and its impact on the effectiveness of international human rights law. A total of 100 students in total from a university in the southwest of China were selected as the sample. Considering the confidential requirements and related ethical regulations, these students completed the questionnaire independently and anonymously. More importantly, this exercise adopted “a user’s perspective on human rights” as its analytical focus 57. Positioning these selected students as rights claimants 58, the questionnaire asked questions regarding both human rights in general and the right to education in particular 59.
The respondents consisted of 30 males, 68 females and 2 others. Considering the average gender ratios of ordinary Chinese universities, the composition of respondents is still representative. Of the respondents, 87 were over 18 years old and the remaining 13 respondents were within the interval of 15-18 years old. Representing the younger generation, they are regarded as the ‘main force’ in cyberspace. This age structure legitimizes the relevance of the discussed themes, i.e. cyberspace and the right to education, with these questions in the survey. The household registration is important in view of the division of Chinese society into rural and urban households and its crucial impact on the equal treatment which closely relates to the principle of non-discrimination and equality in international human rights law 60. Among the 100 respondents, there were 41 representatives of urban households and 59 of rural households.
Cyberspace, and the Internet specifically, has saturated these respondents’ lives. Of the respondents, 66% of the respondents claim to frequently use the Internet. Internet connectivity among these respondents amounts to 98%, confirming the notion that cyberspace has great potential in this specific age group. In keeping with the general narrative of Internet use, 43% of the respondents claim to spend more than 3 hours online with an average of 3.15 hours for all the respondents. In addition, their purpose for entering cyberspace is also multifold. They mainly spend their time in cyberspace for relaxing and social networking, working and studying, and so forth. But it also shows that 2% of the respondents use cyberspace for the purpose of political participation. Instead of focusing on political news, the majority prefers to engage in entertainment and shopping in the cyber-domain. In summary, cyberspace has a primarily social and economic function for respondents in the Chinese context. The political value of cyberspace is, however, virtually unrepresented.
Is it true? Further proof can be found from the principal themes of these respondents’ friend groups. The themes of their communication through social media such as QQ are daily life and study. By contrast, topics concerning politics and rights are rarely discussed by 1% of the population. Does this scenario explain the artificial restriction made by the government? Due to the surveillance and control in cyberspace, it seems impossible for them to discuss politics publicly 61. Nevertheless, this rational explanation is inconsistent with these respondents’ own perceptions of cyberspace. Unlike the self-evident notion of restriction in Chinese cyberspace 62, 39% of the respondents assert freedom as one of the symbolic representations of cyberspace. The fact that only 7% selected the option of ‘restrict’, further increases the complexity of the analysis. One possible explanation for this perceived freedom might be found in the conception of cyberspace as a virtual space. A total of 48% of the respondents have indicated this. These two interdependent variables are the most typical formula to expose to the extent to which individual’s actions and reactions are acceptable in the cyber-domain. Meanwhile, it may trigger a discussion of the relationship between cyberspace and physical space.
Cyberspace is different from physical space. This is the answer from 66% of the respondents. At the same time, 91% of the respondents realize that the cyber-domain is important for them. It is further recognized by 69% of the respondents that there is mutual influence between behaviors in cyberspace and physical space. Whereas the spatial dichotomy is confirmed, the dynamic interaction between cyberspace and physical space has also gained peculiar [particular?] attention for these respondents. Accordingly, this attention creates possibilities to realize their human rights through taking human rights actions in cyberspace. About two-thirds of the respondents had experience in claiming their human rights in cyberspace, although most of them did so only occasionally. Based on their past experiences, they were inclined to visit official government websites for claiming their rights. Besides, their individual social media as well as the community blogs were playing an important role in cyberspace as well. [preceding sentence is not clear] As to the results, 73% of the respondents think it is effective to defend their rights in cyberspace. It demonstrates, in turn, the significance of the construction of governance in cyberspace on the one hand, and the limitation of social media in terms of efficiency on the other hand.
Influence, anonymity, and convenience are the prime reasons concerning the choice of defending rights in cyberspace. All of them are actually spatial characteristics in this domain. The outcome is therefore not surprising. However, the neglect of freedom in this question is not coherent with their perception of cyberspace. As indicated above, freedom is viewed as the basic nature of cyberspace. Nevertheless, this nature does not contribute to driving respondent’s motivation in the sense of claiming rights. This paradox somehow reflects the unclear cognition of cyberspace, especially in the context of the intricate interaction with physical space. It may particularly mislead these respondents’ understanding and behavior regarding the right to education.
The right to education is quite well-known among these respondents. School education, accompanied with information in cyberspace, are the main channels to disseminate rights-based awareness of education. Indeed, the dissemination of the right to education, at least as a discourse, is quite successful in this case. Of the respondents, 91% declared having a relation with the right to education, regardless of the degree of relationship. Moreover, their right to education has never been violated in 82% of the respondents’ minds. Conversely, only nine respondents asserted that they had previously experienced a violation of the right to education. Nevertheless, only two respondents acted to protest or remedy the violation. Furthermore, as to the question of taking actions against the violation of the right to education, only 31 of 100 respondents provided any answer at all. On the contrary, the majority of respondents expressed their willingness to claim their rights in cyberspace in the future.
Cyberspace seems to contribute to the effectiveness of the international right of education among these respondents and probably more generally in a Chinese context. Its main contributions might be summarized into two aspects. First of all, cyberspace, as a space with massive information flows, is able to easily pass on rights-related knowledge to every single place within cyberspace. The disseminated knowledge includes not only the normative dimension of international human rights law but also of practice and detailed procedures. More importantly, such information flows are instant and dynamic. Therefore, it is helpful for the cultivation, development, and improvement of local people’s human rights consciousness 63. As an example, the rising awareness of the right to education is precisely represented in this study. It is of importance for the usefulness of international human rights law in the sense of playing an essential role, as a precondition, in deciding whether or not to invoke human rights.
Furthermore, knowing the spatial interaction may give meaning to the human rights actions in both cyberspace and physical space 64. This epistemological turn affects the practice of international human rights norms in a broader sense. It convinces people to establish the relevance of their behavior online with its representation offline. Since the spatial interaction is dynamic, it may produce more strategies for effectively using international human rights law in the process. Moreover, the interaction between cyberspace and physical space also creates a spatial conflict, i.e., the inconformity existing between two spaces. For instance, once people obtain knowledge of international human rights norms through online information flows, the comparison with the human rights realities may very well increase their motivation to actively protect their human rights as regulated in these treaties. In this regard, the spatial conflict may be another operational mechanism to strengthen the effectiveness of international human rights law. Although few respondents in this study took actions to safeguard their right to education, their understanding of the logic in the mutual influence between cyberspace and physical space has already sparked a certain behavioral pattern in relation to human rights issues. The perceived significance of cyberspace and their willingness to use it to defend human rights in the future may serve to illustrate this.
However, several problems can be identified in this study. One of the biggest questions refers to the access to cyberspace. This paper has sought to avoid putting the analysis into the mainstream discussion of human rights and cyberspace, which crystallizes human rights by different themes, regardless of privacy, expression, association, and so forth. Yet it seems impossible to ignore the access to cyberspace since it is the departure point for further elaboration. It is more precious from the spatial point of view. But the purpose of emphasizing this is not to remind us of the importance of access to cyberspace as a human right 65, although I have never denied this. Instead, attention is paid to the dissimilarities in terms of access between cyberspace and physical access and its implications in people’s behavior. Unlike bodily presence in physical space, people are not able to present themselves in cyberspace by their own bodies. The absence of the bodily self in cyberspace may result in virtual feelings of the enjoyment of human rights. This might be the normative explanation for the absence of human rights actions articulated by these respondents to defend their rights in cyberspace.
Apart from the interpretation of the concrete results, it is also worth noting some general implications for human rights research. To a large extent, cyberspace has challenged the traditional paradigm of social sciences 66. A study on direct experience based on physical existence is no longer sufficient or representative in the digital age. Considering the coexistence of cyberspace and physical space, human rights research, especially for those who prefer a more grounded and contextual approach, needs to pay more attention to cyberspace and its spatial implications to the local relevance of human rights. In fact, rather than saying human rights research needs to take cyberspace into account, it may be more accurate to state that cyberspace sheds new light on human rights research because of its inherent characteristics. Correspondingly, the Localizing Human Rights framework as well as the aforementioned approach of ‘adopting a user’s perspective on human rights’ may require further contributions in this field.
In conclusion, this paper has investigated whether cyberspace is useful for improving the effectiveness of international human rights law at a given place by concentrating on the spatial dimension of cyberspace and its implications on the practice of human rights. It analyzed the normative correlations among spatiality, cyberspace, and human rights. This analysis resulted in a premise emphasizing the significance of cyberspace for the effectiveness of international human rights law in local sites due to its spatial features. In order to test it, an empirical exercise was conducted concerning localizing the human right to education in Chinese cyberspace. Various data was compiled through a survey. The results show that cyberspace has a certain impact on the local practice of the right to education in the Chinese context, although the surveillance and control by the government have a limiting effect on it. It further argued that cyberspace is mainly relevant in the context of stimulating rights awareness but has little function on its transformation of human rights actions. One factor explaining this, according to this study, may be the confused perception of the spatial interaction. Based on the tested relationship and its significance, this paper pointed out the fact that cyberspace has pushed the epistemological shift to appreciate space in human rights research. [the preceding is not clear] To this end, it called for the synthesis of the Localizing Human Rights framework and the approach of ‘adopting a user’s perspective on human rights’ in the context of cyberspace.
* Shisong Jiang (蒋世松), a PhD Candidate in Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and a PhD Candidate in International Law at University of Antwerp (Belgium). A previous version of this paper was presented at the international conference “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration—Towards a Users’ Perspective” held at Ghent University, Belgium, on 9-11 December 2015. The author would like to thank all participants for their valuable comments and constructive suggestions. In addition, the author would like to give special thanks to the editiors. However, all remaining errors are mine.
1. See, for example, Soosaipillai I. Keethaponcalan, “North-South Relations and Human Rights,” Bandung: Journal of the Global South 2, No. 2 (2015), at 1-15.
2. Luke Bennett & Antonia Layard, “Legal Geography: Becoming Spatial Detectives,” Geography Compass 9, No. 7 (2015), at 406-422.
3. For the debate, see, for example, Eva Brems, Human Rights: Universality and Diversity, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 2001; also see Alison D. Renteln, International Human Rights: Universalism Versus Relativism, New Orleans: Quid Pro, LLC, 2013.
4. One of the most famous pessimists of human rights, for example, is Eric Posner. To know more from Eric A. Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
5. Cyberspace in this paper refers to “a global and dynamic domain (subject to constant change) characterized by the combined use of electrons and electromagnetic spectrum, whose purpose is to create, store, modify, exchange, share and extract, use, eliminate information, manage and disrupt physical resources.” See Daniel T. Kuehl, “From Cyberspace to Cyberpower: Defining the Problem,” in Franklin D. Kramer et al., eds., Cyberpower and National Security, Washington DC: National Defense University Press and Potomac Books, Inc., 2009, at 26-28. With regard to the origin of the term cyberspace, see Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1961. In addition, it is especially worth noting that there is no specific distinction among cyberspace, internet, web, etc., which means “cyberspace” in this paper should be understood as a general term.
6. Actually, the Internet has a double-edge. On the one hand, the Internet can promote and expand human rights, it also can be used for undermining human rights on the other hands. For details, see Steven Hick et al., eds., Human Rights and the Internet, New York: ST. Martin’s Press, 2000, at 139-184; Rikke F. J?rgensen, Framing the Net: The Internet and Human Rights, Cheltenham-Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013, at 33-64.
7. The ‘Arab Spring’ is one of the most successful cases in terms of the role of social media in the revolution. See more in: Sarah Joseph, “Social Media, Political Change, and Human Rights,” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 35, No. 1, 2012, at 157-167; Theodor Tudoroiu, “Social Media and Revolutionary Waves: The Case of the Arab Spring,” New Political Science 36, No. 3, 2014, at 346-365.
8. Nicole Laliberté, “Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility,” Geography Compass 9, No.2, 2015, at 58-59.
9. Thomas Buergenthal, “The Evolving International Human Rights System,” American Journal of International Law 100, No. 4, 2006, at 783–807.
10. See, for example, Ronagh J.A. McQuigg, International Human Rights Law and Domestic Violence: The Effectiveness of International Human Rights Law, London-New York: Routledge, 2011; Beth A. Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009; Alice Diver & Jacinta Miller, eds., Justiciability of Human Rights Law in Doestic Jurisdictions, Springer, 2016.
11. For example, Jamie F. Metzl, “Rwandan Genocide and the International Law of Radio Jamming,” American Journal of International Law 91, No.4, 1997, at 628-651; Marko Milanovic, “State Responsibility for Genocide,” European Journal of International Law 17, No.3, 2006, at 553-604.
12. Human rights in this paper mainly refer to the legal dimension of human rights. See Claudio Corradetti, “Legal Dimensions of Human Rights,” in Relativism and Human Rights: A Theory of Pluralistic Universalism, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2006, at 111-152.
13. This paper primarily focuses on (or emphasizes) the spatial turn in the (socio-) legal scholarship. See more from Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, “Law’s Spatial Turn: Geography, Justice and a Certain Fear of Space,” Law, Culture and the Humanities 7, No. 2, 2010, at 187-202.
14. Franz von Benda-Beckmann et al., “Space and Legal Pluralism: An Introduction,” in Spatializing Law: An Anthropological Geography of Law in Society, New York: Routledge, 2016, at 1.
15. Indeed, both the quantity and quality of the geographic analysis of law have been gradually improved in light of the following examples: Franz von Benda-Beckmann et al, supra note 14; Irus Braverman et al, eds., The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014; William Taylor, ed., The Geography of Law: Landscape, Identity and Regulation, Oxford-Portland: Hart Publishing, 2006. In addition, the geographic perspective has already been applied to various legal areas, for instance, Adam Benforado, “The Geography of Criminal Law,” Cardozo Law Review 31, No. 3, 2010, at 823-904; Vasuki Nesiah, “Placing International Law: White Space on a Map,” Leiden Journal of International Law 16, No. 1, 2003, at 1-35; Steven A. Koh, “Geography and Justice: Why Prison Location Matters in U.S. and International Theories of Criminal Punishment,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 46, 2013, at 1267-1320.
16. See Franz von Benda-Beckmann et al, supra note 14, at 3.
17. Nigel Thrift, “Space: The Fundamental Stuff of Geography,” in Nicholas Clifford et al, eds., Key Concepts in Geography (second edition), London: SAGE Publications, 2009, at 85-96.
18. Jean Carmalt, “Rights and Place: Using Geography in Human Rights Work,” Human Rights Quarterly 29, No. 1, 2007, at 68-85.
19. For more information on the interrelationship between power, space and law, see Martin Jones et al, An Introduction to Political Geography: Space, Place and Politics, London-New York: Routledge, 2004, at (specially) 99-114.
20. Peter Merriman, Mobility, Space and Culture, London-New York: Routledge, 2012, at 72-97.
21. See, for instance, Paul S. Berman, Global Legal Pluralism: A Jurisprudence on Law Beyond Borders, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012, at 61-127, 141-151; Rene Provost & Colleen Sheppard, “Introduction: Human Rights Through Legal Pluralism,” in Dialogues on Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Heidelberg-New York-London: Springer, 2013, at 1-14.
22. In fact, it is controversial for socio-legal scholars to whether place the importance on the ‘socio’ or on the ‘legal’. See Dermot Feenan, ed., Exploring the ‘Socio’ of Socio-Legal Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 and David Cowan & Daniel Wincott, eds., Exploring the ‘Legal’ in Socio-Legal Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. However, I am defending the priority of the ‘socio’ in socio-legal studies and explicitly claiming the special status of space in the ‘socio’ exploration.
23. Laliberté, supra note 8, at 58 .
24. IIias Bantekas & Lutz Oette, International Human Rights Law and Practice (second edition), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016, at 126-129.
25. See, for instance, Vincent Mosco, The Digital Sublime, Myth, Power, and Cyberspace, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004, at 17-84.
26. Marc A. Smith & Peter Kollock, eds., Communities in Cyberspace (first edition), London-New York: Routledge, 1999.
27. Mark Graham, “Geography/Internet: Ethereal Alternate Dimensions of Cyberspace or Grounded Augmented Realities?” The Geographical Journal 179, No. 2, at 177-182.
28. Christine Hine, The Internet, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, at 3.
29. See, for example, Adi Kuntsman, “Cyberethnography as Home-Work,” Anthropology Matters Journal 6, No. 2, 2004, at 1-10.
30. Julie E. Cohen, “Cyberspace as/and Space,” Columbia Law Review 107, No. 1, 2007, at 210-256.
31. See, for example, Maria Bakardjieva, Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life, London: SAGE Publications, 2005, at 1-5.
32. David Hakken, The Knowledge Landscapes of Cyberspace, New York: Routledge, 2003, at 107-144.
33. David Clark, “Characterizing Cyberspace: Past, Present and Future,” ECIR Working Paper, Version 1.2, March 12, 2010, at 1-18.
34. [two more layers needed?] Clark puts forward “a four layer model”, which asserts that cyberspace is composed of four layers: physical layer, logical layer, information layer and people layer. See ibid., at 2-4.
35. See, for example, David B. Whittle, Cyberspace: The Human Dimension, New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1997.
36. Examples are: Daniel Joyce: “Media Witness: Human Rights in an Age of Digital Media,” Intercultural Human Rights Law Review 8, 2013, at 231-280; Mathias Klang & Andrew Murray, eds., Human Rights in the Digital Age, London: Routledge Cavendish, 2005; and so forth.
37. HRC, A/HRC/RES/26/13, 2014, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/082/83/PDF/G1408283.pdf?OpenElement (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
38. David Kretzmer & Eckart Klein, The Concept of Human Dignity in Human Rights Discourse, Leiden: Brill, 2002; Matthias Lutz-Bachmann & Amos Nascimento, eds., Human Rights, Human Dignity, and Cosmopolitan Ideals: Essays on Critical Theory and Human Rights, Routlege, 2014; Jean H. Quataert, Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics, Berlin-Boston: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
39. For instance, the divergence between universalism and relativism seems impossible to handle by conventional approaches. Besides, the theoretical foundation of the legitimacy of global human rights governance is also fragile, etc. See especially Posner, supra note 4.
40. Generally speaking, there is an increased attention paid to the reality and practice of human rights laws. See Bantekas & Oette, supra note 25; Mark Goodale & Sally E. Merry, eds., The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law between the Global and the Local, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Michael O’Flaherty, ed., The Human Rights Field Operation: Law, Theory and Practice, Farnham: Ashgate, 2007.
41. The local site refers to the assertion of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) which emphasizes that “in all case[s][s?], the idea is for power to devolve to the lowest unit appropriate for a particular goal.” See the official website of IFG by http://ifg.org/; also see Gaby Oré Aguilar, “The Local Relevance of Human Rights: A Methodological Approach,” in Koen De Feyter et al, eds., The Local Relevance of Human Rights, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, at 113.
42. Saladin Meckled-García & Basak Cali, eds., Legalization of Human Rights: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights and Human Rights Law, Oxon: Routledge, 2006; Frans Viljoen, ed., Beyond the Law: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights, Pretoria: Pretoria University Law Press, 2012.
43. It is noted that Prof. Ryan Goodman is one of the outstanding representatives committing to the sociological analyses of international human rights law. His relevant contributions, for example, include: Ryan Goodman et al, eds., Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012; Ryan Goodman & Derek Jinks, Socializing States: Promoting Human Rights through International Law, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013; Ryan Goodman & Thomas Pegram, eds., Human Rights, State Compliance, and Social Change: Assessing National Human Rights Institutions, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
44. Koen De Feyter, “Localizing Human Rights,” IOB Discussion Paper, University of Antwerp, 2006.02, at 5.
45. Aguilar, supra note 42, at 131.
46. International law concerning the right to education mainly includes: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), International Covenant on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (1966), Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), etc. See the International Law section in the RIGHT TO EDUCATION PROJECT, http://www.right-to-education.org/page/international-law (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
47. For more on the comprehensive study of the right to education under international law, see Klaus D. Beiter, The Protection of the Right to Education by International Law: Including a Systematic Analysis of Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Leiden-Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2006.
48. See more through http://www.right-to-education.org/issue-page/efa-mdgs-post-2015 (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
49. Elaine Unterhalter, “Education Targets, Indicators and a Post-2015 Development Agenda: Education for All, the MDGs, and Human Development,” Working Paper Series, May 2013, https://cdn2.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2013/09/Education-MDGs-Draft-4_Working-Paper.pdf (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
50. China has ratified various international human rights treaties relevant to the right to education and non-discrimination, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Under these treaties, China has accepted obligations to provide its citizens equal opportunities to quality education.
51. The right to education also appears in the Constitution of China (1998, amended 2004) in Article 46, par.1: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the duty as well as the right to receive education”. Under Constitutional Law, a comprehensive legal system has been established. See more in http://www.moe.edu.cn/s78/A02/ (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
52. For the problems of implementing international human rights law in China, see Kumiko K. Julie, Problems in the Implementation of Chinese Human Rights Obligation, 2010.
53. Taking children’s rights as an example, see Orna Naftali, Children, Rights and Modernity in China: Raising Self-Governing Citizens, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014.
54. James Lewis & Simon Hansen, China’s Cyberpower: International and Domestic Priorities, Special Report of Australian Strategic Policy Institute, November 2014, https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/chinas-cyberpower-international-and-domestic-priorities/SR74_China_cyberpower.pdf (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
55. For instance, the E-Commerce giant of China, Alibaba, has changed the life styles and consumption habits of the Chinese people to a large extent. See more in Porter Erisman, Alibaba’s World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company is Changing the Face of Global Business, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015.
56. Yuxiao Li & Lu Xu, “China’s Cybersecurity Situation and the Potential for International Cooperation,” in Jon Lindsay et al, eds., China and Cybersecurity: Espionage, Strategy, and Politics in the Digital Domain, Oxford University Press, 2015, at 225-241.
57. The “human rights user” approach was coined by the research team of “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective”. For more information, please see http://hrintegration.be/. For references, there are so far two special issues produced by its research team. A special issue of European Journal of Human Rights in June 2014 (3/2014), entitled “Theorizing the Multilayered Nature of Human Rights Law”. Other special issue is in Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, 2014/2, entitled “Study Human Rights Law from the Perpsective(s) of its Users”.
58. The approach of ‘adopting a user’s perspective to human rights’ divides human rights users into four categories: rights claimants, realizers, supportive users, and judicial users. Rights claimants are “those individuals, groups of individuals and legal persons who invoke human rights in relation to their own situation.” See Ellen Desmet, “Analyzing Users’ Trajectories in Human Rights: A Conceptual Exploration and Research Agenda,” Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, No. 2, 2014, at 111-120.
59. The questionnaire is composed by 24 questions and is mainly designed as three parts concerning cyberspace, human rights in general, and the right to education in particular. But these themes are not clear-cut.
60. The Household Registration System, also called Hukou system, was established in cities in the PRC in 1951 and extended to the rural areas in 1955. It was formulated as a permanent system in 1958. In China, all nationals’ personal Hukou status is classified by two related parts: one by residential location and one by socioeconomic eligibility (often confusingly called “agricultural”/ “non-agricultural”). See Hayden Windrow & Anik Guha, “Hukou System, Migrant Workers, and State Power in the People’s Republic of China,” Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights 3, No. 1, 2005, at 1-18.
61. China has emphasized that cyberspace security is integral to national security. Surveillance and control is not only presented as a technical fact but also guaranteed by legislation. See Olesya Tkacheva et al, Internet Freedom and Political Space, Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2013, at 93-118.
62. For instance, the Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2014, made the criticism that “Freedom of expression deteriorated in 2013, especially after the government launched a concerted effort to rein in micro-blogging. The government and the Party maintain multiple layers of control over all media and publications.” See more in https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/china-and-tibet (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
63. Douglass Cassel, “The Globalization of Human Rights: Consciousness, Law and Reality,” Northwest Journal of International Human Rights 2, No. 1, 2004.
64. In geography, spatial interaction is a dynamic flow process of goods, people, and ideas within and between areas. See http://classes.uleth.ca/200503/geog3235a/Spatial%20Interaction.htm (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
65. In recent years, the call for having a human right to the Internet is being repeated, and I agree with their rationales. See more in this ambitious campaign: http://ahumanright.org/ (last visited Oct. 22, 2016).
66. See Robert Ackland, Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age, London: SAGE Publications, 2013, at 13-15; David Karpf, “Social Science Research Methods in Internet Time,” Information, Communication & Society 15, No. 5, 2012, at 639-661.