Home > PUBLICATIONS & RESOURCES > JOURNAL >

New Understanding of the Socialist Human Rights Concept with Chinese Characteristics and its Practice:
May 04,2017   By:CSHRS

New Understanding of the Socialist Human Rights Concept with Chinese Characteristics and its Practice:
An Overview of the International Conference on the International Cooperation in Human Rights and the Chinese Perspective

LIU Wenhua*

Abstract: The International Conference on the International Cooperation in Human Rights and the Chinese Perspective organized by the Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences took place in Beijing, China from 22 to 23 October, 2016. Both Chinese and foreign human rights experts convened to exchange their opinions on the new development of the human rights theories and practices, especially from the Chinese perspective. The socialist concept on human rights with Chinese characteristics was discussed intensively on the meeting and the new terms such as “the Human Rights Model of the South” and “the Human Rights Perspective of the South” were raised. The participants interpreted and summed up the experiences and features of the Chinese socialist human rights cause. The drafting and implementation of the Chinese National Human Rights Action Plans and the progress in the promotion of rule of law in China was mentioned. They highly valued the constructive roles played by China in the international human rights cooperation field, especially under the United Nations (UN) human rights regime and for the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Key words:  Chinese characteristics   Human rights  the United Nations

The International Conference on the “International Cooperation in Human Rights and the Chinese Perspective” organized by the Institute of International Law, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was held in Beijing from October 22 to 23, 2016. More than 50 experts and scholars from universities and research institutions in China, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and South Africa attended the meeting. They are senior experts from well-known academic institutions at home and abroad, including well-known scholars who enjoy an international reputation with rich work experience in international human rights institutions.

During the two-day meeting, delegates focused on the theme of the "International Cooperation in Human Rights and the Chinese Perspective ", in the context of “human rights concepts and human rights undertakings”, “UN human rights mechanisms”, “international treaties and their implementation mechanisms”, “development and human rights”, “women, children, the elderly and human rights”, and “social governance and human rights”. I would like to comment on three of the more focused hot spots.

I. On the Socialist Human Rights Concepts with Chinese Characteristics

Liu Hainian, an honorary director of the Center for Human Rights Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out in his opening remarks that studying and practicing the socialist human rights concepts with Chinese characteristics is vital to further enhancing the awareness of human rights protection, improving the system of human rights protection, strengthening human rights exchanges and cooperation, and promoting international human rights cause.

Liu Huawen, executive director of the Center for Human Rights Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in his speech that China’s confidence in the path, theory, system and culture just embody confidence in the Human Rights. He explained the connotation of the socialist human rights concepts with Chinese characteristics from the perspectives of peace, development and the rule of law, in conjunction with the congratulatory letter from President Xi Jinping on the “2015 Beijing Forum on Human Rights” on September 16, 2015.1 He pointed out that the socialist human rights concepts with Chinese characteristics is based on China's history and reality, emphasizing the unswerving and peaceful development path, and unswervingly pushing forward China's human rights cause and world human rights cause. China adheres to combining the universal principle of human rights with China's reality, enhancing legal protection of human rights not for economic and social development, significantly strengthening protection of people’s rights to life and development, thus finding out a unique path suitable to China’s conditions. The socialist rule of law is an important guarantee for the cause of human rights. The principle of advancing by law is the first principle of China's formulation and implementation of the national human rights action plan. Under the guidance of safeguarding human rights with the rule of law, China has drawn up new plans and blueprints and made breakthrough in practice. At the international level, China is a support and builder of the international rule of law and advocates the international exchange and cooperation of constructive human rights in the bilateral and multilateral fields within the framework of the United Nations.

China's human rights concept has attracted the attention of foreign scholars. Tom Zwart, Professor of Utrecht University and Director of the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, who has been visiting China and has better understanding of China's human rights development and progress, said that China's human rights position should win more support. He echoed the view of Professor He Zhipeng of Jilin University in China, that is, from the perspective of civilization, cross-cultural cooperation to promote and develop human rights system and human rights practice is an important means to achieve the initial goal of human rights. Zwart further points out that China is serious about its international human rights obligations, but China is often regarded as an opponent of the international human rights system by Western commentators because China dares to express human rights that are different from the Western "liberty-modernism" position. In fact, the Western concept on human rights is only one of the understandings of human rights. Their cognition of China's concept on human rights is wrong.

Professor Zwart believes that China's concept on human rights can easily find support from the international human rights system. The various elements of China's human rights policy can be based on the existing international human rights system without difficulty. These elements include the combination of rule of law and rule of virtue, combination of respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, priority of the right to life and development, combination of collective rights and individual rights, combination of rights and obligations, promotion and protection of human rights rather than harm by the State, and adherence to dialogue rather than confrontation between countries. Coincidentally, “the Consistency of Chinese Traditional Culture and International Human Rights Law” is also the subject of speech from Zhao Jianwen, Professor of the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In particular, Prof. Zwart suggested that China should continue to act within the international human rights mechanism and as an important normative envoy to work with other countries to build a "Human Rights Model of the South" in order to challenge "liberty - modernism". The “Human Rights Model of the South" would benefit the international community as a whole.

The Dutch scholar's view received a response from delegates from Africa. Serges Djoyou Kamga, Professor from Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute of University of South Africa, believed that although to a considerable extent the global human rights system embodies the concept on human rights in Western countries, the BRIC countries composed of China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa can use their own power to inject the "Human Rights Perspective of the South" into the human rights discourse system and play the role of building it. Taking into consideration the strategic location, land scope, population size and economic growth, the BRICS have developed into a strong global coalition which can completely ensure that the South perspective is recognized and incorporated into existing human rights standards. He pointed out that the BRICS could not only exert global political influence through cooperative initiatives, but also have multiple memberships as a result of participation in other international organizations, creating opportunities for the BRICS agenda to join other international organizations as well as promote their concept of human rights, thus promoting the culture and discourse right of the Global South.

Fabio Marcelli, Professor of the Italian National Research Council, also has a deep understanding of the socialist concept on human rights with Chinese characteristics. He said that the history of modern China’s anti-colonization, China’s socialist Constitution, and China’s unique role in establishing a new international economic order have determined that China can play a constructive part in the international cooperation of human rights in the new international situation.

In my opinion, it has become a consensus that the international human rights discourse system needs to develop and will also be more colorful. On the basis of fully discussing the socialist concept on human rights with Chinese characteristics, the participants put it from the perspective of the "Human Rights Model of the South" and the "Human Rights Perspective of the South", showing that China and other developing countries have deep and extensive coherence in human rights.

II. The Practice of Socialist Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics Can be Commendable

The socialist concept on human rights with Chinese characteristics has been put into practice and has made remarkable achievements in the world. The Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of the University of Lunde is a well-known institution of international human rights research and education. Professor Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Institute, believes that the current international community is facing a trend of globalization. The protection of human rights and dignity, both an opportunity and a challenge, is of great significance. In particular, he stressed that China's efforts to make, promulgate and implement three National Human Rights Action Plans show that China maintains a positive attitude to protect and promote human rights and human rights cause, worth learning by the international community.

Professor Chang Jian, Deputy Director of the Research Center for Human Rights in Nankai University and a human rights expert in the drafting of national human rights action plan, pointed out that the following principles were put forward in the "National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020)": “the principle of pushing forward the work according to law”, “the principle of comprehensive advances”, and “the principle of pursuing practicality”. These principles are related to five aspects: the path of human rights protection, the relationship between rights, coverage items, subject of right and subject of obligation. They are not only the basic follow-up of comprehensive promotion of China's human rights cause, but also the overall summary of China's human rights development path, from which we can see the basic characteristics of China's human rights development model.

The right to life and the right to development are the primary human rights. Zheng Zhihang, Associate Professor of Shandong University Human Rights Research Center, pointed out that since the reform and opening up, China has adhered to the basic principles of giving priority to economic and social rights which are compatible with social development, implemented balanced and mutual benefit development, and strengthened the government’s positive action of China Western Development and transfer payment from the exchequer as the main way, thus gradually embarking on the economic and social development path with Chinese characteristics. China's promotion of human rights as a whole is comprehensive. Wang Minyuan, Director of the Center for Human Rights Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, took the new development of human rights protection in China's criminal law as an example, elaborating on the progress of human rights and the rule of law in China that is also the highlight of the human rights development in China in recent years. He said that the illegal evidence exclusion system was established in China in 2010 and was of great significance to the promotion of human rights protection in the field of criminal proceedings. The major amendment in the Criminal Procedure Law of 2012 established the requirement to respect and protect human rights. The third session of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013 and the 4th Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2014 began a new round of judicial reform. In 2015 and 2016, many breakthroughs were made, which has further promoted the protection of human rights in the field of criminal proceedings.

The gender perspective is also an important feature of this meeting. A number of participants spoke about the protection of women's rights. Professor Xue Ninglan, Head of the Department of Social Law, Institute of Law, CASS and Director of the Center for Gender Studies, reviewed in detail the process of legal protection of human rights in China from 1995 to 2015. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, adopted the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action as programmatic documents to guide the development of women in the world. It has also become a commitment by the Chinese Government to fulfill its commitments over the past two decades to promote the women's rights, gender equality and mechanism of rule of law. Development and progress are not achieved overnight. From the fundamental law Constitution to the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women and other national legislation, to the Special Rules on the Labor Protection of Female Employees and a large number of administrative regulations, local laws and regulations, and from the general legislation to the development of Anti-domestic Violence Law and other specialized laws, the legal system of protection of women's rights and interests are gradually formed.

Karin Arts, Professor of International Institute of Social Studies, Netherland, and Rotterdam University Erasmus, is concerned about the progress in the protection of children's rights in China. As a developing country, though still face many challenges, China has clearly developed domestic legislation and policy to protect children's best interests, listen to and respect children's opinions.

Zou Mimi, Assistant Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, studied the rights and interests of the elderly in China. She said that China's Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly emphasized the Chinese virtues of respecting, providing for and helping the elderly. The law emphasizes that family members should be concerned about the mental needs of the elderly, rather than neglect them. Guangdong, Jiangsu, Henan, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and other places promulgated local legislation, which has supplemented the national legislation. Local courts, such as the courts at all levels in Suzhou, also take a unique approach to handling cases of the elderly: designate specialized tribunal and judges to handle cases. For those cases involving serious conflicts or the inconvenience of the parties, the court may choose a special place to hear the case, and make return visits after the verdict.

The socialist cause of human rights with Chinese characteristics has made great progress at both macro and micro levels. The delegates' elaboration and analysis are inspiring and worthy of reference.

III. China's Role in the Field of International Human Rights is Expected

At present, international cooperation in the field of human rights is more active than ever before. On October 28, 2016, at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, China was re-elected as a member of the Human Rights Council with 180 votes. This is the fourth time that China has been elected and seconded as a member of the Human Rights Council. In my opinion, it shows that to a considerable extent the international community hopes that China will continue to play an active and constructive role in international cooperation in the field of human rights.2

Professor Gudmundur Alfredsson, former Director of Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund University, discussed the relationship between human rights and good governance at this seminar. He talked about the the Analects of Confucius and thought that the Chinese culture contains a positive way of life and scientific social governance philosophy. He believes that Chinese traditional culture is of great significance to perfecting global governance.

The international rule of law is the basis and framework for international cooperation in human rights. Sun Shiyan, Researcher of Institute of International Law, CASS, recalled the human rights obligations under international law as set out in the Charter of the United Nations and pointed out its progress and inadequacy. Sun Meng, Associate Professor of the Institute of Human Rights, China University of Political Science and Law, believed that China's participation and cooperation in the United Nations human rights mechanism was an important way for China to fulfill its international human rights obligations. Over the past few decades, China had made a unique contribution to the establishment and operation of the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Sun Meng explained in details the interactions of China and the UN human rights mechanisms from the historical dimension. She pointed out that China had played an important role in the establishment and development of the mechanism through the establishment of the UN, the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent involvement in the UN human rights mechanisms, not only enriching the concepts and standards of international human rights law, but also providing close cooperation and necessary support for the smooth functioning and reform of the UN human rights mechanisms. China's contribution to the UN human rights mechanism mainly includes the incorporation of new ideas and concepts for international human rights protection, the role of maintaining fairness and justice, and the promotion of cooperation and dialogues as the main theme of the UN human rights mechanisms.

William A. Schabas, a senior scholar of human rights law and international criminal law and Professor of School of Law, Middlesex University, also spoke positively and praised China's important contribution to the development of international human rights. He said that more than a decade ago, when the United Nations Human Rights Council first introduced the universal periodic review process, the international community was worried about the credibility and viability of the mechanism. But soon it became a pearl on the crown of the United Nations human rights system. He pointed out that China's full participation in this process also showed the importance of China in today's world. Professor Schabas noted that in the deliberations of the mechanism, contrary to the practice of Western countries, China was more constructive and encouraging towards developing countries and underdeveloped countries, but often strict towards developed countries. Chinese scholars such as Professor Mao Junxiang of Central South University also explored China's progress in the constructive engagement of the universal periodic review process through empirical study.

Professor Bai Guimei, executive Director of Research Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Peking University Law School, analyzed the concept and nature of the right to development. In her view, since the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1986, the concept and legal nature of the right to development have received a welcome development. Arts, Professor of the International Institute of Social Studies and Rotterdam Erasmus University, Netherlands, agreed that the right to development can gain new impetus and new life through existing international law 30 years later. In my view, China attaches great importance to and promotes the development and implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and advocates and implements the right to development in the international community in a clear-cut manner, playing a leading role in the implementation of the UN sustainable development agenda and the promotion of the right to development. These are the new progress and outstanding features of the socialist concept on human rights with Chinese characteristics.

Pia Acconci, Professor of the University of Teramo, Italy, gave a speech entitled the Realization of the Right to Health through the WHO. She reviewed the process of international action of promoting international cooperation under the framework of the WHO. Professor Acconci affirmed the positive role and important contributions of China in the WHO. She spoke highly of the 2013-2015 and 2016-2020 cooperation mechanisms between China and the WHO.

The meeting also addressed climate change and human rights, trade and human rights, Internet applications and human rights and other issues, which will not be repeated one by one here.

IV. Conclusion

At this international seminar, experts and scholars at home and abroad had a heated discussion and in-depth exchanges. They reached a broad consensus on important issues, and formed many constructive ideas and perspectives on the socialist concept on human rights  with Chinese characteristics and its practice. The eve of the meeting coincided with the Publicity Department holding a seminar on human rights on October 17th. At the meeting, Liu Qibao, Minister of the Publicity Department, stressed at the meeting that we should thoroughly study and implement the important speeches of General Secretary Xi Jinping especially the important speech on the development of human rights, strengthen confidence in the human rights, do a better job in promoting human rights and showcase the progress of China's human rights. He pointed out that we should actively carry out dialogues and exchanges between Chinese and foreign human rights, strengthen communication and practice with international organizations such as the UN and foreign political parties, governments, parliaments, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and media organizations, create multi-level human rights dialogue and cooperation platform, and continuously enhance the international influence of human rights progress and human rights concept.3 In my opinion, this seminar is a successful example of dialogue and exchange between China and foreign countries.

"The development path of the human rights cause is not a smooth way. Listening to the voices of different countries and regions and exploring human rights issues from different civilizations and perspectives may contribute to cross-cultural exchange of human rights," said researcher Chen Zexian, director of the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, at the closing ceremony. The Institute of International Law and Center for Human Rights Studies of CASS is willing to continue to provide a platform for international cooperation in the field of human rights exchange as national think tanks and research institutions.4 "Looking to the future, the different forms of international exchanges of human rights have their necessity and feasibility, and they will be more active, constructive and valuable.

 (translated by Xu Xinyan and Yang Lei)

* LIU Huawen (柳华文), Assistant Director and Researcher of Institute of International Law, CASS, and Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights Studies, CASS.

1. Liu Huawen, “Socialist concept on human rights  with Chinese Characteristics: Combined with Xi Jinping's Congratulatory Letter to the 2015 Beijing Forum on Human Rights,” Chinese Review of International Law, No. 5 (2015), at 3-16.
2. Liu Huawen, "The World Places High Hopes on China's Human Rights Progress," People's Daily, November 1, 2016.
3. “Liu Qibao Asked to Better Demonstrate Human Rights Progress at the Meeting,” People's Daily, October 18, 2016.
4. Tian Guangshan, "The International Conference on the International Cooperation in Human Rights and the Chinese Perspective was Closed in Beijing," China Society for Human Rights Studies, at http://www.humanrights.cn/html/2016/4_1024/22915.html, last visited on November 1, 2016.