Seeing Human Rights from the Perspective of Development
June 28,2017   By:CSHRS

Seeing Human Rights from the Perspective of Development

HE Zhipeng*

Abstract: The significance of including development in the spectrum of human rights lies in the fact that the notion of human rights is thus expanded to include the independence and economic and social development of the third world, instead of being limited to Western philosophical exploration and political experiments. Moreover, in practice,the right to development, as a newly added element of human rights, may correct the traditional idea in some states that the only version of human rights is political freedom, and those statesfailing to perform well in such freedoms should be criticized or even punished. When the human rights concept and system are examined from the perspective of development, more tolerance and cooperation may be expected in international politics, thus promoting the enrichment and improvement of the whole human rights system.

Keywords: development? human rights? cultural diversification?Western centralism

I. Introduction

The Declaration on the Right to Development adopted in 1986 is a major event in the history of the development of human rights.The concept of “the right to development” proposed and elaborated in this declaration, as well as the presentation of corresponding institutional claims, should be regarded as an important milestone in the creation and enrichment of the theories and practices of human rights.Though the significance of development was already noted in earlier international literature, 1 it was not until the Declaration on the Right to Development that it is explicitly recognized as a human right,  2that is, using the term of “human rights”which is sparkling the light of human progress and widely accepted by the world to summarize the issue of development, using the idea of “human rights”which is advocated and promoted by all countries in the world to describe the demands for development, and using the perspective of “human rights” to regard the major task of development facing all countries in the world. This idea, reiterated and restated by subsequent international documents, has become an important element in contemporary international law and in the field of human rights.3

II. Seeing Human Rights from the Perspective of Development is a New Perspective of Human Rights

In 1999, the economist Amartya Sen,who had been awarded with the Nobel Prize in Economics, published a book entitledDevelopment as Freedom.This book holds that economic development is closely related to people’s political freedom and transparency, freedom of opportunity, and freedom of access to protection through economic support, whilepoverty is often related to lack of freedom.4  This work can provide insights on the issue of human rights, because the shift of a perspective often enables us to see a different world. For example, if we see development from the perspective of human rights, we will discover that development is absolutely not for statistical figures and diagrams, but for the increase of people’s happiness. 5 To see human rights from the perspective of development includes at least two aspects. Firstly, the meaning and scope of human rights are not rigid but gradually change with social development. The meaning in the second aspect is that we must regard development as a human right, and individual development, collective development or the development of a community, a city, a country or a continent may all be deemed as an indispensable aspect of human rights. We should regard development as anintegral aspect of contemporary human rights instead of sticking to the traditional perspective of “seeking human rights from the perspective of freedom”. The new perspective and new category of freedom can not only help the universalization of human rights, that is, being accepted by more states, peoples and cultures, but also helpto establish an overall view over human rights by taking human rights as a complete system with cultural diversification and an institutional system favorable to all cultures, all civilizations and all countries.

III. Seeing Human Rights from the Perspective of Development is Conducive to Promoting the Evolution and Deepening of the Human Rights Thought

In terms of value, the proposal of the concept of the right to development and its constant advocacy and promotion in the international community represent the extensive and deep participation of non-Western civilizations in human rights affairs as well as the contribution of non-Western civilizations to the theory and idea of human rights. It helps to constitute a cross-cultural identity, and develops more extensive idea communication and institutional consensus on human rights issues, thus promoting the progress of human rights as an ideological term commonly recognized in the world. In other words, the establishment and consolidation of the idea of the right to development can help acquire the recognition and support by various cultures through a broader idea of human rights and make all countries work together for an extensive human rights cause with a broad spectrum.

To place development within the framework of human rights not only frees the issue of development from being constrained the field of international economic system,6 but also extends them to the entire human rights system; 7More importantly, this means a reform of the past human rights system and a restructuring and paradigm shift of human rights thought centering on Western culture and based on such movements as Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment.

The human right thought system before the right to development is of course an important result of human civilization. In terms of the world history, to advocate freedom and require the government not to abuse power are obviously beneficial aims and may be regarded as great progress of mankind, representing the human wisdom to improve societyand bravery to improve themselves.Undoubtedly, the traditional concept of human rights has brought benefits to the whole world in the course of historical development, even including the framework of development in the contemporary world. No people of any country would not wish to live in a country of freedom, security and equality. However, this concept is after all just one flower blooming in the luxuriant tree of Western ideas and culture, which cannot blanket or restrict the constant advancement or continuous development of the civilization in the whole world. Besides, the concept of human rights established on the basis of Western notions mainly stresses human freedom as a passive human right, which looks for the least possible government intervention with people’s freedom of speech, election or religious freedom, and stresses the opportunities for citizens to participate in state governance, centering on preventing the government’s abuse of power.  8Obviously, a society with only freedom and people only enjoying freedom are not adequate to form a good life or adequate for people to be happy. Human demands do not stop at these elements, as they also wish to live in a country with great expectations. Therefore, the traditional human right proposition can only be described as one aspect, one field and one manifestation in the huge spectrum of human rights, instead of encompassing entire human rights. It is even more inappropriate to deem the human rights advocated in the West as the only correct version and the only correct solution of human rights in the world.

Therefore, we need to analyze and consider new human rights propositions, new human rights elements and even new possibilities of human rights paradigms from other stages of social developmentand from the perspective of other civilizations and cultures. As a result, just like the first-generation human rights and the second-generation human rights, the right to development, as a new member in the human rights family and a core element of the “third-generation human rights”, is an important landmark in the development of human rights. The proposition of the concept of the right to development and the efforts to realize these rights worldwide are actually important manifestations of social progress, cultural integration and the overall development of the international community. To truly realize such expectations of rights, turn them into real situations of public life, and keep making progress are what all countries and all civilizations aspire to. If the traditional paradigm of human rights stresses a reflection on governance patterns based on freedom, the updated paradigm of human rights is a construction of governance patterns aimed at development.

Therefore, to add a new human right concept to the basis of the traditional concept of human rights promotes the gradual expansion of the contents of human rights, constantly opens up a new field for the concept of human rights, and upgrades it to a new height. A series of human rights propositions including the right to development leads to ideological enlightenment and institutional enrichment of the whole spectrum of human rights.

IV. Seeing Human Rights from the Perspective of Development is Conducive to Correcting the Narrowness of Using a Single Human Right Dimension

With further reflections, it would not be difficult for us to see that the proposition of the right to development and the efforts to maintain and realize the right to development globally are important manifestations of the rational development of the international community. Although many people do not oppose such an understanding: the Western concept gauged by individualism and personal freedom or the mainstream concept of human rights in the contemporary world does not cover all the contents of human rights on the factual level, nor are they the only correct version of human rights.Many people, however, one-sidedly stress this type of human rights based on cultural superiority. In other words, if we stiffly think that human rights are only the category left over by Western political thoughts and practices, which is a unitary, authoritative and self-sufficient list, and cannot include any other new fields, it would not be difficult to infer that political containment in the name of human rights or attacks against different views may appear in international politics.

This situation is not rare in the history of international relations. For example, some countries may criticize or interfere with some other countries on the basis that these countries do not have a reasonable human rights system, which may lead to international conflicts. Behind such a superficial overcoat of human rights and de facto international interventions and even armed attacks is not only a reflection of centralism of Western civilization but also hegemony and power politics resulting from Western cultural superiority. Such ideas and actions can only bring disadvantages and absolutely no advantages to the world’s development towards a better direction or the promotion of global governance. A review of contemporary world politics finds that none of the political interventions or government overthrowing in the name of human rights is not gauged by democracy and freedom. Such interventions, instead of being of no avail to resolve human rights problems, may exacerbate defects in human rights, elevating them to humanitarian disasters. In recent international affairs, both the overthrowing of the Libyan government in 2011 and the internationalized armed conflicts in Syria have fully illustrated that to treat, reflect on and resolve problems according to the unitary traditional concept of human rights will not only be of no avail to world peace and stability but may plunge the world into a more chaotic abyss. Therefore, to stick to one dimension, neglect other dimensions of human rights development, and neglect other possibilities of human rights, in fact, suppress the development of human rights, and constitute a major loss in the improvement of the thought and system of human rights.

When we recognize a series of new and collective human rights including the right to environment,the right to development and the right to peace, and recognize that human rights are far from being just one version advocated by the West, it would not be difficult to infer that human rights may be promoted and developed on multiple diversions, multiple levels and multiple systems and in different ways. The multi-dimensionality of human rights will reduce the hegemony of one single dimension, because according to multiple gauges, no country has a perfect human rights system or perfect human rights practices. States should engage in more communication and cooperation on the maintenance of human rights instead of attacking, mocking or hurling invectives. In the international community, no matter what punishment measures are adopted, the attempt to punish a state’s human rights affairs is ultimately susceptible to lowering the degree of human rights protection, instead of improving it. In this sense, it is necessary todeflate the self-conceit of one civilization and the self-centered aggrandizement of one civilization. Only through fully promoting the integration and cooperation of human rights ideas and concepts can we promote the prosperity and development of the world, can we make human rights become an affair accepted by any civilization and any state and make human rights regarded as a nice thing in any region. On the contrary, if human rights are considered by some states a big stick for attacking and oppressing other states, and deemed by some other states as an excuse or tool of attack, it would be less likely that human rights are generally advocated and accepted in the world, and the fate of human rights per se would become a concern.

V. Conclusion

To sum up, seeing development from the perspective of human rights places many measures of economic development under the major framework of human rights, and increases the legitimacy of human rights and the institutional consideration based and centered on people. Seeing human rights from the perspective of development enhances the tolerance of the spectrum of human rights, and increases the probability that the dimensions of human rights in cross-cultural communication can be more widely accepted and approved. As a result, the human rights cause can be more healthy and successful worldwide. Of course, the positive influence of the right to development on human rights ideas and systemsin the world does not appear automatically, but how to effectively differentiate the contents of the right to development from the traditional concept of human rights, and how to connect the method of realizingthe right to development with the traditional system of human rights protection are still topics to be further explored in theories and events, which call for careful planning and solid efforts by governments of all states and international organizations.

*HE Zhipeng ( 何志鹏 ), professor of Jilin University.

1For example, Article 55 of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations provides, “[w]ith a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote:a. higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;b. solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational co- operation; andc. universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”The Declaration on Social Progress and Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly also points out, “[s]ocial progress and development shall be founded on respect for the dignity and value of the human person and shall ensure the promotion of human rights and social justice.”

2Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development: “The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue ofwhich every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in,contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development,in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” Para. 1 of Article 2: “The human person is the central subject of development and should bethe active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.”

3The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the Second World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 reiterates: “Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.”

4Amartya Sen,Development as Freedom(2nded.)(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

5The 2000 Millennium Development Goals take human rights into the objectives and indexes of development and further include human rights into the specific requirements of development. For relevant discussions, see He Zhipeng, “Development as Human Rights”, Law and Social Development4(2009):105-117; Gong Xianghe and Yuan Li, “Promoting Development by Human Rights: the Theory of Instrumental Human Rights”, Hebei Law Science 5 (2011): 46-55.

6As to the explorations from this perspective, see Zeng Huaqun, “A Tentative Discussion of the Principle of Cooperative Developmentin International Economic Law”, International Business (Journal of the University of International Business and Economics 1 (2002):40-44; He Zhipeng and Sun Lu, “The Right to Development in the World Trade System”, Contemporary Law Review 3 (2006): 93-100; Zhu Yansheng, “On the Right to Development and the Establishment of the New International Economic Order”, Hebei Law Science11 (2005): 41-45.

7For relative analysis, see LianBaojun and MengMingqi, “On the Right to Development in Human Rights”, The Journal of Beijing Normal University 3 (1992): 94-99; Pang Sen, “A Preliminary Discussion of the Issue of the Right to Development”, China International Studies 1 (1997): 34-38; Wang Xigen and Wang Xiongwen, “On a Scientific Outlook on Legal Development: Reflections from the Perspective of the Right to Development”, Contemporary Law Review2 (2005): 15-20; Xiao Wei and Qian Jianxing, “Human Rights and Development”, The Journal of Fudan University (Social Sciences)3 (2004): 104-109; Arjun Sengupta, “Development as Human Right”, trans. Wang Yanyan, Comparative Economic and Social Systems1 (2005): 13-23.

8John Tasioulas, “On the Foundation of Human Rights”, in Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights, eds. Rowan Cruft, S. Matthew Liao and Massimo Renzo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 45-70.


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