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Concept of Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings and International Cooperation on Pandemic Prevention and Control
January 15,2021   By:CSHRS
Concept of Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings and International Cooperation on Pandemic Prevention and Control
 
— Global Pandemic Prevention and Control and Human Rights Protection the Second Session of the Series of International Seminars
 
YANG Bochao*
 
Abstract: The global outbreak of COVID-19 has posed a great challenge to the human rights protection. On May 18, 2020, the second session of the series of international seminars on “Global Pandemic Prevention and Control and Human Rights Protection”, organized by the Institute of Human Rights of China University of Political Science and Law under the guidance of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, was held online. The seminar was themed on the “Concept of Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings and International Cooperation on Pandemic Prevention and Control.” Through the seminar, Chinese and foreign experts discussed in depth the values of human rights theories, the specific practices and measures taken by China and the European Union in fighting COVID-19, the protection of human rights in emergencies and the issue of human rights derogation. The seminar delivered a general consensus that prejudice should be abandoned in public health emergencies and international cooperation is continuously promoted within the framework of the United Nations to build a community with a shared future for human beings.
 
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic· human rights protection · international cooperation · a community with a shared future for human beings
 
On May 18, 2020, the second session of the series of international seminars on “Global Pandemic Prevention and Control and Human Rights Protection” was successfully held online. Guided by the China Society for Human Rights Studies and hosted by the Human Rights Research Institute of China University of Political Science and Law, the series of international seminars on Global Pandemic Prevention and Control and Human Rights Protection was held with the theme “Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings and International Cooperation on Pandemic Prevention and Control”. Nearly 30 experts and scholars in the field of human rights, officials from human rights institutions and international organizations from various countries, including China, Sweden, France, and Australia, as well as relevant international organizations attended the meeting and held discussions. Participants conducted in-depth discussions on such topics as “Extraterritorial Practice of COVID-19 in the Context of Human Rights” and “International Cooperation on Pandemic Prevention and Control”.
 
The sudden global spread of the novel coronavirus has posed a great challenge to global governance and human rights protection. The pressing issues have been how to respond to the global risks and how to carry out multilateral international cooperation in the context of globalization. Having put forward the concept of building a community with a shared future for human beings, the Chinese government is rallying international cooperation on the basis of substantive equality and is gradually breaking through the traditional global governance system dominated by a few powerful countries, thus having provided new thoughts for solving the challenges posed by globalization, especially for dealing with global public health emergencies. For the seminar, human rights scholars with diverse backgrounds and disciplines from home and abroad have been brought together to focus on such issues as the international practice in pandemic prevention and control, international cooperation, and human rights values. Based on the concept of a community with a shared future for human beings, exchanges and discussions were conducted on human rights protection in relation to the respective prevention and control policies implemented by China and Europe on the basis of COVID-19, where the attendants have shared their ideas with one another, collectively conducted brainstorming, sought to reach a consensus on the value of human rights protection respecting differences. The seminar was therefore of positive theoretical value and practical significance.
 
I. Priority of Rights, Shared Values, and Restrictions on Rights
 
The rule of law symbolizes the progress of human civilization,1 and upholding human rights are also one of the objectives of the law. To support them, human rights require a system of values. The respective political ideologies of different countries are derived from their regions, religions, languages, histories, and customs, and so on. The influence of different civilizations on the values of humanism, humanity, freedom, individuals, and collectives has penetrated into the human rights theories of various countries, thus forming a diversified human rights value system. The participants in the seminar discussed the human rights protection approaches, value systems, policy choices, and the necessity of international cooperation between China and Europe in response to the pandemic. When it comes to the European policy in response to the pandemic, experts say that tensions among there are differences among the different countries, especially with regard to human rights. There are sometimes disputes over whether the EU’s actions can be regarded as being within its competence, and the courts of member states are often faced up with such issues.
 
Professor Florence Romer from the Faculty of Law of the University of Strasbourg outlined the role of the Council of Europe during the pandemic. The council is the European organization that seeks to protect human rights and to promote European unity by fostering cooperation on legal, cultural, and social issues. However, it can only issue recommendations to its 47 members as it has no say over its member states’ domestic policies. What matters most is how to enable its member states to respond effectively to the crisis and ensure that the policies adopted by its member states are not to undermine the value system based on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy that the Council of Europe cherishes. Therefore, the Council of Europe urged that policies made by its members in the fight against the virus should adhere to the principle of proportionality. That is, the measures taken to combat the virus should be commensurate with the threat it poses, and the measures shall be implemented with clear time limits.
 
The differences between the Chinese human rights values and the Western human rights values reflected in their responses to the public health threat were also reflected in the discussion on the priority of rights. In the face of the pandemic, many rights may be challenged, such as the right to life, health, and liberty. The state practice of rights protection and restriction embodies both the universality and relative conflict among human rights, the contradiction2 between absolute liberalism and relative liberalism,and the divergence between individualism and collectivism. As the experts noted, it is difficult to reach a consensus on the priority of rights, and there is no consensus on the matter. The United Nations has advocated that no priority should be given to any rights, as the differences between North and South and between East and West should be fully considered. All rights are at risk of being violated under the pandemic.Experts said that certain rights can be derogated from, while others cannot, according to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Peter Wiley, director of the European Network of National Human Rights Agencies and the first director of the Norwegian National Human Rights Agency, pointed out that rights are interdependent and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not rank the rights involved, thus restricting freedom of movement in certain emergencies while protecting other rights. From the perspective of the European Convention on Human Rights, professor Florence Romer argued that some of the restrictive measures imposed in response to the current coronavirus threat are justified. As foreseen by the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression may be restricted to protect health. Such restrictions may involve such rights as freedom of association, freedom of religious belief, and the right to family life. She also stressed that even in a state of emergency, actions at the national level should always be conducted in accordance with the law and have a constitutional basis, which is a part of the spirit of the rule of law.
 
In the event of a public security crisis, the right to life and the right to health should be given special protection as a common value of human rights protection. Restrictive measures should be adopted reasonably to avoid making the population more vulnerable on the premise of the actual local situation, according to experts. Associate Professor Lu Zhi’an, executive deputy director of the Human Rights Research Center of Fudan University, believes that human rights are essentially equal and if there is a need to focus on specific rights and address the need for those rights in an emergency such as a pandemic, the state must take urgent measures to prioritize the threat to the rights to life and health. Under such circumstances, the state appropriately derogated from other human rights in accordance with the law, which was in line with the international human rights law. Based on the value system of rights, Professor Zhang Wei, co-director of the Institute for Human Rights of the China University of Political Science and Law, stressed that China emphasizes individual responsibilities rather than just rights. In terms of the priority of rights, the emphasis on protecting people’s right to life does not mean ignoring other human rights. It is generally believed that restrictions on free movement are acceptable if it is for the common good and public safety. Peter Wiley added that that was in accordance with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
 
Experts discussed how to integrate common values into the current international political system. Politics is practiced by political leaders, but the cultural and artistic concepts of ordinary people can improve the common understanding of ordinary people, who can also exert an influence on the attitude of the government. Cultural and artistic works such as literature and music have the appeal of transcending national boundaries, nationalities, and races, and are conducive to the formation of cultural empathy and the manifestation of humanity. Professor Zhang Wanhong, executive dean of the Institute of Human Rights of Wuhan University, emphasized the importance of culture in understanding common values. Cultural factors that have contributed to China’s initial success in controlling the epidemic include respect for academics and authority, and respect for the law among citizens, as well as compliance with social etiquette. China is charting the best path for realizing human dignity and value, the promotion of humanity, and the protection of human rights in China, instead of merely repeating the Western model, and such attempts have yielded positive results. Experts also suggested that people should be alert to the negative influence of a cultural glorification of war and conflicts, which is not regarded as part of the human rights vision.
 
II. Abandon Prejudices and Conduct International Cooperation in the Face of the Pandemic
 
The pandemic has brought many challenges and had adverse effects on human rights protection. The international community should abandon prejudice and discrimination while strengthening cooperation. Global organizations, regional organizations, and national human rights institutions have shifted their focus on the relevant issues, such as the UN’s concerns about gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and protection of vulnerable groups, during the pandemic. Content on the pandemic is published on the websites of EU institutions, together with related reports on policies developed by member states to contain the virus and reduce its health, social, and eco-nomic impacts.
 
Peter Wiley argued that international cooperation is an essential means of ensuring human security. The UN’s practices convey a message that no country can survive the epidemic alone, and the international community should work hard to cooperate at all levels. Information sharing among countries is particularly important for pandemic prevention and control. The United Nations treaty bodies and special procedures also involve how countries respond to a pandemic from the perspective of human rights protection. Professor Zhang Wei emphasized that during the pandemic, we should pay more attention to international cooperation and strengthen international solidarity. Professor He Zhipeng, executive director of Human Rights Research Center of Jilin University, pointed out that the epidemic knows no borders. The international community should work together to counter the risks posed by the pandemic in terms of information coordination, control coordination, and science and technology coordination.If countries act in their own ways, it is easy for misunderstandings to occur and it will make it more difficult to effectively control the pandemic. According to Professor Zhang Wanhong, building a human rights culture with anti-discrimination at its core is the key to international cooperation in the fight against the virus, and the concepts of equality and tolerance are the cornerstones of international cooperation in response to this common public health threat.
 
Experts at the meeting said that rather than adopting a confrontational stance, governments should seek to engage in beneficial cooperation with international intergovernmental organizations on the basis of the principles of international law. Professor Brian Burdekin, An Order of Australia recipient and senior expert on international human rights law, emphasized that international cooperation conforms to the values of international law. The World Health Organization should continue playing a central role despite the unfounded criticism of the United States. At the same time, we should be aware that certain epidemics have a particularly severe impact on specific regions, such as the impact of the SARS on Asia (which did not affect Europe and Africa), and the devastating blow of the Ebola on Africa; the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America. International cooperation, therefore, should not lose sight of the “principle of transferring resources from rich to poor countries” mentioned in major human rights conventions. Professor Florence Romer appreciated the efforts of the Chinese Government to cooperate with the international community in the fight against the coronavirus, which is in line with the principles of international cooperation. She said that international cooperation should not be limited to the pandemic but should also extend to other global issues, such as climate change. Governments should learn lessons from the current epidemic and make use of this opportunity to develop policies and guidelines to flexibly carry multilateral cooperation and regional cooperation through the United Nations, World Health Organization, and other international organizations.
 
The seminar participants called for greater international cooperation at various levels during the pandemic, based on the practice of the European Network of National Human rights Institutions, Peter Wiley suggested that the governments should actively cooperate with national human rights institutions, which can provide relevant information, offer advice on the legality of human rights derogations, evaluate the impact of the measures taken by the country on human rights and make recommendations accordingly.
 
III.Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings in the Midst of a Sudden Public Crises
 
China actively advocates and pursues the building of a community with a shared future for human beings in its international relations. It is the sublimation of Chinese political philosophy, which depicts “a blueprint for a diversified and harmonious world” and it is similar to the spirit of human rights protection advocated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights concern not only individual citizens, the relationship between citizens and the state, but also the common issue of human destiny. Currently, pandemic prevention and control has become a global security and human rights governance issue. In addition to rejecting prejudice and engaging in international cooperation, people have the feeling of sharing their weal and woe together,and are gradually realizing that we should seek common values in the different understandings of human rights protection in pandemic prevention and control, and establish long-term ethical thinking on the bottom line of human safety.
 
In view of the practice of international organizations, Professor Brian Birdkin pointed out that the International Charter of Human Rights and various human rights conventions, declarations, codes of conduct, and rules on minimum standards should be the starting point for establishing “values in international law” and some of the conventions, declarations, codes, and rules are closely related to the idea of building a community with a shared future for human beings. Zhang Wei added that against the backdrop of the pandemic, all countries should uphold the concept of a community with a shared future for human beings, strengthen international solidarity and cooperation to protect human rights better. Professor He Zhipeng believes that the epidemic is a global health problem and the consequences of measures taken by one country extend across national boundaries and have an impact on other countries. The international community must work together to resolve such a crisis. Based on the shared needs of the humankind for protecting life and health, we should promote building a global community of health for all based on the vision of a community with a shared that safeguards the common interests and basic survival of all humankind, and a establish a community of health that can effectively respond to public health crises.
 
The policies and conflicts of various countries in response to the pandemic have highlighted the contradiction between “monism” and “pluralism” in human rights protection. However, they also reflect the inherent requirements for human beings facing common crises and participating in governance. In the absence of an effective vaccine, as the experts warned, the current situation may become the normal state of human society. It is worth considering how to construct human rights protection standards that meet the needs and values of the common interests of all humankind. 
 
IV. Conclusion
 
The pandemic poses a severe challenge to the protection of civil rights, political rights, ESC rights, minority rights, and the right to development. Which rights should be prioritized? Under the context of pandemic prevention and control, international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, United Nations Development Program, and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund have played an active role in the international practice of human rights protection. The UN Security Council and other United Nations agencies have also passed relevant resolutions. The experts participating in the seminar engaged in rational, in-depth discussions on topics such as how intergovernmental organizations should play their role in international cooperation and to what extent the United Nations should monitor and pay attention to rights issues in such a crises.
 
Different cultural backgrounds have led to differences and even conflicts in the path of human rights protection in various countries in the fight against the virus. The governments of all countries should abandon any prejudice they may hold and cooperate in an inclusive and open way. The Chinese Government always puts the lives and health of the people first and explores a social governance framework for responding to emergent public risks by combining pandemic prevention and control on a global scale with the concept of lasting security. International cooperation as an essential principle of international law plays a vital role in addressing international security risks, which was unanimously affirmed by experts at the meeting. The building of a community with a shared future for human beings in the prevention and control of the epidemic shows that the Chinese government shoulders responsibilities for the safety and health of its people and global public health. The discussion at the seminar on human rights protection and international cooperation in the prevention and control of epidemics has inspired new thinking and raised questions that are worthy of further consideration and exploration.
 
(Translated by YU Nan)

* YANG Bochao ( 杨博超 ), Lecturer, Institute for Human Rights, China University of Political Science and Law.
 
1. State Council Information Office, White paper “New Progress in the Legal Protection of Human Rights in China”, December 2017.
 
2. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, trans. Zhou Qi et al. (Beijing:Xinhua Publishing House, 1998), 7.

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