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To Uphold Inclusiveness for Different Civilizations: The Valuable Spiritual Legacy Left by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

2023-12-11 13:39:59Source: CSHRSAuthor: Lu Guangjin
Editor note: To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, China Society for Human Rights Studies held a seminar on December 4 in Beijing. Over 70 experts and scholars discussed the spirit and significance of the declaration, China's concept of human rights and safeguarding them, as well as the new human rights protection issues in the digital age. Here's a speech at the seminar.

To Uphold Inclusiveness for Different Civilizations:
The Valuable Spiritual Legacy Left by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Distinguished Minister Jiang,
Distinguished experts, 
Dear friends,
Good morning!
In a few days, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Regarding the historical status of the UDHR, Mary Ann Glendon wrote in her book A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights presents a bold new blueprint for the human rights cause," and that "its birth signifies the entry of human rights into a new era." Indeed, the birth of the UDHR is a landmark event in the history of human civilization. Since then, the humanity has established a monument of human rights values. In the history of human civilization, no other human rights document has had such a broad and profound impact on the development of human society as the UDHR. Although 75 years have passed, the role and influence of the UDHR still exist today. It still inspires the world to work hard to respect and protect human rights.
Why can the UDHR have such an important position and such a significant impact? I think it is mainly because of the rationality, universality, and global nature of the UDHR demonstrates. Its rationality lies in its advocacy of a human rights value that meets the requirements of human progress; its universality lies in its proposal of a universal ideal and pursuit based on basic human morality; and its global nature lies in its establishment of global human rights standards beyond any specific culture or civilization. And the rationality, universality, and global nature of the UDHR are exactly the result of embracing the spirit of inclusiveness for different civilizations.

We can recognize and understand the spirit of inclusiveness for different civilizations contained in the UDHR from the following four aspects:
First, the cultural backgrounds of the drafters of the UDHR. As we all know, the UDHR was drafted by a number of people — some diplomats and scholars who were directly involved in the drafting, including Chinese representative Zhang Pengchun, came from various cultural and religious backgrounds such as Confucianism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, and Hinduism. There are four Asian members in the drafting committee, hailing from China, India, the Philippines, and Lebanon, each with their own cultural characteristics.
Second, the extensive solicitation of opinions during the drafting process of the UDHR. In order to create a universally accepted declaration of human rights that could be embraced by people from different cultural backgrounds, the UDHR was drafted in consultation with scholars, experts, and influential politicians from around the world. The exact number of participants varies, with some sources stating several hundred and others stating over a thousand. In the end, the committee received approximately 150 responses. Chinese scholar Luo Zhongshu explained in his response that although the concept of human rights is not mentioned in Chinese classics, the right of the people to resist unjust rulers has been recognized since ancient times. Regarding the issue of cultural diversity, Mr. Luo advocated tolerance, not only towards all religions, but also towards atheists.
Third, the content of the UDHR. Compared with the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, the UDHR in 1948 has many similarities, but also many differences. The two recognized major differences are as follows: first, the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 emphasizes that human rights come from the "Creator", while the UDHR in 1948 does not mention the Creator; second, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 considers "men" as the holders of rights, while the UDHR in 1948 considers "everyone" as the holders of rights. Chinese representative Zhang Pengchun advocated not using religious language like "Creator" and suggested considering the Confucian concept of "benevolence", or ren (仁). This idea was reflected to some extent in the UDHR.
Fourth, the voting results of the UDHR. When the United Nations General Assembly voted on the Declaration, of the 54 countries that participated in the vote (there were 56 member states of the United Nations at that time, Yemen and Honduras did not participate in the vote), 48 countries voted in favor, 5 abstained, and 0 voted against. This result was beyond the expectations of everyone involved in the drafting of the Declaration. Mr. Charles Malik, president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), joyfully said that this showed that "every UN member state wants to demonstrate its respect for and compliance with human rights."
It is precisely because of this spirit of inclusiveness for different civilizations that the UDHR has universal significance. During the vote on the UDHR, some representatives criticized that its content was not perfect. While Syrian representative Kayyali stood up and said that "There have been many human rights declarations in history, but those earlier declarations were neither perfect in content nor were they perfectly implemented. The progress of civilization is always slow. For today's Declaration, it is not the work of a few representatives of the General Assembly or the ECOSOC, but the result of the struggle of humanity for generations. "
It can be seen from the above that without the participation of drafters from various cultures or civilizations, and without the inclusive coexistence of different cultures or civilizations, the UDHR would not have been born. The vitality of the UDHR lies in its valuable spirit of inclusiveness for different civilizations. This is the most precious legacy and the most important inspiration left to us by the Declaration.
Although historic achievements have been made in the development of human rights worldwide over the past 75 years, the goal of ensuring that everyone enjoys human rights and fundamental freedoms is far from being achieved. In our times, there are still many conflicts and problems hindering the development of human rights in the world. First, there are numerous challenges to effectively safeguard basic human rights and promote human well-being, such as the large number of refugees due to regional conflicts, the aggravation of poverty as a result of the widening development gap and the COVID-19 pandemic, the violation of the right to life of ethnic minorities due to ongoing racial discrimination, and the unsustainable development caused by climate change and environmental degradation. Second, some countries are still promoting the so-called universalist concept of human rights, pursuing hegemony in human rights, and politicizing, instrumentalizing, and weaponizing human rights, treating human rights with an attitude of confrontation rather than unity and cooperation.
At this critical historical moment of great changes not seen in a century, China upholds the spirit of inclusiveness for different civilizations. General Secretary Xi Jinping has proposed the major concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind, advocated the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom for all humanity, and put forward the Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), and Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), advocating safeguarding human rights through security, promoting human rights through development, and advancing human rights through cooperation. China's ideas, initiatives and propositions have played an important leading role in promoting global human rights governance and the development of the world's human rights cause.