The Struggle for Human Rights versus Stability: The Chinese Communist Party and Western Values Clash

By Douglas, Erin E. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The Struggle for Human Rights versus Stability: The Chinese Communist Party and Western Values Clash


Douglas, Erin E., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


   Economic growth and human progress make their greatest strides when people
   are secure and free to think, speak, worship, choose their own way and
   reach for the stars.

President Ronald Reagan (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

The issue of human rights lies at the center of past and present political struggles throughout the world. (2) The prevailing international norms as established through international law set the standard of what the world community constitutes as human rights. However, a nation-state, as a sovereign unit, creates its definition of human rights through cultural relativism, domestic laws and ultimately through the relationship between the individuals within the nation-state and the nation-state itself. (3)

With the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the relationship of the individual and the state in China has been one of hostility and betrayal between both the Chinese government and its constituents. (4) The CCP has been, and is fearful of, dissent within. The Chinese people fear to question their government because of this hatred of dissent. Adding to the hostility and betrayal is a western world torn between the virtue of human rights for all and the vice of economic power and might. (5)

This hypocrisy and conflicting passion suggest that until the western world prioritizes whether to follow its virtue or vice, China's human rights violations will not cease, but in fact, prosper. This paper will not attempt to vilify either the virtue or vice, but will examine why, in the past and present, human rights and economics in China is a battle between the individual and state with western forces intervening.

Part I of this paper will create a working definition of human rights that includes an analysis of the universalist and cultural relativist perspective and the Chinese definition of human rights. Part II, will discuss what is of utmost concern to many in the international arena; the CCP's silencing of the opposition. (6) Through a historical examination of various intellectual dissident movements, Part II will show that the pro-active and successful stance of the Chinese government in silencing the opposition and thus disregarding any notions of human rights is a direct result of the CCP's perception that the opposition poses a viable threat to stability.

Part III will address the problems of definition, priority, jurisdiction and enforcement of human rights in China in the context of both conventional and customary international law. Part IV will also address the impact international trade and China's economy has had on the western world's enforcement of human rights in China. Finally, Part V will provide certain recommendations to the international legal arena that will put China's predicament in an objective legal perspective according to international law norms.

II. PART I: A WORKING DEFINITION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

A. Historical Overview of the Development of Human Rights

Traditionally, the international legal system was a law of nations. (7) It was interested only with the rights and duties of states, not of individuals. (8) Therefore, the various domestic legal systems remained completely free to regulate the lives of their own citizens. (9)

The American Revolution and the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, however, declared the first generation of human rights. (10) They focused on individual, civil, and political rights that attempted to guarantee both private liberty and democratic participation. (11) Both the American Declaration of Independence (1776) (12) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) (13) articulated natural or human rights. (14)

The second generation arose with the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. (15) The focus of the Industrial Revolution shifted to social rights. (16) The Industrial Revolution created poverty and increased the size of the working class. …

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