Universal or selective human rights?

This week, the Prime Minister is in China to supposedly thaw relations he has been criticized for frosting since the years he was in opposition criticizing the government.

Stephen Harper, and indeed, a number of prominent Conservatives have, for years, roundly admonished China for its poor human rights record since the days of the Reform Party. For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.

Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.

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In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.

Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.

In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.

Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.

This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.

According to Amnesty International, China is guilty of a number of human rights abuses,

Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.

Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:

“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae

If you’re looking for Rae in the halls of Parliament these days, his tolerance seems selective and true concern seems focused elsewhere,

The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.

“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?

Comments

comments

  • Jay

    I am a card-carrying Conservative and a Chinese-Canadian and I am pleased that PM Harper has visited China and built ties with the country. I’d just like to remind you all that China is a developing country that has 1.3 billion people to rule — a larger population than any of you can fathom governing over. So before any of you spew the self-righteous “human rights” rhetoric, keep in mind that China is one of the oldest countries in the world with a very rich and advanced history. China has used extreme measures in the past, but I feel the economic liberalization of China is helping to nurture more rights and freedoms for the Chinese people. My point is, therefore, to let the Chinese people determine the future of China. Canada’s role in this is to promote business and trading interests which will lead to exchange of ideas and gradual democratization — albeit *Chinese* style (a Chinese-made system that will work for China).

  • east of eden

    Oh, Gayle. I'm sure you know how many times. You have a memory like a steel trap – it's really quite amazing, to be honest.

  • east of eden

    Wow – that is some stretch, Gayle. If you won't even answer a simple question or two, then you have given me my answer. I will admit to having been grossly mistaken about one thing: I had the distinct impression that you were willing to engage in an adult discussion. I was wrong and I apologize for thinking highly of you. I won't make that mistake again. I hope you aren't offended because I expected maturity open-mindedness from you.

  • Gayle

    If you want an adult discussion, then do not dictate terms. Real discussions involve all the issues, not just the ones you select.

  • Gayle

    Or maybe you missed the part where your questions contained all kinds of commentary – the same kind of commentary you insist I not include in my answer.

  • east of eden

    Nice try, Gayle. If you really were open-minded, you'd answer my questions and not throw up all sorts of smoke screens and diversions and you certainly would not be pointing things back at me. You are just not willing to discuss things as an adult but you are quite willing to justify your skirting of the tough questions. But, hey, I give you points for at least trying. It's a shame, really. It does take a certain amount of above average intelligence to create such diversions and to always twist things back to me and others but it does sadden me to think that you waste that above average intelligence in such a futile and pointless manner. I do think that if you employed your God-given intelligence in a productive manner, we would have a very interesting and stimulating discussion.

    But, it is your right to use your intelligence for productive or non-productive purposes and I respect that right. It's just a shame that you put your intelligence to such a wasteful and unproductive end. I have ceased any hope of having a rational and adult discussion with you. I know you're capable of it but, obviously, you are unwilling so to do.

  • Gayle

    I will answer your questions, but I will not allow you to dictate the terms of this debate. If you do not like that you can probably find someone stupid enough to allow you to make your point while you prohibit others from making theirs.

    1. Harper has not been the only PM to call China out on its human rights abuses. Go here to find out more:

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/12/04/excerpt-from

    The question is not about calling them out, but the way in which it was done, which, as we have seen, has not been particularly productive.

    2. You might want to ask Harper that one, since he has apparently put his principles aside in order to foster trade with China. In any event, I do not see how you cannot foster both trade and advocate for human rights, as Chretien did.

    3. Are the LPC criticizing Harper for standing up for human rights in China? I cannot really answer that question until I know it is not based on a false premise.

    Now East, if you want an honest discussion, have at it. Otherwise you are just blowing smoke.

  • Gayle

    You are not being honest East. It demeans you.

    I have answered your questions, but not on your terms. You cannot both seek an honest debate and also dictate the way I must answer your questions.

  • east of eden

    Sigh. Gayle – a big person knows when to quit and walk away – note the back of my shirt. Cheers.

  • Liz J

    East, your banter with Gayle is playing to her game which is to needle and provoke to take threads off topic. It's a reason she's not allowed on blogs like SDA and BLY.

  • Gayle

    I never go to SDA. Too much hate filled rhetoric there. I suppose I might be banned if I bothered to go there, so you are kind of, sort of right.

    In any event, the reason I am banned is because some bloggers do not permit dissent. Joanne is one.

  • Gayle

    I see. If I do not play by your rules you take your ball and go home.

    You should at least check out the link I posted. You might learn something.

  • http://freeryantoday.com Ryan

    It's politics. The whole world understands about China's abuses, the Americans were there for the Olympics and just about every other country that actually understands the implications of not having a decent relationship with China.

    In a way, it is old-school get over it politics that Canada is playing. It showed that we were babies more than mature by not going, that is how the world outside of this place viewed it. No one cares anymore and honestly if they care that much to make a deal about it, then I dare them to stop trading with them now. That I would honestly respect more, since it is such an “issue” for us. But instead they would rather waste time and tax dollars dithering about China at tea-parties on something they are NEVER going to change.

    China will do what China wants. They are changing every day and to play the same cards over and over and over, is sort of pathetic already. Heck China is more capitalist than we are for petes sake.

    Have you been? I have!

  • east of eden

    Is there a yes or no in any of your comment? You have not given me your opinion – which is what I was seeking. Your reply makes me think of that old saying: he talks so much that if you ask him for the time, he'll tell you how to make a watch.

    Sorry – you sidestepped my question. As for dictating terms – get off of it Gayle. You do the same thing. I love your double standard. Incredible. As I said – your intelligence level is obviously above average but you use it in non-productive ways. Cheers.

  • Gayle

    Just what I thought you would say. Of course I have given my opinion. Your problem is that you want to argue with me and you can't.

    By the way, I asked you a question. Do you have a link to where the LPC is criticizing Harper for standing up for human rights? I would be amazed if they are given what Chretien said in his speech when he was in China.

  • Liz J

    Not true, Joanne does permit dissent, she doesn't permit people who visit her site to needle other commenters laced with condescending arrogance which is your shtick. It's tiresome after a while, a waste of bandwidth. As for SDA,it's not by choice you don't go there either, it's been a while,perhaps you've forgotten.

    If your trying to help your cause, the LPC, as an intelligent person, which I believe you to be, you could put your talents to better use, they are sorely in need of help.

  • marie7

    Gayle,
    have you ever read the Lesser Evil? I dont think the hypocrisy belongs to the CPC.

  • batb

    Ryan, I haven't been to China and, truth to tell, I have no desire to go to China, which isn't to say that it wouldn't be fascinating. But there are other countries I'd rather visit — and support with my hard-earned dollars.

    I take it, Ryan, that you are a relativist: “Come on. Get over it. Everyone knows that the Chinese don't care a fig for human rights, everyone knows that the Liberal$ talk a good line about caring about human rights and equality for all but don't follow through, but who cares? China is the new land of opportunity! Prime Minister Stephen Harper should just get with the program, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, overlook China's appalling human rights record and, ahem, unique business practices, in order to make sure that Canada and Canadians cash in on the new gold rush.”

    There's more to life than economic success — and, in fact, without protecting human rights, there aren't too many other rights that are worth a darn.

    Maybe I've misunderstood what you said, but you seem to be saying that Canada, which enjoys one of the freest democracies in the world, shouldn't be concerned about miscarriages of justice in China. That seems like a real double standard to me — and that Canada will be held to a much higher standard vis a vis human rights than China which, in the short run, gives China a real economic advantage.

    'Doesn't seem like such a great deal to me, though it's clear to me that the need to uphold individuals' human rights is essential in the making of a civilized society. We shouldn't care if China does what China wants while breaking all of the rules we hold sacred — all of the rules which built our democracy?

    Does that make sense?

  • Gayle

    Yes. That is why she was all for allowing people to call me names. I guess it is OK for one side to resort to that kind of conduct, but being sarcastic is a no go. The truth is it had nothing to do with abusive behaviour on my part given the kind of abuses she allowed (and may still allow) from others. She only cares when that abuse is directed towards her or anyone who agrees with her.

    As for SDA, I have not forgotten at all. I stopped going there several years ago, by my choice.

    Anyway…

  • Gayle

    marie – have you looked up the term “hypocrisy”. I think you will see it applies very well to many actions by the CPC.

    I am not aware of any time I ever said the CPC were the only hypocrites in town. Maybe you can refresh my memory with a link or something.

  • http://freeryantoday.com Ryan

    You do make sense. And I too understand that human rights are important. My argument has less to do about Liberal vs Conservative than trying to get a point across that without dialogue and a relationship, Canada will have even less power in swaying the Chinese. You know there is a lot of propaganda on both sides..a lot. As an example, lets look at Tibet, since this is played out here as “human rights abuses” the most — even elements of this conflict are not fully understood here, and to pretend we understand ALL the complexities in those dealings, is also a bit unfair. I doubt highly if China invited Quebec for dinner stating they should be free, would that play very well here. Now, granted we didn't beat them – although I question whether a good beating might be a good thing. (I kid.)

    I still do think though that there is an old-style of politics at play here — almost like they haven't woken up to how China has changed..which is sort of bothersome, too. Like I said, I am not justifying the human rights issues, but the whole world went to China for the Olympics — this is a time to put differences aside. He was snubbing the people — not the government — which is sort of ironic, don't' you think?

  • Omanator

    To Ryan, I guess you both are missing the most important thing. China gives a hoot for human rights, we can agree on that. China has only one aim, to become a world super power and to dominate the world stage. China has the largest standing army in the world, is building the largest aircraft carrier, has the largest submarine fleet, probably larger than the US but most of all China is the only nation so far that is capable of shooting down satelites from orbit. That in itself is a frightening thought. It would destroy all our communications in a heartbeat. I sincerely hope that chinas investments in Canada are limited according to Canadian law. Even that makes me shake.

  • http://freeryantoday.com Ryan

    You do make sense. And I too understand that human rights are important. My argument has less to do about Liberal vs Conservative than trying to get a point across that without dialogue and a relationship, Canada will have even less power in swaying the Chinese. You know there is a lot of propaganda on both sides..a lot. As an example, lets look at Tibet, since this is played out here as “human rights abuses” the most — even elements of this conflict are not fully understood here, and to pretend we understand ALL the complexities in those dealings, is also a bit unfair. I doubt highly if China invited Quebec for dinner stating they should be free, would that play very well here. Now, granted we didn't beat them – although I question whether a good beating might be a good thing. (I kid.)

    I still do think though that there is an old-style of politics at play here — almost like they haven't woken up to how China has changed..which is sort of bothersome, too. Like I said, I am not justifying the human rights issues, but the whole world went to China for the Olympics — this is a time to put differences aside. He was snubbing the people — not the government — which is sort of ironic, don't' you think?

  • Omanator

    To Ryan, I guess you both are missing the most important thing. China gives a hoot for human rights, we can agree on that. China has only one aim, to become a world super power and to dominate the world stage. China has the largest standing army in the world, is building the largest aircraft carrier, has the largest submarine fleet, probably larger than the US but most of all China is the only nation so far that is capable of shooting down satelites from orbit. That in itself is a frightening thought. It would destroy all our communications in a heartbeat. I sincerely hope that chinas investments in Canada are limited according to Canadian law. Even that makes me shake.