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A Human-Rights Forum Gone Awry

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.