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What is Human Rights? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Anita Li, Canada Aug 20, 2008
Human Rights   Opinions


The term ‘human rights’ is thrown around a bit too casually nowadays. Particularly in this generation, we hear it all the time, everywhere—from the mouths of people around us to mass media. But what does it really mean?

Human rights is a complex concept that has different definitions for different people and different governments of the world. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) vaguely defines human rights as the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” But it is important to note that the UDHR was created in 1948 as a response to the atrocities committed during World War II, and is a document not so much universal as greatly influenced by Western ideology and concepts of human rights. This fact is illustrated by Article 17 of the Declaration, which states, “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.” Such an assertion does not correlate with, for example, the official state ideology of China’s communist government, which enforces a system by which the state owns all the land. That is not to discount the UDHR’s merits; rather, one should understand the historical context in which a government chooses to perform certain actions before condemning those actions to be in violation of human rights.

China is often a target of this type of western moral imperialism. It seems to me that every move the country makes—however minor—western media is there to point fingers and criticize without taking the time to fully understand the complexity of a particular situation. For example, many journalists tend to simplify and sensationalize the Tibetan movement for independence from China. They publish biased articles skewed towards the Tibetan view without consulting Chinese perspectives, and oftentimes publish images (i.e. handcuffs fashioned in the likeness of Olympic rings, depictions of "evil chinamen" that exaggerate sino features) meant to dehumanize the Chinese people in a bid to perpetuate the malicious stereotype of ‘yellow peril,’ a term used to characterize the alleged threat to Western nations by East Asians. This type of yellow journalism has been seen time and time again in coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis of 2003. Such instances of reductionist reporting can prove to be very dangerous, and may prompt prejudicial hatred towards a particular group.

I am not an apologist for China, but I am an apologist for impartial, ethical reporting and an open-minded definition of human rights. Journalism should be a means of promoting dialogue amongst people—not a platform for personal biases. Save that for the editorial page.



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Writer Profile
Anita Li

Anita is currently pursuing a degree in International Relations and Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of Toronto's Trinity College. With experence in broadcast, print, and online media, her journalistic roles have included stints as: travel show host for TorontoTV.net, reporter for CIUT 89.5 FM, and intern at the CTV Television Network. In addition, Anita writes for publications such as the Toronto Star and The Toronto Globalist. As a member of the G8 Research Group and Journalists for Human Rights, Anita is also actively involved in human rights initiatives as well as issues of global governance.

What is Human Rights?
hanfei | Nov 10th, 2008
Fact is fact. Human right level is low in China. For instance, how many out-spoken journalists can you find in China?

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