China and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


China has a long way to go—economically, politically and morally—before it is able to celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But the matter once again brings attention to China as a major violator of basic human rights. Jane Deren, senior advisor to the Roman Catholic Center for Concern in Washington, D.C., listed 20 areas in which China fails to measure up to basic human rights.

On Dec. 10, the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the most important document of the 20th century: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 30 brief articles, this 1,772-word document sets forth the moral consensus of the post-war community of nations.

Increasingly, the document functions to establish a behavioral norm by which governmental action is judged.

The declaration was frequently quoted before, during and after the games of the 29th Olympiad held in Beijing. Human rights activists widely protested the 2001 decision to allow China to host the games. But, as is often the case, money trumps morality; China is the fastest-growing economy in the world, an important trade partner with all industrialized countries. An estimated $42 billion dollars was spent on the 2008 Olympics

Working conditions are high on the list of human rights concerns in China. The declaration sets forth the ideal in article 32, which says, in part: "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment… to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity… the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

The declaration also declares that everyone, including the citizens of China, "has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…to change his religion or belief, and …to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." Christians, especially, have been denied this right and there is widespread repression of both political and religious freedoms common in most places in the world.

While the Olympics brought increased media attention to these abuses, so also will the thousands of students who are flocking to China. Of the 241,791 Americans who studied abroad in 2006-07, more than 11,000 were in China—a 1,000 percent increase from one decade ago. Many of these students will stumble upon occasions of human rights abuses; some will become grass-roots reporters in the campaign to hold China responsible for its manifold indifference to basic rights.

None of these will be more tragic, more traumatic than forcing mothers to abort their children. Decisions about marriage and family are fundamental to human rights, as the declaration states: "Men and women of full age…have the right to marry and to found a family….The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."

China has a long way to go—economically, politically and morally—before it is able to celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Dwight Moody is a writer, preacher and professor living in Lexington, Ky. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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