By Hu Yuwei
China prioritized human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring people’s lives and health in a people-centric approach, and therefore achieved the results of quickly taking the epidemic under control, experts stressed in an international conference entitled “Guarantee of the Right to Life in Epidemic Prevention and Control” held at Southwest University of Political Science and Law on Saturday. More than 40 experts and scholars from China, the Netherlands, France, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka attended the meeting to exchange their standpoints around human rights values during the pandemic. The unprecedented outbreak has tested different national systems, capabilities and different human rights dimensions, and China has withstood the test, experts said. The Chinese government upholds the principle that “life is supreme,” which should enjoy precedence when it conflicts with other values in extreme circumstances, experts suggested, referring to how China ramped up efforts to save every life in the epidemic despite economic pressure. To protect public health, necessary restrictions on personal freedom and other rights can find legal basis. In the conflict of social health interests versus individual privileges, the government should always prioritize life and health rights and protect human rights to the highest extent, Chinese experts suggested. Their remarks refute some ill-intentioned Western organizations smearing China’s consistent human rights improvements by linking Chinese strict control measures to human rights abuse. “The right to life and health is a human right that requires the highest attention and protection. Collective health should not be sacrificed for individual liberty.” Professor Liu Huawen, executive director of the Human Rights Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said at the conference. China’s emphasis on human rights is reflected in its resources preferentially allocated for vulnerable groups. China spent around 1.4 million yuan ($0.2m) on a novel coronavirus patient in her 70s, and more than 3,600 senior citizens in Wuhan over the age of 80 have recovered, making for a 70% recovery rate for patients over 80, according to Professor Han Dayuan, director of the Center for Human Rights at the Renmin University of China. COVID-19 has seen Western countries, which have begun to adopt restrictive measures, review cultural pluralism and the value of collectivism, Han said. It is inhumane for some countries to suggest that people over the age of 65 give up their rights and leave resources for the young. The suggestions the government abandon the weak only serve political interests but not individual rights, argued Zhang Yonghe, Executive Dean at the Human Rights Research Institute, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, saying that a civilized society is one in which the weak are best protected and equally treated. “The epidemic tells us that human life protection is achieved mainly through a sound political system and not a rosy GDP or technological advances. This is reflected by how the US and the UK with most developed high-tech machines failed to protect its citizens from public health crises but only relied on herd immunity,” Professor Cheng Zhimin of Hainan University said at the conference. “Guns and ammunition are not the cure. A good political system is the panacea for all social problems.” JayanathColombage, director of Pathfinder Foundation of Sri Lanka Center for Indo-Lankan Initiative and Law of the Sea, believed the Sri Lankan government shares many similarities in their understanding of the right to life with the Chinese government which prioritizes the right to life in dealing with the pandemic. Muhammad Naseem, director of the Center for Sustainability Research and Practice at Lahore University, described the circumstances of vulnerable communities in Pakistan. But he said the Pakistani government found difficulty in implementing a unified approach to coping with the epidemic as regions within Pakistan enjoy a high level of autonomy. Professor Peter Peverelli of the Vrije University of Amsterdam, however, argued Chinese measures work well in the Chinese communitarian cultural context but not necessarily in a different cultural context. “Each nation deals with the local situation in a way that suits the national or local culture. However, these differences are also causing heated debate about ‘the best way’ of coping with a new contagious disease like this. That debate is not always conducted with respect for other nation’s values,” he said. “After the outbreak, people will have higher expectations for respect and protection of human rights. The epidemic has brought new opportunities for the development of human rights, because the respect and protection of human rights is our biggest consensus,” said Han.
-The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange item