Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Human Rights Or Cultural Imperialism?

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This week our Amnesty society decided to take a step back and address the question we are frequently asked – what right do we have to make a judgement or interfere in the way other cultures function?

15 year old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on October 9th in north-western Pakistan, whilst participating in a protest for women’s education in Pakistan. So we asked ourselves whether we have the right to interfere with Pakistani culture and demand that they allow women’s education, or whether this is imposing our own western values on others. Furthermore, is Britain and the United States’ involvement in eastern countries’ affairs cultural imperialism or the upholding of basic human rights?

The core conclusions we drew where these:

–          Western involvement in eastern affairs is legitimate so far as they do not send troops in but simply attempt to end the violence: a human right is to live in safety and peace and without constant fear of attack, thus ending conflict (not fuelling it by providing more troops) is an action worth taking.

–          Arms embargos and attempts at aiding diplomacy or protecting the people whose safety is in jeopardy are legitimate acts of defending basic human rights.

–          Cultural imperialism only occurs when a culture is forcing its own ethics and beliefs onto another system. However there are basic human rights that exist beyond culture and are rooted in our integral needs as human beings.

  • The right to choose the lifestyle we wish to lead
  • The right to live free from oppression
  • The right to not endure bodily harm from another person or governing body
  • The right to practise our religion in the way we wish.

Malala’s argument for women’s education was supported by many others in her country (including two other girls who were also injured in the attack) thus proving supporting her cause is not forcing one culture onto another, but supporting a cultural change which the inhabitants of the culture believe necessary. The Taliban claims that they are the voice of the Muslim world, but Malala and her companions are Muslim and disagree with the Taliban’s decisions and therefore they cannot be accurately representing the entire Muslim conscience.

Our protection of Malala while she resides in Birmingham hospital recovering is a protection of her right as a human being to free speech and control over her own life. The Taliban has breached these human rights through their violent attack on a 14 year old girl.

It is a fine line to tread between cultural imperialism and simply protecting human rights but in order to defend these rights it is necessary to negotiate it.

In summary:  every human has the right to not be shot in the face for requesting an education.

Joely Harris

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China: A Place of Increasing Democracy?

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In the UK, we are fortunate to be able to write articles, such as the following. For thousands of people across the world, this simple act of writing could be illegal.

In 2010, hundreds celebrated China’s first Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo, as he accepted this prestigious award for his non-violent and persistent struggle towards a recognition of human rights in China. This was to be a moment that captured the interest of people throughout the world; was Liu Xiaobo’s achievement to signify a new era for China, in which human rights would be taken into greater consideration by the government and leaders? Initially, Xiaobo appeared to be a ray of hope for the country. Much of the world sat back and wondered if this was to be a time for change.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo

Whilst China remains an increasingly developing country, home to a large proportion of the world’s population, it is, sadly, a country with one of the world’s highest rates of human rights abuses. Force, torture and excessive police control are prevalent throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, then, China has one of the highest rates of execution in the world; people are put to death unfairly and without trial. These punishments are common in cases of citizens speaking out against the government, criticising the country, leaders and government ideas or propaganda. The policies and legislation of the government by no means practise a high standard of human rights.

It can be so difficult sometimes to understand this situation from afar; for many of us, restricted freedom of speech is not exactly a daily experience! Spending time in China this summer opened my eyes afresh to some of the difficulties and frustrations that the Chinese people may face, and the implications of these problems in their lives. Immediately upon arrival in China I became aware of a few common frustrations the people experience in regard to freedom of speech. There are some subjects, including politics, religion, ‘states’ of China, and democracy, which are entirely taboo, especially for Westerners, tourists and those with opinions and ideological systems which are not considered to be ‘mainstream’ in China. On occasion I was slightly uneasy about conversation and topics that had the potential to be wrongly misconstrued – not something I have never experienced before!

Internet censorship has been a hot topic in China in recent years

The role the internet plays in promoting democratic ideas of both individuals and groups is taken very seriously by the government, and many social media and networking sites are banned as a result. Most notably, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can’t be accessed. It became clear that I would have to rely entirely upon email; it was the first time in years that I had been completely without access to social networking sites. It highlighted how reliant we, in Britain, are upon social networking and just how great a potential we have to impact our friends and society in this way. And this is not the only restriction of speech and communication. Emails, phone calls, texts, Skype and letters are all strictly censored. For many people this is ‘normal’, however; it is important to remember that many Chinese citizens have not experienced otherwise.

After some time experiencing this kind of society, I returned home with a renewed appreciation of how in Britain we are able to easily access information on the internet and express ourselves entirely freely. I feel incredibly fortunate to be born into an open society, which allows and caters for an increasingly diverse range of opinions and beliefs. I was able to gain an insider’s perspective into China, which ultimately pointed to the importance of promoting human rights in countries throughout the world.

China might be on it’s way to achieving a fairer society step by step, and whilst an increased presence of activists and advocators of rights might indicate this, their struggle towards a more democratic and fairer society is by no means complete. There is still much to be done in China before a fair and just state based on the equal human rights can ever be achieved. In the mean time, I will remember that we who know freedom are the ones that can help in bringing freedom to others

Esther Elliott