UN Influence, in Retracting Inequitable Laws, and China

UN Influence, in Retracting Inequitable Laws, and ChinaOver the past decade China has implemented and promoted some highly progressive and commendable policies, which can be seen as a pragmatic response to China’s cooperation with the United Nations. An expansion in community-based methadone therapy and needle exchange program, showed China’s dedication to being in accordance with human-centered principles. Most recently was China’s announcement that it is to lift the ban on restricting HIV positive travelers into the country, which particularly provides recognition of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) dedication to promoting “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as being “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

The lifting of the ban, which was announced ahead of the opening of Shanghai Expo 2010, was met with praise and commendation by UNAIDS, who strongly objects to any laws restricting travel of people living with HIV. Praising China’s leadership and progression, Michael Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director said: “Every individual should have equal access to freedom of movement – regardless of HIV status. This is yet another example of China’s leadership in the AIDS response.

Although China’s move to lift such a punitive policy is irrefutably progressive and marks further development in the country’s unprecedented journey to human equality and development, and one which is in sync with the United Nation’s commitment to foster sustainable and rights-based development, a more cynical appraisal of the eradication of the ban could be that China’s objectives are essentially economically evoked. UNAIDS, in its public acclamation of the Chinese government’s decision, admitted that such travel restrictions have no “economic justification”. Every traveler inevitably brings money into a destination, regardless of HIV status. Restricting certain groups of travelers therefore has negative economical ramifications, a fact which financially-astute China will be well aware of. In January this year the United States ended its law which placed tight restrictions of HIV-infected visitors, a feat which was met by equal admiration and approval by UNAIDS. China’s swift proclamation to lift similar restrictions could be read by critics as an attempt to vie global support and be perceived as a country dedicated to being a leading player on the worldwide quest for human rights and equality.

Regardless of the reasons, the turn of the century has seen China embark on a journey towards human rights progression, the first of its kind in its long and turbulent history. China joined the United Nations in 1945 and the UN’s influence on the country is overtly tangible with decisions like the lifting of the HIV related entry restriction being concrete evidence.

In his praise of President Hu Jintao’s example of leadership in positively removing an inequitable and discriminatory law, Ban Ki Moon, the United Nation’s Secretary-General labeled such “punitive policies” as “hampering the global AIDS response” and urged “other countries with such restrictions to remove them as a matter of priority and urgency”. Currently there are 51 countries, areas and territories that impose restrictions on people with HIV. But with the likes of the United States and China collaborating with the UN Member States unanimous adoption in 2006 of the UN’s political declaration on HIV/AIDS, to help move the AIDS response forward, perhaps other countries will follow suit and deter discrimination and augment widespread support for those living with HIV/AIDS. Several more countries, including Ukraine, Namibia and the Republic of Korea have recently promised to remove such restrictions.

Despite these commendable changes in policies and laws, which lift China into the realms of global leadership in equality and dignity for all the human family, sadly there are some less progressive and inhumane policies still lingering in China. For example, it was revealed earlier this year that Chinese authorities are subjecting drug users to arbitrary detention where they are denied access to any treatments for their drug addiction. Subjecting drug dependent patients to “less rights than prisoners” deeply opposes and contradicts the UDHR’s affirmation in their faith in promoting fundamental human rights, social progress and better standards of living.

Another example that China is still clutching to straws of alienable recoil and a retraction in human rights, is the country’s insistence on keeping its coercive one-child policy, which marked its 30th anniversary last year. Under this policy pregnancies must be approved by the government and arbitrary abortions and sterilizations are regularly forced, in an attempt to control the population of the world’s most populous country. Women who refuse to have abortions have their homes destroyed by the government, a far cry from the UDHR’s foundation for “freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Despite this coercive and dictatorial approach to family planning and population issues, there are glimmers of progress amidst China’s clouds of repression. For example, in 1992 China introduced its first Adoption Law, a law that is more adjusted to the UDHR’s dedication to promoting social progress.

Although China seems divided in its commitment to both implementing human rights policies, which are reminiscent of the UN’s goal, and refusing to drop antiquated and inhumane agendas, which ferociously resist the UN’s objectives, at least progression is starting to manifest itself, starkly confirmed by its recent abolishing of its highly prejudice laws involving people with HIV/AIDS. When UNAIDS first called for such bans to be lifted, Michael Sidibe said “parliamentarians’ influence could play role in eliminating the restrictions“. Putting cynical evaluations aside, the UN and UNAIDS have played a pivotal role in influencing countries, which for years have been mired with discriminatory and antiquated vision, into moving to the realms of leadership and progression regarding human rights issues. I believe it is only a matter of time before the 51 nations and territories, that are hanging on to inequitable laws and policies, such as HIV travel restrictions, follow China and also become influenced by the UN’s objectives to achieve freedom, justice and peace in the world, for all the human family.

Gabrielle Pickard

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