All posts filed under: Human Rights

Dictatorship and Responsibility in Hong Kong

Thus, the population was shaken up, forced into silence, and left without any possible leaders of resistance. So it was that ‘wisdom’ was instilled, that former ties and friendships were cut off. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1985). I Can moral life survive dictatorship? When a government intimidates its subjects; when it sows mistrust among them; when it penalizes virtue and incentivizes servility, how might men and women keep faith with themselves and their fellows? Citizens of democratic states tend to ponder such questions, if at all, with a detached, even theoretical, interest. Dictatorships happened then or, if extant, occur over there. But in the once-free city of Hong Kong such insouciance has vanished. For just over two decades Hong Kong lived the life of an anomaly. When Britain, in July 1997, renounced sovereign rule over Hong Kong, the colony became a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Under the terms of the Sino-British Declaration (1984) and the articles of the Basic Law (adopted by the National People’s Congress in 1990), …

Cuba’s Doomed War on Independent Art

There were seven police officers, all dressed as civilians. They arrived at the improvised Havana music studio on the morning of Monday, September 28th, kicked down the door and found their target—Maykel Castillo Pérez, a well-known Cuban rapper and human rights activist who was in the process of recording a new song. They beat Castillo (better known as El Osorbo), dragged him out of the house, and took him to the Castillo de la Estación de Policía—a colonial-era fortress that serves as the National Revolutionary Police headquarters. There, Osorbo was incarcerated in a tiny cell without being informed of the charges against him or given access to legal counsel. When news of Osorbo’s abduction spread, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Osorbo’s wife, and a handful of other supporters went to the police station to demand the rapper’s release. “We told the officers that we wouldn’t leave until Maykel was freed, even if we had to sleep in jail, too,” Alcántara told me. But officers eventually apprehended these supporters, too, and dispersed them to other …

Enlightenment Literature as Foreign Aid

“If God were to humiliate a human being,” wrote Imam Ali bin abi Talib in the sixth century, “He would deny him knowledge.” If the woeful state of knowledge in lands beset by authoritarian regimes is any indication, a great number of human beings in our world have been lavishly humiliated, albeit by natural rather than supernatural forces. Nearly 20 years ago, a clique of Arab intellectuals sounded the alarm about this widespread denial of knowledge in their realm, and its many malign effects. The Arab Development Report of 2002, published by the United Nations Development Program, vividly illustrated the miserable condition to which Arab societies had been reduced at the dawn of the new millennium. It called attention to the “closed circle” that had long held sway across the region. In the past 1,000 years, the authors declared, Arabs collectively have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year. This is a breathtaking fact, notwithstanding a thriving black market for prohibited books that escaped the official tally as well as the habit of …

Making the World Safe for Autocracy

Hong Kong has long ceased to fit the description given it by an envoy of Queen Victoria as a “barren rock.” Since British gunboats secured its jagged shore in the Opium Wars, it has transformed into a vibrant commercial outpost and a premier international metropolis. After nearly two centuries, the city now has new claimants as colonial overlords, who will undoubtedly wreck the special achievements of the crown colony and set new standards of ruination and decline. Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” form of government autonomy received a lethal blow earlier this year when the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp legislature passed new national security laws that effectively prohibited dissent in the enclave. The draconian national security legislation allowed Beijing to bypass the territory’s own parliament and crack down on any activity it deems seditious. Hong Kong’s liberal culture and independent judiciary quickly began to suffocate under the weight of China’s rapacious interference. The Chinese Communist Party is now looking to crush the remnants of the old order. Beijing has announced that it will impose …

China’s Stateless Nations

I am from a city owned by a country that I don’t belong to. ~Frances Hui Maps of the global nation-state system show us a simplified picture of the world: “a totalizing classificatory grid,” as the political scientist Benedict Anderson famously put it.1 We need this grid for convenience, but we should always remember that it began as the colonial equivalent of an accountant’s ledger books. National maps provided reassurance to imperial powers that their territory was “bounded, determinate… countable.”2 The real world is much messier, and sometimes it changes in ways that no traditional map can show. China’s borders, for example, will soon bear no resemblance to reality. The Communist Party has begun expanding the concept of the nation, attempting to create a new type of global entity. But back home, large numbers of people within the country’s borders no longer see themselves as Chinese at all. From Kashgar to Causeway Bay, millions of citizens are beginning to define themselves in direct opposition to the status that appears on their passports. Today we find …

How We Lost Our Way on Human Rights

Sir Roger Scruton died on January 12th. He was a philosopher, public intellectual, provocateur, novelist, composer, lawyer, organist, and Fellow of The British Academy. Scruton wrote more than 50 books, as well as countless literary articles and journalistic columns. His work attracted opprobrium—but also much admiration. In 2017, I joined a small gaggle of admirers from around the world for 10 days of philosophizing with Sir Roger. At the time, I had recently left my position in university administration and teaching politics to work as CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. We attended seminars and excursions, and typically ended our days with hours of conversation over long dinners and musical performances. One afternoon, I found myself alone with our host in his study. Scruton, as I was already aware, was skeptical of the direction in which the human-rights movement was headed. He agreed wholeheartedly with what others would call first-generation human rights—in his terms, “claims for liberty” drawn from natural law. In particular, he defended the idea of individual agency, which …

At Dalhousie University, Ideology Comes First, Science Comes Second

The massive COVID-19 death toll in the United States—206,000 and counting—shows what happens when science becomes politicized, and people make health decisions on the basis of political ideology. Donald Trump was originally dismissive of coronavirus and the efficacy of masks. On the other side of the political spectrum, meanwhile, liberal contagious-disease experts lined up to tell Americans that it was fine to join massive street protests in June and July, so long as the participants were on the side of social justice. It is one thing to pollute the liberal arts with absurd misinformation and vapid grievances. But when actual science is subordinated to ideological cults, there are real-world consequences. The same unsettling pattern is now playing out in and around the Atlantic Canadian city of Halifax, whose radicalized political culture I wrote about for Quillette back in July. Over the summer, a group of Indigenous-run lobster fishermen began flouting federal rules by creating a small out-of-season fishery in St. Mary’s Bay, off the west coast of Nova Scotia. These fisheries are closely regulated, in …

The Crimes of the Red Emperor

Show absolutely no mercy. ~Xi Jinping On July 30th, Chinese state media published details of the upcoming fifth plenary session. The Party’s leaders have traditionally used the conference to lay out their next five-year plan, but this time a new detail was included—a pointed reference to “targets for 2035.” The date may give us some indication of how long Xi Jinping intends to retain his position as president. China has reached a crucial stage of its development, with superpower status at last in sight, and Xi has decided that only one man can be trusted to guide the country through the final stages of its glorious journey. That man is himself, of course. He has assumed the role of Great Helmsman, famously ordering the removal of presidential term limits in 2018 to ensure that the inferior leaders of the future don’t botch the job. In the years since becoming president, Xi has drawn state powers to himself like no other Chinese leader since Mao. Today he oversees all aspects of economic, political, cultural, social, and …

Bloody Harvest—How Everyone Ignored the Crime of the Century

In June of this year the China Tribunal delivered its Final Judgement and Summary Report.1 An independent committee composed of lawyers, human rights experts, and a transplant surgeon, the Tribunal was established to investigate forced organ harvesting on the Chinese mainland. These rumours have haunted the country for years—lurid tales of the fate suffered by members of the banned Falun Gong religion after being taken into police custody. Their organs, so the rumours go, are cut from their bodies while they are still alive, and then transplanted into waiting patients. The Tribunal examined these claims, extending the group of victims to include Uyghur Muslims (among others), and its findings were unambiguous. “On the basis of all direct and indirect evidence, the Tribunal concludes with certainty that forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and on multiple occasions for a period of at least twenty years and continues to this day.”2 Further to this, “the PRC and its leaders actively incited the persecution, the imprisonment, murder, torture, and …

The Free-Speech Problem on Australian Campuses Is More CCP than SJW

For years now, Australia’s conservative media have been awash with dark forebodings about the threat that leftist radicals pose to free speech on campuses. The Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank, published an audit of free speech in 2018 that found a staggering 83% of Australian universities are actively hostile to free speech. My personal experience suggests that such fears are exaggerated by those seeking to import an American-style culture war into Australia. I’m a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, and I’ve never encountered the kind of ultra-leftist “social-justice warrior” types that apparently make sport out of persecuting conservatives. In truth, the vast majority of students on campus are depressingly apathetic, apolitical and disengaged. No, the real threat to freedom of speech that I’ve observed originates with a corporatized university administration that relies heavily on external sources for funding—and so is inclined to discourage views that may irk those controlling the purse strings. This is reflected in the way Australia’s universities are responding to student criticisms of the Chinese Communist …