Wei Jingsheng, Champion of Universal Human Rights
Wei Jingsheng, perhaps the Peoples Republic of China’s best known pro-democracy, human-rights activist, spent a total of 18 years in prison as a dissident charged with “counter revolution propaganda and agitation.” He was released in 1997 and, following pressure from the Clinton administration, deported to the United States. In early 1998, Wei issued a joint statement with Amnesty International in which he spoke of universal human rights:
Human rights have already been accepted globally as a standard of conduct. . . . Even autocratic countries, even those countries where slavery is practiced, have to pay lip service to the acceptance and respect . . . of human rights principles. (This attitude) creates favorable conditions for those who fight for human rights, freedom and democracy, and gives the people who suffer persecution growing encouragement to fight for the rights, which originally belong to them. . . . Those rights which originally belong to the people have been taken away by the oppressors.
All of us accept—deep in our heart of hearts—that there is “a standard for conduct”: a standard of right and wrong. We may not admit it, but we do. Wei apparently believed this truth was self-evident. He spoke with conviction about “original rights,” which people everywhere possess, regardless of borders or citizenship. He seemed to be referring to something akin to inalienable rights, which “originally belong to all people.” Governments may forbid citizens from exercising them but the oppressed are still the heirs of original rights.
When Wei was in prison he told one of his oppressors: “Truth is truth. Once you understand this, nothing can erase it from your heart. This is something no torture can extract from you.” Notice how Wei spoke about truth as irrevocable, irrefutable . . . inalienable. What truth, and which “original rights,” was he referring to? When he used the word “originally,” what did he mean? Do these original rights come with adulthood or do children possess them too? Do some people enjoy these rights—whatever they might be—while others do not? Do they exist only in this generation or have they existed throughout the ages, regardless of what any government or court has declared? Who or what bestows these rights?
Although Wei spoke about human rights in the context of the Chinese people suffering under a brutal communist regime, parallels can be drawn to rights that have been denied by oppressors elsewhere, and to other members of the human community. These “original rights” must begin with the fundamental right to life. If the right to life is not guaranteed for everyone then all other human rights become arbitrary and uncertain. The right to life must be protected as the first and highest human right.
We know that Wei was speaking about rights that belong to everyone because he described them as global. If these rights belong to all people “originally, from the beginning,” then what Wei envisioned must also apply to children. It goes beyond that— if these rights are with everyone originally, then logically they must apply to human life at any point on the life spectrum. There can be no exceptions.
America’s Declaration of Independence states that “inalienable” rights were endowed to humanity by the Creator: God. Even my own heavily secularized country, Canada, has a preamble to its Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizing “the Supremacy of God”—a law Giver. We may ignore it but it is there.
Who is this God? Both America and Canada have their legal roots in British Common Law, which has Christianity at its base. This is not a matter of opinion; it is plain historical record. In 1829, Joseph Story, a future Supreme Court justice, stated in his inaugural address as Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University: “There has never been a period in which Common Law did not recognize Christianity as laying at its foundation.” Sir Matthew Hale, a noted 17th-century English lawyer and judge, said “Christianity is part of the Common Law of England.” Christ is behind Christianity; Christianity is behind Common Law.
Could it be that original rights stem from the same origins as the beliefs that convinced abolitionists that slavery must end, and influenced those who fought against child labor in England? What I am alluding to (and I think Wei was too) is some sort of moral standard of behavior or conduct, a defining of right and wrong, written deep within humanity’s heart.
Here in North America, the most glaring example of original rights being violated and denied is abortion, the government-sanctioned killing of millions of unborn children. If life begins at conception (and there has never really been any doubt about that) then the right to life exists from life’s origin.
Civilized and compassionate societies, ones that truly believe in universal human rights, must support women in crisis pregnancies so that they will give life to their babies, and never participate in abortion. Abortion is a crime against tiny human beings, and against the human community.
“Original rights” come from God, not legislatures or courts. If that weren’t true then governments and courts could simply legislate these rights away—and many have tried. But there is a higher law written in the heart of humanity. Which is why abortion has never been accepted even though Roe v. Wade is over four decades old.
It has been nearly 20 years since Wei issued his human-rights statement. As far as I can tell, he still believes what he said, and all that it implied. Original rights belong to everyone but the oppressors and deniers of life are still on the prowl.
 Wei Jingsheng, “Handful of Pennies” http://weijingsheng.org/doc/en/A%20handful%20of%20pennies.html
 Quoted in Perry Miller, editor, The Legal Mind in America (New York: Doubleday, 1962), p. 178.
 Historia Placitorium Coronae, ed. Sollom Emlyn (1736). Also in Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, iv, 1765.