China-Africa and the South-South Human Rights Forum (SSHRF)

Beijing held the second edition of the South-South Human Rights Forum (SSHRF) in December 2019. What’s striking to most China-Africa observers is of course the similarities between this forum and what we have been observing from the many editions of FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation). Whereas the first edition of the SSHRF mostly articulated the contours and critiques of Western notions of Human Rights, the main focus of the Second SSHRF was framing the debate on Human Rights around the Right of Development. Meaning putting the Right to social and economic development at the center of the concept of Human Rights and above political human rights.

Director of Political Affairs of Kenya’s Jubilee Party, Mr. Kadara Swaleh spoke with CGTN about his impressions from attending the Forum. Mr. Swaleh stated that there are many lessons for Kenya to learn from China’s development-centered Human Rights model. He also criticized the double standards of Western powers abusing Human Rights (of minority groups within and outside of their own societies) while calling out China on its human rights performance. Here is the full conversation (starting around minute 14).

Here is a quick overview of the African government official presence at the Forum. 27 government officials from 23 countries

Country Representation  
Burkina Faso Director General of Division of Promotion of Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion
Republic of BurundiSpokesman for the President 
Cameroon  Director General of Department of Asian and Oceanian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
CameroonMinisterial Representative of Ministry of Foreign Affairs
ChadDirector General for Department of Human Rights, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights
ComorosMember of National Human Rights Commission
Djibouti Commissary Reporter of National Human Rights Commission 
Democratic Republic of CongoFormer Chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate
Ethiopia Director for China Affairs in Asia and Pacific Affairs Directorate General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
EritreaAmbassador of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Gabon Member of the National Committee of the Democratic PartyResearch Fellow of the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Justice
Guinea Specialist of Human Rights Affairs, Director of Cabinet of Ministry of Mines and Geology
Kenya Director of Political Affairs, Jubilee Party of Kenya (The Ruling Party)
MoroccoSecretary of Foreign Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mozambique Exec Dir Joaquim Chissano Foundation, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
Senior Director of National Commission of Human RightsPresident of National Commission of Human Rights
Nigeria First Secretary of the International Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Republic of the Congo The Secretary General of the Cabinet of the 2nd Vice-President of the National Commission of the Human Rights
Sierra Leone Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission  
South AfricaConsultant of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Research Fellow of Stellenbosch University
South Sudan Director General of Human Rights Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
Tanzania Tanzania Permanent Secretary General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East Africa CooperationFirst Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East Africa 
TogoPresident of Human Rights Committee
Tunisia Vice President of the Tunisian Human Rights League 
Collected by author from this source:

There were also several academics from African institutions (from Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia) and a few journalists/media experts invited. Delegations were taken around touring Shanghai and Hangzhou among other places. A practice we see in China-Africa professionalization training invitations. Showcasing China’s development success story is the best way to make the Chinese model attractive to visiting government elite delegations.

Michael Njunga Mulikita, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Zambia’s Mulungushi University, expressed strong support of China-led “Right to Development” encouraging all African countries to create more synergies with China. 

Andrea Worden compiled a list of reactions/impressions of SSHRF participants on China’s leadership on human rights for the Global South as reported in Chinese Party-state media. See here for the article.

Whether CPC’s Forum Diplomacy choice as a medium for these conversations is about network-building, winning hearts and minds, some modality of power (soft, sharp, smart), home-based diplomacy (or a combination of all), two conclusions stand out. First, Forum Diplomacy has become a trademark of China’s foreign policy in the Global South. Second, the more Global North governments rush to have their version of Forum Diplomacy (with Africa, South America, or elsewhere) the more they prove to be socialized in China-led standard operating procedures for diplomacy, international development, etc.

Author: Lina Benabdallah, Ph.d.

Lina Benabdallah is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wake Forest University.

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