On the Grand Opening of
Florida State University's Center for
the Advancement of Human Rights
Tallahassee, Florida, March 22, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honor to be here tonight, on this Grand Opening Day of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. It is also our great pleasure to come back to our Alma Mater. Thirsty years ago, in 1971, my wife and I, we both graduated from FSU. Right about this time, the end of March 1971, we left FSU and the United States, together with our little boy, to go home, to our beloved country, Vietnam. We could never forget the time we spent in the United States, studying at FSU, although it was not a long period of time –only four years for me and three years for my wife. I remember when we left FSU thirty years ago, FSU began its new phase of development. In some fields of study, like higher education and physics, our university was already recognized as one of the top twenty institutions of higher learning in the United States. Nowadays, when we come back to the United States, everywhere we go we hear of FSU. We are proud of our Alma Mater –proud of its Seminoles team, although even until now, I still can not understand why Americans are so crazy about football. But we are mostly proud of FSU’s academic achievements. It has become internationally recognized as one of the best universities in the United States. It has extension programs in many countries. I am informed that Vietnam is also among its extension programs. This is a visionary plan in light of the present revival of American interest in Asia-Pacific in general, and in Vietnam in particular.
Vietnam is not new to the Americans. In fact, Vietnam has become a significant part of the American internationalism in the post-second world war era. Young Americans of today may not have any idea of what happened to their parents almost half a century ago. Vietnamese and Americans who involved, willingly or not, in the war in Vietnam, may disagree with the way the war was handled. But few people would argue against the American involvement in Southeast Asia and in Vietnam, as well as around the world, unless they uphold isolationism, which I believe, has become obsolete in the perspectives of globalization. I myself have a vivid memory of this critical period in the American and Vietnamese history.
I came to the United States the first time in 1966. At that time I was a high school teacher. I was sent by our Ministry of Education, together with another official of the Ministry, to the United States to observe extra-curriculum activities in American high schools. We made an observation tour around America for three months. This was my first personal experience of the American society and the American way of life. I had some mixed feelings during this first American trip. I was amazed by the beauty of Nature everywhere we went, from Niagara Fall to Grand Canyon. But my Asian cultural personality reacted negatively to the industrialized way of life. I did not feel comfortable in the cities, especially in such big cities as New York and Chicago, or even Tokyo, one of the first Asian industrialized cities. Life there was so impersonalized, and yet, rather individualistic. People moved on the streets in such a fast, busy and impersonal way that no one seems to exist in a very crowded mob. I had this feeling one day on the street of New York when someone hit my shoulder. I heard him or her saying, “Excuse me” but saw no one. He or she passed me in a hurry and left no human trace. Some days after that, I had another strange experience in the subway. The train came and went by so fast. People had only about half a minute to rush into the train, with half a goodbye left unsaid, and half a kiss untouched. I felt so painful in my sensitive heart, a feeling of alienation. I understood why the American young people at that time formed social protest groups and demanded a new set of values.
When I came back one year later in 1967 to study I discovered another America –the America of new ideas, initiatives, innovation; the America of youth, dynamics and openness. I realized that what I believed since my young age was proved here in reality in America; that human beings are equal in their potential but unequal as a consequence of social inequality and injustice; that no one should be judged because of his or her background, race, opinions and faith; and that no one, no matter how powerful and strong he or she might be, has the right to deprive others of their natural aspiration of liberty, progress and happiness.
I was impressed with what I learned and saw right here on this campus thirty years ago. The learning environment on campus was free and stimulating. But more important, the living environment was always challenging. Free speech was openly and naturally accepted and respected. Anti-war demonstrations happened peacefully almost every week. I observed with amazement and admiration the Governor of Florida who came to dialogue with the student demonstrators on the lawn in front of the library. He disagreed with the students and the students argued against him, vigorously but peacefully and in mutual respect. I understood why America is strong and rich. The governed was not afraid of the governor, and the governor respects the right of the governed to challenge his leadership and accountability. Liberty, democracy and the rule of law should become social norms to make a person’s potential develop into capacity, and to turn mankind’s dream of happiness into reality for every body, and not only for the few powerful and privileged.
Thirty years have passed since my first American experience. Now we are at the threshold of the New Millennium. Mankind has achieved tremendous progress and the world has changed from a bipolar cold war era to a new world order. A global community is emerging in a global multicultural and multiracial environment. Progress in the areas of communication and transportation are narrowing down the world and brought people of different races and different opinions closer together. Social mobility in developed countries ha been turned into global mobility which stimulates development and progress all over the globe, breaking closed and stagnant societies. Global mobility has also opened the way for globalization of all events and issues across national borders, turning the world into a non-frontier global society in a very near future. Both progress and impediments belong to all people, all nations regardless of their origin and nature. All people share the same joy of achievements and advances, and bear the same responsibility of backwardness and injustice. Knowledge and progress belong to all people and not to one single nation, neither to the West nor to the East. And more important, the shape of the world has changed profoundly since the 1970’s. Mankind has moved from the conflicting relationship –dominating vs. dominated-- to the cooperating interaction, to pave the way to the new millennium characterized by the trend of stability, harmony and mutual assistance. The world will no longer be the world of any single superpower, but rather the world of all nations and all people. This is the perspective that is widely opened to all of us, Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. This is the bright side of the future of the world.
The black side of the future is also challenging us. In spite of tremendous progress and development, more than half of the world population is still living in poverty, injustice and various types of violence. Social and natural environment is polluted and unsafe for a normal and peaceful life. Billions of people are still deprived of happiness, liberty and dignity. After half a century being promulgated, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nowadays in its urgent need of being implemented to all people in all nations.
Human rights issues must be tackled in the context of both perspective vision and stimulating challenges. We must have a common road map with the common goal of giving birth to a new humanistic civilization beneficial to the entire mankind. On this international human rights road map I believe that we should pay attention to three global problems.
First, by means of both philosophical and scientific methodology, we shall conceptualize the nature of Human Being per se and the nature of the interaction between Human Being on the one side and Nature and Society on the other. This process of conceptualization in fact has been materialized, both peacefully and violently, through actual multi-racial, multi-cultural exchanges and interaction between nations and people in the last three centuries. We are now at the new stage in this process, in which we realize the duality of being a human being. Mankind is uniform as a living specie, differing from Nature and other living species, and yet pluralistic within itself as cultures and people. Mankind is both unity and diversity, or to put it in a better way, unity in diversity. The awareness of the dualistic nature of being human will open to us a new way of dealing with the present human rights issues around the world. It sets up a philosophical common ground of actions for all persons concerned of promoting human rights in all nations. I find on this philosophical common ground at least two main components, determination and compassion. Determination to break all barriers and obstacles in our effort of advancing human rights; and compassion to touch the mind and hearts of all people of social strata, to bring hope out of desperation, involvement out of passivity, to make human rights natural rights, normally accepted in common men’s daily life.
Second, a global community is emerging, and a global way of life is formulating everywhere around the world. This brings up the need for common standards of living, common set of values for all people, white and colored, Western and Eastern. These standards and values are common criteria affecting every and all aspects of a global life regardless of differences in cultures, and races. Numerous international seminars and conferences have been held to discuss about these global human values and standards. A global society requires a global code of morality and legal stipulation to make global life worthy of Humanity different from both nature and animals.
And thirdly, a global society demands an international agenda and mechanism to promote Human Morality, to build up a global community of prosperity, compassion and peace. International actions and relations should be carried out in such a way that will benefit all nations, and open the ways for all people to participate in shaping up the global society and global life. International cooperation plays a decisive role in eliminating all types of oppression and violations of human rights. In this perspective, the international community is making great efforts to reform the United Nations and other international organs. These organizations and institutions should represent the interests of all people, all nations, and play a more active and more effective role in promoting a humane life for all people on this globe.
I have just tried to summarize the three major global problems which I believe human rights advocates should pay attention to. Human rights issues can not be solved separately from the global cultural, economic and political environment. The international human rights conference in Vienna in June 1993 has confirmed a close relationship between human rights, democracy and development. From the prison in Vietnam at that time, with the help of my prisoner friends, I sent out my remarks, strongly supporting this viewpoint. I stated that democracy is both the condition and the result of respect of human rights. No human rights can be safeguarded without civil rights, and no democracy can exist when civil rights and human rights are violated. On the other hand, civil rights and human rights are hardly protected in a poor and underdeveloped country where people do not have even the most basic economic necessaries and safety. Economic development creates the conditions and favorable environment for the promotion of human rights and democracy. At the same time, democracy and respect of civil and human rights bring about equal opportunities to all people to develop their potentials and initiatives, and to eliminate negative factors of development such as bureaucracy, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability of governance. I agree with Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen when he emphasizes that democracy is the factor, and not the result, of development.
The dynamic and interactive relationship between human rights, democracy and development has also become a strong drive in the present movement for human rights and democracy in my own country, Vietnam. Vietnam is on the process of integrating into the global community. In this perspective, the present movement for human rights and democracy in Vietnam is also integrating into the international human rights movement. This is an irreversible trend. No matter who and what political party will be in power, Vietnam will develop into a free and democratic country where every person will share the same responsibility and the same benefit of justice, liberty and prosperity. I call upon you, on this Grande Opening Day of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, to help develop a better Vietnam, a Vietnam of liberty, democracy and progress for all Vietnamese people regardless of differences in faith and opinions. Together we will work to overcome the past, change the present and build up the future to make this world better and more humane for every person, Vietnamese and American.
Thank you for your attention.