chapter  7
25 Pages

Modernization without Westernization? Asian Values and Human Rights Discourse in East and West

Human rights as a system of ideas goes back considerably in time and its roots can be found not only in modern history, primarily associated with the Enlightenment, but prototypical elements can be found as far back as in European antique philosophy.1 Interestingly, attempts have been made at investigating the compatibility of human rights with the classic texts of other cultures, for example Confucianism.2 However, human rights as we know them today are inextricably bound to the emergence and proliferation of international organizations and to the growing regulation of interactions among states by international legal treaties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the following Covenants are part and parcel of an irreversible trend towards legal regulation of inter-and intrastate relations by third-party organizations such as the United Nations. While many treaties are uncontroversial, the International Bill of Human Rights, as the above instruments are commonly known, has been beset by controversy almost from day one. For most of the post-World-War-II period, controversies revolved around East-West tensions rooted in the competing ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union which resulted in separate treaties on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights. With the entry of the developing nations, controversy has turned on the precise nature of the right to development and what obligations this right entails on the part of Northern governments. In the 1990s, controversies have raged on the distinctiveness of cultures and their implications for the universality of human rights.