Thick and Thin Accounts of Human Rights: Lessons from the Asian Values Debate
The debate on Asian values and human rights has been going on for a few years. Perhaps it is now time to raise these questions: What are the important issues in the debate? What have we learnt? Let me first mention some issues of debate in order to set them aside-these issues are politically important but philosophically uncontroversial. Some Western governments have accused a few Asian governments of gross violation of human rights. In response, these Asian governments challenged their counterparts as guilty of double standards, hypocrisy, and even imperialistic domination. Unfortunately, both kinds of accusation seem to have justifiable grounds, and none of them can silence the other. So Western governments can go on denouncing Asian governments’ appalling human rights records and their excuses until they have shown significant improvements, and similarly Asian governments can continue to challenge the hypocrisy and covert political agenda behind the human rights diplomacy of some Western governments. Political controversies of this kind would probably persist in the international scene, but they, in themselves, cannot give rise to much philosophical dispute and debate.