Donnelly Chapter 7
HR and “Asian Values”
In the 1990’s debates arose from Asian leaders and intellects who
argued that culturally based differences justified substantial deviations
from standard interpretations of international human rights norms.
1. Sovereignty and International HR
Sovereignty is a standard ground for rejecting international HR
standards. “The rights of each country to formulate its own policies on
HR protection in light of its own conditions should be respected and
guaranteed.” This would subordinate HR to the competing rights and
values of sovereignty (HR secondary to sovereignty).
• Sovereignty is an important condition for rights protective
regimes (think colonialism), but it is not a sufficient condition.
Sovereignty alone does little to address internal HR protection
• Rights abusive regimes often hide behind the criticism of
sovereignty to draw attention away from their rights violations
• “it would seem that Asians have no right to define and practice
their own set of values about HR” that is true for all countries,
not just Asian.
o Authoritative international HR norms govern internationally
defensible definitions of HR
o UDHR is not distinctly western since all countries party to
the charter accept it
2. The Demands of Development
It is argued that systematic infringements of HR are necessary and
justifiable or desirable to achieve rapid economic development.
• There is nothing distinctly Asian about this argument; the
sacrifice of civil and political rights to economic development has
been a mainstay of dictatorships of various kinds in all regions.
• Short-term sacrifice of economic and social rights to
development has been a stable of capitalist development
strategies and is part of the new orthodoxy preached (and
imposed) by the IMF and other western dominated international
• Trade-off arguments appeal to universal development
imperatives that override both culture and HR. • Violations of HR for economic development must be kept to a
minimum in number, duration, and severity.
3. Economic and Social Rights
• Developmental perspectives focus on production
o Economic and social rights are concerned with the
distribution of goods, services, and opportunities, which
must be guaranteed to every person even when pursuing
the most noble social goals.
4. Individuals and Society
This argument centers on the claim that Western HR practices reflect a
corrosive, hedonistic individualism that gives inadequate attention to
social duties and is incompatible with traditional values and with any
plausible conception of human dignity and decency
Mahathir argues that “governments, according to the liberal
democrats, cannot in any way act against the personal wishes of the
individual in society… incest to them is not wrong… if that is what is
desired by the individuals.”…. Total misconception
• There are no absolute rights and freedoms in the world.
Individual rights and freedoms must be subjected to the
requirements and p