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Cultural Sources of Human Rights in East Asia: Consensus Building Toward a Rights Regime
Examining "cultural sources" is not about seeing whether Eastern cultural traditions fit with the concept of human rights as understood in the West, but rather of an "unforced consensus," expanding an area of consensus on norms while allowing room for disagreement.
The Validity of a Cultural Approach to Human Rights
Culture is an integral part of any human rights question. Workshop participants examined human rights practices in different East Asian contexts and their convergence and divergence from international standards.
A Proposal for an "Unforced Consensus"
How do we go about identifying cultural norms from which we can begin to develop an "unforced consensus" on human rights that is sensitive to varying cultural norms?
Sources of Human Rights in Asian Cultures
The Buddhist duty of avihimsa (nonviolence); the importance Islam places on umma (community) and equality before God; and Confucian ren (humanity) each lead to ethical norms that can form the basis of human rights.
Textual interpretation, when applied to cultural sources of human rights, becomes a question of power. Who interprets these texts? Who decides whether the interpretations are legitimate or deviant? The answer directly affects the lives of human beings.
Building on the Existing International Human Rights Regime
Even as they seek to construct a framework that takes into account non-Western cultures, both Onuma's intercivilizational approach and An-Na im's "cultural mediation" of human rights build upon, rather than reject, existing international standards.
Conclusion: Asian Contributions to Human Rights
Proposals for widening consensus on norms will be of little value if mechanisms are not in place to enforce compliance. Time constraints at the workshop allowed only superficial treatment of this topic, addressed at the next workshop, in October 1996.