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This volume reports on the Carnegie Council's workshop "New Issues in East Asian Human Rights," held at Seoul National University in Korea from October 2–5, 1996. Eight commissioned papers covering some of the many emerging issues in the East Asian human rights discourse framed the workshop discussions. Authors, many of whom are both academic and activist, selected their topics based on what they felt to be the most politically salient economic and social concerns in their countries or the region in general. The topics chosen—the treatment of migrant workers, the plight of indigenous peoples, prostitution, discrimination against minority populations—suggest a new emphasis on social, cultural, and economic rights in the region's human rights discourse.
This issue of Dialogue is a report of the Carnegie Council's workshop, "New Issues in East Asian Human Rights," held at Seoul National University in Korea from October 2-5, 1996. Over 35 prominent scholars and activists from East Asia and North America participated in this third workshop of a multiyear study series on "The Growth of East Asia and Its Impact on Human Rights." The workshop was hosted by the Seoul National University Faculty Caucus for Social Justice.
Following is a report of the Seoul meeting prepared by Tonya Cook, program officer for Studies at the Carnegie Council and Kevin Tan, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and a participant in all three workshops of the Human Rights Initiative.
Introduction: New Issues in East Asian Human Rights
The topics chosen—the treatment of migrant workers, the plight of indigenous peoples, prostitution, discrimination against minority populations—suggest a new emphasis on social, cultural, and economic rights in the region's human rights discourse.
The Appropriateness of Rights Language
At the workshop, the language and logic of the indivisibility of rights—as expressed at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna—fell victim to the realities of competing rights claims that cannot be simultaneously implemented.
Balancing Rights, Duties, and Underlying Values
In their reluctance to unconditionally embrace rights language and logic, some participants turned to the concepts of duty and responsibility, which are commonly believed to be deeply embedded in East Asian cultures.
Globalization and Its Impact on Rights Consciousness
While economic growth can assist the progressive implementation of some social rights such as education, it also tends to generate new abuses, such as poor working conditions and prohibitions against organized labor.
Identity, Recognition, and Group Rights
The threat of either homogenization or "forced multiculturalism" posed by globalization has fueled crises of identity, the politics of difference, and struggles for recognition. Indigenous peoples are demanding recognition and poliferation of minority claims throughout East Asia.
The Role of Cultural Reflection
Relative to globalization and development imperatives, renewed reflection on cultural traditions played a lesser, or not clearly delineated, role as the impetus for emerging rights issues in Thailand.
Shifting Responsibility: State and Nonstate Actors
When the factors of social disintegration deny the realization of particular rights to an individual or collective, who in a given society is expected to fill the void? Is it the individual, the family, the local community, the school, the religious institution, or the state?
Challenges to and Prospects for Implementation
What can human rights proponents do when victims, say prostitutes, see their work not so much as a violation of their dignity—let alone a violation of their rights—but rather as a duty to their family? How can their rights be protected when they do not view them as rights?
- For more information on these conferences, see Daniel A. Bell, "The East Asian Challenge to Human Rights: Reflections on an East West Dialogue," in Human Rights Quarterly, and Human Rights Dialogue, Vol. 5, June 1996.
- Foremost among them is Louis Henkin s book entitled The Age of Rights (New York: Columbia University Press), 1990.
- For a detailed discussion of the concept, see Charles Taylor, "Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights," paper prepared for the Bangkok workshop.
- A complete list of papers and authors, as well as workshop participants and their affiliations, can be found in the insert
- For more on this, see Philip Alston, "Conjuring Up New Human Rights: A Proposal for Quality Control," in the American Journal of International Law, Vol. 78..
- See William F. Felice, Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights (Albany: State University of New York Press), 1996.
- For a discussion of development aggression see Human Rights Forum, Vol. VI, July-December 1996, PHILRIGHTS.
- See Jack Donnelly, "Rethinking Human Rights," in Current History, November 1996, p. 387-391.
- See Kevin Tan, "Human Rights in East Asia: Development in Legal Reform in Singapore, Taiwan, and the PRC," prepared for the Hakone workshop.
- Most notably, Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch in "The Impact of Asian Economic Growth on Human Rights" Asia Project Working Paper, Council on Foreign Relations, January, 1995; and Amartya Sen, in "Human Rights and Economic Achievements," paper prepared for the Hakone workshop.
- This was the theme of a public lecture by Charles Taylor at Seoul National University, October 2, 1996.
- Craig Reynolds, "A Nineteenth Century Thai Buddhist Defense of Polygamy and Some Remarks of the Social History of Women in Thailand," a paper prepared for the Seventh Conference of the International Association of Asia, Bangkok, August 22–26, 1977.
- For more discussion, see Human Rights Dialogue, "Cultural Sources of Human Rights in East Asia: Consensus Building Towards a Rights Regime," Vol. 5, June 1996.