Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 1 (Spring 1994): Human Rights in the Post-Cold War Era: Articles: In Conclusion

May 4, 1994

In the post-Cold War era, human rights have claimed a prominent place in foreign relations, as governments are finding that disagreements over human rights bear significantly on the overall health of their relationships. Ill-conceived international pressure on a particular country tends to breed contempt within that country, which sees its sovereignty threatened. Much of the disagreement appears to be over the implementation of human rights rather than the human rights concepts themselves.

Leaders in developing countries in Asia and elsewhere maintain that controls on individuals are necessitated by the genuine constraints that they face, so that the imposition of economic sanctions and other conditionalities only exacerbate the problem. This argument has found some sympathy in the West and, in certain cases, among Asian NGOs. Indeed, tradeoffs and value choices must be made. The ethical questions arise when the provision of basic needs is perceived by policymakers as only attainable at the expense of individual freedom. Furthermore, the place of cultural arguments in human rights discourse has yet to be fully appreciated, as their misuse perpetuates miscommunication and acrimony.

Clearly there is a very real need for improved dialogue and positive research on human rights that address the fundamental causes of misunderstanding. This report deals especially with what the international human rights community can and should do to promote human rights in Asia. Yet in doing so it also describes some of those areas where new work can begin. We hope it will spur further study and encourage a much-needed public debate on human rights in this rapidly developing region of the world.

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