About the Human Rights Initiative

Human Rights Dialogue 1.2 (Fall 1995): "About the Human Rights Initiative"

September 4, 1995

By way of carefully orchestrated workshops, project participants from Japan, China and Taiwan, Korea, ASEAN, Indochina, and the United States are together analyzing the realities within countries that give rise to competing conceptions of human rights. The meetings are not designed to impose a particular point of view; rather, they are opportunities for constructive dialogue and scholarly exploration of the realities of human rights across cultures. As a basis for this dialogue, the Council is commissioning research papers on specific topics that underscore competing conceptions of human rights as they relate to policy. Keeping the focus on national rather than international conditions, the project emphasizes empirical data on project countries. In the end, based on a better understanding of the aspirations of the people within individual countries, the project will attempt to develop a refined blueprint for human rights and civil society and a more effective means of transnational implementation of human rights norms in East Asia.

The first of three workshops was held on June 23-26, 1995 in Hakone, Japan. Entitled "Changing Conceptions of Human Rights in a Growing East Asia," the workshop assembled over thirty Asian and American social scientists and practitioners to analyze the conceptual fault lines of the debate.

Ambassador Nobuo Matsunaga, Japan s representative to the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights and the president of JIIA, opened with his views on the relationship between international diplomacy and human rights. A series of panels followed on such issues as human rights as welfare rights, human rights and stability, and human rights and national security.

Participants at the workshop drew special attention to the relevance of culture to human rights. At the heart of this issue is the question of how human rights are given meaning and prioritized in different contexts and how cultural differences affect the claim of universality. The second workshop, "Cultural Sources of Human Rights in Asia," to be held in Bangkok, Thailand on March 25–27, 1996, will be devoted to a deeper exploration of this subject and to the possibility of an "intercivilizational" concept of human rights. A report of the workshop is available and can be obtained through the Carnegie Council. The project is funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the United States Institute of Peace.