Human Rights Dialogue 1.7 (Winter 1996): "New Issues in East Asian Human Rights"
December 5, 1996
This is part of 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.
Does globalization suggest "forced modernization"—based on industrial-oriented growth and the rule of law and democracy? If so, will homogenization of institutions and practices ineluctably lead to the homogenization of culture, resulting in one secular, individualistic society? The outcome of the workshop suggests that the interaction between local cultures, local power structures, and globalization can lead to the cultural exchange and reflection needed to produce, in Charles Taylor's words, "more than one modernity." Therefore, one of the challenges for international human rights is a greater understanding of the dynamics of changing power structures and values within Asian societies. This analysis, said Chandra Muzzafar, is necessary "to shed light on dynamics central to the [human rights] debate: individual and community, rights and responsibilities, authority and freedom, and the relationships between them."
The discussion of new issues in East Asian human rights suggests the pitfalls of conceiving rights too much as a "universal, indivisible, and interdependent" package born of the desire in the immediate post–Cold War era to patch up old divisions. While attesting to the importance and increasing prominence of rights language and logic, the workshop raised salient social problems whose complexity challenges static conceptualizations of indivisibility and universality. Furthermore, while globalization has unleashed many of the new human rights claims and abuses, it also has created an impetus for the reevaluation of local cultures, weakening particularistic cultural claims to exemption from human rights practices.
As we move into the twenty-first century and the Cold War fades into history, a political space appears to have opened for greater reflection on the language and logic of rights embedded in international instruments. There is before us the potential to broaden the rights discourse and strengthen rights implementation by acknowledging crosscutting rights issues and the diverse cultural contexts of East Asia and beyond.