Case Study: ASIAN VALUES
- Malaysia's Prime Minister has challenged the notion that
human rights are universal. He believes the UDHR's emphasis
on an individual's rights rather than responsibilities to
the community makes it unsuited to Asia.
- Many voices from within Asia disagree.
The Vienna Declaration of 1993 stated: "All human rights
are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated...
While the significance of national and regional peculiarities
and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must
be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their
political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect
all human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The concept of 'Asian values' is the most sustained
attack on the notion of universality pointing at differences
in values and traditions between East and West. Advocates stress
the importance of social harmony and claim that for developing
countries social and economic rights are more important than
civil or political rights.
On the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights in 1998 the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad proposed a review of the declaration claiming
that human rights were culturally relative.
He argued that the declaration was a Western
imposition on Asian societies, which ignored Asian values and
therefore hampered development.
The leading promoters of 'Asian values', Mahathir
and Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's Senior Minister, describe the
primary Asian value as the belief that obligations to society
and the rights of the wider community are more important than
the rights of the individual.
Critics of the 'Asian values' concept refute the idea that a
common set of distinctively Asian principles exists, given Asia's
immense cultural, religious and political diversity. Former
President of Singapore Devan Nair has stated 'Human rights and
values are universal by any standard, and their violation anywhere
is a grievous offence to men and women everywhere'.
Asians such as Aung San Suu Kyi the Burmese
pro-democracy campaigner, Kim Dae Jung President of South Korea
and Wei Jingsheng a political dissident expelled from China
have also argued that human rights and freedoms are universal.
They argue the debate is not so much about
cultural values, but political power and Asian values quickly
become an excuse for authoritarianism, as it is generally the
state that decides an individual's obligations to the community.
Article 30 reiterates the indivisibility (or equal importance)
of all the rights set out in the UDHR.