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Negotiating Culture and Human Rights

Negotiating Culture and Human Rights

Lynda S. Bell
Andrew J. Nathan
Ilan Peleg
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    Negotiating Culture and Human Rights
    Book Description:

    Negotiating Culture and Human Rights provides a new interdisciplinary approach to issues of cultural values and universal human rights. Central to the discussion is the "Asian values debate," so named because of the culturally relativist ideals embraced by some key Asian governments. By analyzing how cultural difference and human rights operate in theory and practice in such areas as legal equality, women's rights, and ethnicity, the contributors forge a new way of looking at these critical issues. They call their approach "chastened universalism," arguing that respect for others' values need not lead to sterile, relativist views. Ultimately the authors conclude that it is less important to discover pre-existing common values across cultures than to create them through dialogue and debate

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53409-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Part 1. Human Rights and the Asian Values Debate

    • Introduction: Culture and Human Rights
      (pp. 3-20)
      Lynda S. Bell, Andrew J. Nathan and Ilan Peleg

      The devastating human atrocities of World War II produced a major international commitment to the concept and practice of “universal human rights.” This commitment was demonstrated in 1948, with the United Nations’ adoption of the “Universal Declaration on Human Rights” and the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Although these documents were negotiated among most of the then-existing states, from all regions of the world, the following decades were characterized by conflictual approaches to rights, with Western states supporting civic, political, and individual rights, and Socialist states championing socioeconomic and collective rights. Since the end...

    • 1 Who Produces Asian Identity? Discourse, Discrimination, and Chinese Peasant Women in the Quest for Human Rights
      (pp. 21-42)
      Lynda S. Bell

      As a social historian of modern China, professionally trained in the study of another culture, I have viewed skeptically the efforts ofWesterners to promote human rights in the non-Western world. My purpose in this chapter is to unravel my skepticism, and in the process to suggest new ways to think about promoting rights that stem from ethnographic and historical study. To realize greater social justice on an international scale, activists and intellectuals must take culture seriously, but not in the totalizing, undifferentiated way in which some leaders of non-Western nations have used it as a trump card in the Asian...

  6. Part 2. Culturally Informed Arguments for Universal Human Rights

    • 2 Getting Beyond Cross-Talk: Why Persisting Disagreements Are Philosophically Nonfatal
      (pp. 45-67)
      Michael G. Barnhart

      It is an intellectual commonplace that cultures differ with regard to basic values. By “basic,” I mean those values that establish our sense of identity and purpose in life and are expressed in fundamental choices, if they are choices, of religion, lifestyle, and political and social affiliation. Living an orthodox Muslim life, a secularWestern-European life, or a Native American tribal life are considerably different—different enough that anthropologists, those who make it their business to study such differences, prefer the metaphors “world” and “world view” to dramatize the enormity of the gaps.

      Philosophically, however, one is tempted to ask how...

    • 3 Western Defensiveness and the Defense of Rights: A Communitarian Alternative
      (pp. 68-95)
      Kenneth E. Morris

      If the response of the human rights community to the “Asian values” debate is a reliable indicator, human rights are in more trouble than is generally recognized. For striking about this response was its failure to make a positive case for rights. “Liberal critics . . . devoted their efforts to refuting Asian states’ claims,” notes Joseph Chan (1996), instead of “substantiating and determining the scope of international human rights law.” So, for example, Sharon Hom’s (1996) rebuttal to Singapore apologist Bilahari Kausikan (1993, 1995–96, 1997) fails to mention that a positive case for rights might also be made....

    • 4 Rights Hunting in Non-Western Traditions
      (pp. 96-122)
      Steven J. Hood

      In their effort to secure human rights while still preserving cultural identities, scholars have engaged in a hunt for notions of rights in non-Western traditions. I argue that such a quest is misdirected. Human rights, as currently understood in international law, are ideas rooted in the Western philosophical tradition. Using the examples of Confucianism and Islam, I suggest that they lack the philosophical foundations for a full-fledged concept of rights. The Confucian and Islamic traditions do, however, contain ideas of civic virtues like tolerance, compromise, and civility, which support good government. I conclude that non-Western thinkers must adopt rights theory...

  7. Part 3. Human Rights Law and Its Limits

    • 5 How a Liberal Jurist Defends the Bangkok Declaration
      (pp. 125-152)
      Michael W. Dowdle

      Human rights are inherently universal and inalienable. By vesting in humans, human rights vest in everyone, and hence are universal. And since they vest in humans by virtue of our humanity, society can never gain authority to recall or curtail their application, hence they are inalienable. For many, probably most, in the human rights community, this has been interpreted as meaning that one may not take cultural or other forms of situational specifics into account when deciding what political actions are acceptable within the human rights regime (see, e.g., Ayton-Shenker 1995, Donnelly 1985; see also Harries 1997; see generally Steiner...

    • 6 Are Women Human? The Promise and Perils of “Women’s Rights as Human Rights”
      (pp. 153-196)
      Lucinda Joy Peach

      “In no society today do women enjoy the same opportunities as men” (United Nations 1995b:1). By and large, women around the globe have fewer resources and opportunities than men, who control the vast majority of the world’s wealth and power. Women around the world are impoverished in greater proportion than men; they have less access to food, money, education, health care, and so on, than men; and they are at greater risk of harm from poverty, starvation, domestic violence, rape, and other sexual crimes (Seager 1997). As Robin Morgan explains: “Because virtually all existing countries are structured by patriarchal mentality,...

    • 7 Repositioning Human Rights Discourse on “Asian” Perspectives
      (pp. 197-214)
      Sharon K. Hom

      Within multiple global power configurations mapped along developed/developing countries, and North/South divide, ongoing statist “Asian” human rights debates predominantly line up on an East/West axis, characterized by competing universalism and relativism as core oppositional normative and empirical claims. The Western understanding of universal human rights generally references and emphasizes a vision of civil and political rights shaped by a liberal Western tradition. The challenge of East Asian states to this understanding of human rights has cultural, political, and economic dimensions. Underlying the charges of Western cultural imperialism is a post-colonialist legacy, and a suspicion that assertions of Western universal human...

  8. Part 4. Rights Discourse and Power Relations

    • 8 Human Rights and the Discourse on Universality: A Chinese Historical Perspective
      (pp. 217-241)
      Xiaoqun Xu

      Since the Tiananmen Square incident on June 4, 1989, and the end of the Cold War, the issue of human rights has been a matter of contention in the relationship between China and the West, especially the United States. The Chinese government has argued that the human rights standards the West uses to measure non-Western countries are derived from Western history and culture and not necessarily applicable to and workable in those societies. To criticize the practices in non-Western countries while employing the Western model would reflect the attempt of the West (especially the U.S.) to impose its own values...

    • 9 Jihad Over Human Rights, Human Rights as Jihad: Clash of Universals
      (pp. 242-257)
      Farhat Haq

      Among the more powerful aggregates of contemporary vocabulary is the West. The term evokes an image of strength and superiority. It presupposes the notion of uniform geographic entity, encompassing numerous ethnic and social substrata. Privileged by historical development, it created and then dominated the modern era. It is ranked over and above but also over and against all others who are labeled, and also libeled, as “non-Western” (Lawrence 1989:41). Some in the West have portrayed Islamic resistance to universal human rights as part of a jihad against the West. In the Islamic world, some have portrayed theWestern promotion of Human...

    • 10 Universalization of the Rejection of Human Rights: Russia’s Case
      (pp. 258-302)
      Dmitry Shlapentokh

      There is no doubt that there is a notion of “human rights,” i.e., the basic preconditions of human existence which exist regardless of the political culture and the time. As a matter of fact, these are the preconditions of the survival of any living creature. These basic human rights include food, shelter, and concern for health and personal safety. The lack of these rights has been a concern of the human species from the dawn of its existence.

      From this perspective, there are human rights which are indeed universal. Yet when present-day political scientists use the term they have a...

    • 11 Ethnicity and Human Rights in Contemporary Democracies: Israel and Other Cases
      (pp. 303-333)
      Ilan Peleg

      Over the past quarter century we have witnessed an undeniable, persistent process of democratization in the world. This process began in Southern Europe in the 1970s (Greece, Portugal, Spain), spread to South and Central America, and then to Eastern Europe, Africa, the former Soviet Union, and finally Asia. The main form of the democratization process has been the institutionalization of general and free elections in countries which traditionally did not have them. Yet, many of the new democracies—as well as some of the old ones—did not adopt, in law or in practice, the liberal principles of respect to...

    • 12 Walking Two Roads: Reading Human Rights in Contemporary Chinese Fiction
      (pp. 334-346)
      Tomas N. Santos

      Literary realism bears a tenuous relationship to life. As literature, it is mere representation, a facsimile of life; yet, in its capacity to share experience, it seeks to be life. In the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where literary practice is entangled with the party bureaucracy, writers have had little freedom and, at best, few guidelines. No one can tell you the difference between socialist realism and rightist literature. Ever since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, its writers have had to practice—consciously or unconsciously—the Taoist dictum of “walking two roads.” Faced with censorship on the one...

  9. Part 5. Beyond Universalism and Relativism

    • 13 Universalism: A Particularistic Account
      (pp. 349-368)
      Andrew J. Nathan

      The concept of universalism underlies many of the essays in this book as it does the “Asian Values Debate” as a whole. The core question in the debate is whether human rights are in some sense universal. As suggested in Part I of this book, one philosophical issue implied by that question is whether moral reasoning is autonomous and hence universal, or culturally rooted and thus different from place to place. But the issue of universalism versus relativism implies another philosophical question as well, concerning the universality not of values but of concepts. Are there universal categories that allow us...

    • 14 Dedichotomizing Discourse: Three Gorges, Two Cultures, One Nature
      (pp. 369-382)
      Jennifer R. Goodman

      It might seem a long way from fourteenth-century English poetry to the current debate over universal standards of human rights and their applicability to Asia. Yet they do connect. And through these unexpected connections between medieval European and traditional Asian thought some sort of mutual understanding may be found.

      To put the problem in a nutshell: as of the summer of 1997, the conversation between Eastern andWestern governments over human rights seemed to have arrived at an impasse. Certain Asian statesmen objected that Western declarations of universal human rights were at odds with Eastern tradition. Western declarations of human rights...

  10. Appendix A: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Excerpts) Adopted and Proclaimed by General Assembly (Resolution 217) 10 December 1948
    (pp. 383-389)
  11. Appendix B: Bangkok Declaration on Human Rights (Excerpts)
    (pp. 390-394)
  12. Appendix C: Bangkok NGO Declaration on Human Rights (Excerpts) 27 March 1993
    (pp. 395-403)
  13. Appendix D: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Excerpts)
    (pp. 404-414)
  14. Index
    (pp. 415-428)