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The debate over cultural and human rights in the 1990s was dominated by the debate over “Asian values”. Asian leaders and (often politically well-connected) intellectuals beganto assert claims of legitimate, culturally based differences that justified substantial deviations from standard international interpretations of human rights norms.
Sovereignty and international human rights Sovereignty is one standard ground for rejecting international human rights standards. Chinese officials and scholars in particular have insisted that “sovereignty is thefoundation and basic guarantee of human rights” (Xie and Niu)
“The rights of each country to formulate its own policies on human rights protection in light of its own conditions should…be respected and guaranteed”.
This amounts to a claim that whatever a country does with respect to human rights is its business alone. Rather than a defensible conception of human rights; this would subordinate humanrights to the competing rights and values of sovereignty.
The record of Western (and Japanese) colonial rule certainly suggests that sovereignty is a necessary condition for a rights protective regime. Sovereignty removes some international impediments to implementing internationally recognized human rights.
Sovereignty is typically the mantle behind which rights-abusive regimes hide whenfaced with international recognized human rights.
Mahathir complains that “it would seem that Asians have no right to define and practice their own set of values about human rights”.
The Bangkok Declaration on Human Rights, adopted at the Asia and pacific regional preparatory meeting for the Vienna Conference, reiterates the indisputable international legal right of all countries “to determinetheir political system”
“Imposing the human rights standard of one’s own country or region on other countries or regions is an infringement upon other countries’ sovereignty and interference into other countries’ international affairs”. The standards being “imposed” however are simply those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“They threaten sanctions, withdrawal of aid, stoppage ofloans, economic and trade boycotts and actual military strikes against those they accuse of violating human rights” (Mahathir 1994:7) military strikes by one state in response to human rights violations in another would almost certainly violate sovereignty and territorial integrity. Mahathir conveniently neglects to mention even a simple example. In fact, he criticizes the west for failing to useforce on behalf of the Iraqi Kurds and Bosnian Muslims.
Human rights are a legitimate and well-established international concern. Sovereignty requires only that states refrain from the threat or use of force in trying to influence the human rights practices of other states. Short of force, states are free to use most ordinary means of foreign policy on behalf of internationally recognizedhuman rights.
The demands of development In Asia, as elsewhere, it is often argued that systematic infringements of internationally recognized human rights are necessary and thus justifiable or even desirable to achieve rapid economic development.
The sacrifice of civil and political rights to economic development has been a mainstay of dictatorship of various stripes in all regions.“When poverty and lack of adequate food are commonplace and people’s basic needs are not guaranteed, priority should be given to economic development”
Regimes that sacrifice either civil and political rights or economic, social, and cultural rights to development do not represent a desirable form of government”
Particular infringements of internationally recognized human rights maybe...
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