"Human rights are a western concept that does not apply to Asian countries."The purpose of this essay is to critically evaluate the contention that human rights are a western concept that does not apply to Asian countries. The essay focuses on South East Asia and argues that while the concept of human rights is universal in theory and principles, there are limitations to its implementation and enforcement in Asian countries due to socio-economic development concerns, cultural differences, and the patriarchal nature of Asian societies.
The Concept of Human RightsThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and has been ratified by nearly 200 countries. The adoption of the Declaration was premised on morality and ethics stemming from a desire amongst nation states to ensure that the atrocities of World War Two would not recur (Magendzo 1994; Misgeld 1994; Wronka 1994). The Declaration stipulates rights that are considered basic and universal to all humans, transcending differences in race, culture or ethnicity.
The four basic tenets of the Declaration include: the right to human dignity, civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and solidarity rights. These tenets are the foundation for universalistic principles and international human rights law (Buergenthal 1988; Renteln 1990; Shelley 1989). Wasserstrom (1964: 50) has articulated four defining characteristics of human rights as a universal concept:First, it must be possessed by all human beings, as well as only by human beings. Second, because it is the same right that all human beings possess, it must be possessed equally by all human beings. Third, because human rights are possessed by all human beings, we can rule out as possible candidates any of those rights which one might have in virtue of occupying any particular status or relationship, such as that of parent,