Linda
Towards a future with more human rights for Asia?
Linda Louis 18 Jul 2017

Towards a future with more human rights for Asia?

South and South East Asia are not exactly known for their human rights records. What makes the situation even more tragic is that ironically, the Asia Pacific is now the only major 'continental grouping' in the world with no overarching human rights mechanism. This has basically meant that outside of a country's Parliament or their own Courts, people are, essentially on their own. The implications of this for human rights need not be repeated. There are few things more dangerous than absolute power - and in 2017, Asian countries still have complete and absolute power over their citizens.

Is it even worth exploring the idea of a regional human rights system for Asia? This post looks at a few key factors that shapes this discussion.

There is obviously a strong and reinforceable case for a regional human rights mechanism for Asia. But a fact to be noted here is that the current decade is a particularly opportune time to engage in this initiative. Powerful political economies of Asia have grown increasingly resistant to a UN – managed discourse on human rights, accusing it of politicization and of pandering to western oriented concepts. They have also simultaneously indicated a desire to prove that the region’s issues can be effectively managed, without western intervention or assistance. Developments with SAARC, ASEAN, APT (ASEAN Plus Three, including China, Japan and Korea) and EAS (a grouping of 18 Asia-pacific countries), all signal a willingness to treat the region’s problems as part of a collective responsibility and the move towards economic solidarity can be easily capitalized upon to agree upon human rights. I

n this context, an instructive comparison should it be made with the process that led to current African regional integration and their human rights mechanisms. If a nation were to take the lead in this, and push for an Asian regional human rights mechanism, how would that be operationalised? Would it be advisable to simply transpose the laws and obligations that have developed under the international umbrella? Such a process would, however, be unsustainable, since it would still be open to the charge of being based on western values. That is why it is vital, if such an initiative were undertaken, to emphasise the importance of the system being based on an Asian-led process of formulating human rights norms and values.

While the treaty-based system is indispensable, it’s purely legal rhetoric is less persuasive to governments resisting interference in sovereignty and is therefore ineffective. Achieving better human rights enforcement in Asia will require the region to go through its own process of synthesizing human rights norms from the collective consciousness of the region, that it can claim ownership of and locate it as a part of social development. It would also be more beneficial in a region that prides itself on its ancient and varied cultures and civilization, and a societal value system based on cultural norms rather than legal norms.


 










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