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Human Rights and Cultural Values: A Literature Review*


   Asia is a region with diverse cultures. This is coupled with the fact that political, social and economic situations of people in the region are equally varied. This situation raises a question on whether international concepts such as human rights can relate meaningfully to the cultural values present in the region. In recent years, there are reports of some governments arguing for an Asian concept of human rights. One major justification for this view is the culture factor.

   HURIGHTS OSAKA took the opportunity of helping facilitate a more in-depth discussion on this matter through a research project that will identify and explain cultural values found in several countries in the region. The research project will analyze the relationship of cultural values to human rights to provide impartial bases for an appropriate appreciation of human rights in the context of Asia.

   This initiative is deemed crucial in fashioning effective human rights education programs that present human rights as ideas that relate to the cultures of peoples in different parts of the region. HURIGHTS OSAKA sees the research project as an essential first step in developing its regional human rights education program. It will hopefully supply a sound basis for a need to have human rights education programs that put primacy to people's cultures.

   The following review of human rights literature provides some ideas that may help clarify the relationship between cultural values in Asia and human rights.

Study Framework

   A part of the human rights discourse at present is on the question of concept of human rights. The existence of international human rights instruments which have been agreed to and ratified by most States failed to proscibe arguments that human rights must be appreciated differently in the light of differences in economic, political, social and cultural character of countries in the region. In view of this, there is a differentiation made on the varying perceptions of human rights between Western and non-Western societies.

   The universality of human rights is thus in question. Views about this issue are quite diverse. There are those who believe in cultural relativism1 and thus would support different conceptions of human rights based on dissimilar cultural contexts. Others believe that human rights, by nature, should be considered universal despite differing cultural contexts. And there are also those who consider both views and advocate a middle ground that serves to accommodate varying cultural contexts and yet still assert a certain degree of universality of human rights.

   The debate along the lines of relativity versus universality continues. In most cases, however, there is hardly an extensive nor in-depth discussion on the matter. This situation forecloses a desirable conclusion. What exactly are the sociocultural and political differences between Western and Asia-Pacific societies that can be the basis of differing conceptions of human rights? Likewise, what are the sociocultural and political commonalities that will support a universal understanding of human rights?

   It must be borne in mind that this debate goes on against the backdrop of the Vienna Declaration which restates the very principle of universality and indivisibility of all human rights.

   To be able to contribute to the clarification of this issue, this research project will focus on one angle: cultural diversity and its relationship to human rights. This issue is the most cited reason for a differing view on human rights. Its significance need not be overly emphasized.

   One may ask, what is the significance of focusing on culture and its impact on human rights? The answer is that culture is one significant factor that shapes human thinking and behavior to a great extent. Thus its influence on human beings affects their basic attribute: human rights. As one author wrote:
... culture is a primary force in the socialization of individuals and a major determinant of the consciousness and experience of the community. The impact of culture on human behavior is often underestimated precisely because it is so powerful and deeply embedded in our self-identity and consciousness. (An-Naim 1992: 23)
   A closer look at this issue is therefore needed. It is necessary to gather the elements that constitute the different cultures in the region and examine how they relate to human rights principles.

   For purposes of having a framework in looking at this issue, following are some important views propounded by several human rights scholars.

Different Trends on the Concept

   Among human rights writers, there exists a clear range of views on the question of human rights concept. The differing views reflect the academic as well as political debates on the definition and focus of human rights. Somehow some of the views mirror the Cold War scenario and the north-south divide. One can also detect the view that is fit for political expediency agenda of some governments.

   The varying views, however, can also be seen as results of the different histories of evolution of the idea of human rights. The writers trace the conceptualization of human rights based on the ideas coming from people with dissimilar backgrounds.

   One author summarizes the different dimensions of the human rights conceptualizations as follows:
 a. Whether rights claims are based on status as an individual human being or status as a member of some community or group of persons;
 b. The extent to which differential treatment of persons is permitted on grounds of achievement and ascription;
 c. The emphasis on rights compared to duties or obligations and the extent to which rights and duties are thought to be interdependent;
 d. The emphasis on so-called economic and social rights compared to the emphasis on civil and political rights, sometimes conceived as a difference between positive rights of governmental obligation to provide economic and social well-being and the negative rights of governmental obligation to refrain from abridging political and civil rights;
 e. The extent to which rights are viewed as absolute or relative. (Johnson 1988: 42-43). [emphasis ours]
   It is said that these dimensions are inter-related though separately classified. This classification can be used as an analytical framework.

   Classical Western liberal notion of human rights emphasizes absolute individual political and civil rights while most non-Western, Third World traditions place greater emphasis on the community basis of rights and duties, on economic and social rights and on the relative character of human rights. Marxist/socialist ideas highlight economic and social rights and duties absolutely grounded in collectivist principles. (Johnson 1988: 43)

   Traditional cultures do not always view the individual as an autonomous being possessed of rights above society. The individual is often conceived as an integral component of a group, or the family or clan, the tribe, or the local community, which is regarded as the basic unit of society. (Pathak 1989: 8) This must not mean, however, that the individual has to lose any protection from abuses of the society. As one author puts it:
[F]acing the frequently overwhelming power of communities over the individual, the individual certainly needs special protection in order to preserve some independence. Communities, in turn, might benefit from critical contributions made by their emancipated members and also comments by outspoken dissidents. In any case, critical independence and solidarity do not form an insurmountable contradiction, but rather, belong together in shaping human life freely and responsibly. Hence, one should be suspicious of the purportedly general antagonism between individualism and communitarianism sometimes invoked by "liberals" and "communitarians". What is at stake in human rights is not an abstract individualism but rather the principle of equal freedom which, as a critical demand, always affects individuals and communities simultaneously. (Bielefeldt 1995: 592 )
   He further explains that the nature of human rights will not lead to excessive individualism as portrayed of the Western individualism. He states that:
...although human rights clearly enlarge the scope of individual freedom, they are by no means merely individualistic. They are not meant to lead to an "atomistic society" devoid of communitarian solidarity. Against the widespread confusion of human rights and Western individualism, human rights always imply a social dimension because human freedom can unfold only in relation to fellow persons. A purely individualistic concept of religious liberty, for instance, would almost amount to a contradiction in terms, because religious life is hardly conceivable outside of religious communities. Accordingly, religious liberty entails not only the rights of individuals to hold and express their personal creeds, but also includes the rights to worship together and to organize religious communities independent of government interference. To give another example, freedom of expression does not focus only in the private discourse in civil society.

These examples are intended to demonstrate that the emancipatory claim to equal freedom that underlies human rights does not entail the dissolution of communitarian bonds. However, it does challenge authoritarian traditions within communities. Undoubtedly, human rights are incompatible with some traditional practices such as child marriage, the persecution of religious dissenters, and the social ostracism of political dissidents. To put it in a different way, human rights can, and ought to, reshape communities and societies critically, in accordance with the equal respect owed to every person.

It remains an open question, though, how exactly this is to happen and how conflicting interests between individuals and communities can be settled justly. (Bielefeldt 1995: 591-592)
   Considering the varied cultural contexts which are supposed to be the cause for the different conceptualization of human rights, several opinions on the issue were identified :
 a. traditions other than Western liberalism lack concepts of human rights, the Western liberal tradition is either the only or the most legitimate concept of human rights;
 b. non-Western ideas about human rights are not only comparable but compatible with the ideals of Western liberalism;
 c. non-Western traditions may differ even to the point of incompatibility but it is possible to reconcile various views;
 d. human rights concepts differ and cultural relativism means that no particular view can be held more valid than others. (Johnson 1988:43)
   These opinions show the debate among human rights writers. One group would submit that Western culture is much more advanced, in opposition to some elements of the non-Western cultures, and thus would support human rights. This contention provokes the accusation that Westerners do not understand non-Western cultures and arrogantly impose their own culture on others on ground of superiority of ideas (cultural imperialism). Others believe that there are principles that exist in non-Western cultures that parallel human rights principles. And these principles are realized using systems appropriate to these cultures rather than those developed in the West.

   Despite the differences in opinions about the Western and non-Western ideas on human rights, there is a generally accepted notion that human rights as understood today developed in the West, or at least highly influenced by Western thought. The issue is whether or not the present conceptualization of human rights relate to all people with diverse cultures.

Universality and Relativity

1. Universality

   The universal character of human rights is based on the belief that human rights are natural attributes of human beings. The abstract idea of inherent existence of rights in all human beings is the key reason why human rights are possessed by all people, and thus their universality.

   Human rights therefore cannot be seen as valid only in certain contexts. Their validity is derived from the very source of their existence, the nature of human beings. The socio-economic-cultural and political conditions of peoples do not define human rights.

   It is likewise said that due to the formal agreement by most States to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the subsequent human rights instruments, as well as their fulfillment of certain human rights, there is universal recognition of human rights.

   Others would argue that human rights principles are found in the doctrines of the world's religions thus supporting the view that human rights are universal. Different cultures would reveal that human rights concepts do exist:
Freedom, justice, solidarity are neither Western nor Eastern values; they are universal. In fact, they stem from belief in a superior moral force - God. Loyalty to these values transcends loyalty to particular ethnic groups, governments or nations." (Francis Lok Kok Wah, University of Malaysia) Universal human rights affirmations are expressed in indigenous cultural forms and can be grounded in values common to the great religious traditions of the world.

The Persians have used the Arabic word hagg, the Hindi and Bengali have their adhikar and the Sanskrit svetve, the Thais their sitthi, the Koreans their kooahri (or kwolni) and the Filipinos their karapatan - all mean rights." (Raul Manglapus, Philippines). The Universal Declaration does not affirm the institutions Westerners often equate with human rights, such as parliaments or supreme courts, but rather allows for various cultural forms by simply setting forth those political, social, and economic rights that contribute to the dignity of the individual person. "(Traer 1991:158)
   Some would argue that the human rights concept actually evolved in the West. But this does not mean that human rights are not universal.2

   One author argues that while the concept of human rights actually originated in Europe (but not designed to become universal due to exclusion of women and other non-European races), universal human rights adopted after the second world war are as " to the West as they are for China" and thus there has been only 50 years since the two cultural spheres were confronted with such a universal conception for the first time. (Senger 1993: 292).3

   And still others would argue that there exists a "common culture of modernity" that has engulfed all societies by virtue of the rise of the concept of global economy. States, regions, cities, families, patterns of life, are all shaped by this culture. Human rights become part of a world social process, the institutional expression of which is the international law of human rights. International law is seen as an inter-cultural law, and appeal to international law is evidence of the existence of universal standards of human rights. (Vincent 1986: 50)4

   Regardless however of the basis of justification for the universality argument, the universality of human rights must be recognized in the context of the different cultures that actually exist.

   Human rights today are essentially universal, requiring only relatively modest adjustments in the name of cultural diversity.

   One author identifies three main sources of attacks on the universality of human rights: proponents of the New World Order, developing country governments, and leadership of religious fundamentalism movements and ethnic anarchists. He further explained that these attacks are sustained for the following reasons:
 a. to justify the denial of human rights to some sections of their people;
 b. to deny new assertions of human rights by excluded groups such as women and indigenous peoples;
 c. to negate and destroy cultural pluralism;
 d. to impose disabilities based on culture, religion, ethnicity, etc. upon minorities. (Dias 1993:44-45)
   The concept of universal human rights does not disregard the reality of varied cultures in different societies. The concept of human rights is not static. It relates to all peoples and situations. As one author puts it:
The universality of human rights does not mean the global imposition of a particular set of Western values, but instead, aims at the universal recognition of pluralism and difference - different religions, cultures, political convictions, ways of life - insofar as such difference expresses unfathomable potential of human existence and the dignity of the persons. To be sure, pluralism and difference apply also to the concept of human rights which itself remains open - and must be open - to different and conflicting interpretations in our pluralistic and multicultural political world. Without the recognition of such difference within the human rights debate, the discourse would amount to cultural imperialism. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the very idea of human rights precludes some political practices, such as oppression of dissidents, discrimination against minorities, slavery and apartheid. (Bielefeldt 1995: 594)
2. Relativity

   The argument in favor of seeing human rights as relative concepts5 is based on the premise that human rights as presently conceived reflects the culture of the major authors of human rights instruments starting with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Pathak 1989: 7). Since the West is seen as having the most influence on the modern-day human rights conceptualization, its culture dominates the ideas behind the human rights instruments. It cannot therefore be assumed that human rights are applicable to other regions.
As one author puts it:

... to a cultural relativist, a document such as the (Universal) Declaration (of Human Rights) seems a futile proclamation derived from moral principles valid in one culture and not entirely acceptable in others, and any attempt to establish a congruency in different national systems appear bound to fail, because any such attempt would be incapable of eroding the irreducible core of cultural singularity in various social components of the world. There is a need to remember that each culture insists on its own moral superiority, there being few which tolerate a cultural egalitarianism. (Pathak 1989: 8)

Reality of cultural diversity

   There is no argument that communities/countries/regions have separate cultures. It is a given condition in examining this whole issue. It is also a fact that there was an imposition of culture on other peoples done by Western countries during the height of colonialism. It was an attempt at changing the cultures existing in colonized communities.

   The view that human rights are universal concepts is seen therefore as another round of domination by one culture (Western culture) over the rest of the cultures in this world. Several authors would consider this situation as simply cultural imperialism. One author says that each culture has its own distinctive ways of viewing and doing things. Each culture is uniquely worthy of respect. The distinctiveness among cultures should not be blurred or mitigated. They should not be compared favorably or unfavorably with one another. They should be respected. To consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be universal could imply that all contradictory concepts be eliminated and that the culture which has given birth to the concept of human rights should also be called upon to become a universal culture. (Holeman 1987: 209-211 ) He further states that:
The diversity of cultures and the failure of the Universal Declaration to be a truly universal document suggests the difficulty of one culture dictating morality to another. This can be insidious even if in the name of such a noble ideal as human rights. Noble ideals can be twisted to serve ignoble purposes. Throughout Western history, a number of injustices have been couched in human rights jargon [such as in the colonial enterprise]. Within Western nations, human rights have been around for some time but were once only extended to whites, or males, or adults, or property owners, or heterosexuals, or Christians [or Anglicans, or Puritans, or Catholics, as the case may be]. Deductive reasoning suggests that groups denied equal human rights must not be fully human." (Holeman 1987: 209-211 )
   The recognition of cultural diversity means that human rights can no longer rely on their traditional sources of justification. Traditionally, there have been four sources to which theorists have referred:
a. divine authority;
b. natural law;
c. intuition (that human rights are self-evident);
d. ratification of international instruments.
   The first and second are not in vogue and the third is increasingly questioned. Even the claim that because political elites have ratified human rights documents human rights are therefore universal is suspect. There is no guarantee that the elites ratify for reasons other than political expediency. Moreover, it is far from clear that the values of elites correspond to the traditional value systems in the countries they represent. It is, therefore, necessary to try a different strategy to validate human rights standards. (Renteln 1988: 9)

Relativist conception of human rights

   The recognition of cultural diversity is not a justification, however, for some authors, to totally discard the applicability of human rights to peoples with differing cultures. There is a view that relativism should be seen from a practical viewpoint.

   The significance of different cultural variations on human rights appreciation is seen on the hierarchical levels of variation:
 i. Substance of lists of human rights - this is the conceptual level, consisting of human rights formulations such as the rights to political participation or work which would justify very little cultural variability;
 ii. Interpretation of individual rights - some interpretative variability seems to be plausible for most internationally recognized human rights. For example, the right to work can have many interpretations such as guaranteed job and unemployment insurance;
 iii. Form in which particular rights are implemented - considerable variation in the particular form in which interpretation is implemented is justifiable.
   In going to the level of implementation of human rights, there is further specifying and interpreting (in the ordinary sense of the term) of the higher level, and the range of permission at a given level is set by the next higher level. For example, "interpretations" of a right are logically limited by the substance of a right; even the range of variation in substance is set by the notions of human nature and dignity from which the list of rights derives. (Donnelly 1993: 110)

Human rights and the non-Western societies

   An examination of some cultures reveals some critical views on human rights such as follows:

   a. Hinduism - human rights are not universal since not every person is given the same rights. And even if human rights is extended to all people, it would still be unacceptable because of the insinuation that nonhuman sentient beings are inferior to human ones and that their rights can be trampled on if only to promote the rights of humans. [Holeman 1987: 211]

   To compare with a Western culture, the US has evolved a philosophical conception of human rights which draws heavily on Western liberal ideas and emphasizes absolute principles of civil and political rights based on individualism and equality of opportunity. The philosophical underpinnings of modern India, by contrast, rest on group based rights and duties of a relative and differential nature with a substantial emphasis on economic and social rights as well as civil and political rights. (Johnson 1988: 49)

   b. Islam - rights remain subordinate to and determined by duties. (Vincent 1986: 43) The alleged human rights based on Islamic doctrine, prove only to be duties of rulers and individuals, not rights held by everyone. The scriptural passages cited as establishing a right to protection of life are in fact divine injunctions not to kill and to consider life as inviolable. The right to justice proves to be instead a duty of rulers to establish justice. The right to freedom is merely a duty not to enslave unjustly. Economic rights turn out to be duties to earn a living and help provide for the needy. And the purported right to freedom of expression is actually an obligation to speak the truth - that is, the "right" is not even an obligation of others, but an obligation of the alleged right-holder. Muslims are regularly and forcefully enjoined to treat their fellow men with respect and dignity, but the bases of these injunctions are divine commands that establish only duties, not human rights.

   The social and political precepts of Islam do reflect a strong concern for human good and human dignity. Such concern is important in itself, and even a prerequisite for human rights notions. But it is in no way equivalent to a concern for, or a recognition of, human rights. (Donnelly 1989: 51)

   c. Chinese view - the word for human rights came to China from Japan in the mid-19th century. From the current sinomarxists point of view, human rights are not naturally given, but "commercially given", which is to say, they developed at a certain stage of economic development. According to this view, the human rights situation in China cannot appreciably improve until China's level of economic development has been noticeably raised through "the process of socialist modernization". In other words, human rights are posited in a concrete framework and are not an abstract scheme. For this reason, different periods and countries have different views of human rights and apply them differently. It was also pointed out that under the ancient Confucian philosophy, each human being existed as a bearer of a specific social role: as father, as son, as wife, as ruler, as subject, as friend. Each role was assigned a different status and a different pattern of behavior. This then became the basis of the ancient Chinese legal system that is characterized by inequality. (Senger 1993: 295,305, 309)6

Asian regional setting

   Some governments maintain that there are certain values found to be common in Asia. These values are perceived to be contradictory to those of the West and thus support the view that values are not universal and common to all people. Following are some of these "Asian values":
a. placing society above the self, upholding the family as building block of society;
b. resolving issues through consensus instead of contention;
c. importance of duty as counterpoint to right;
d. obligation of the community to look after its less advantaged members. (Ghai 1994: 8-9)
   Asia has the major religions of the world. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have developed in the region. Christianity has thrived in some parts of the countries in Asia. Each religion has varying set of beliefs and values, and the same religion does not manifest itself uniformly in its discourse about human rights at all times in all countries. Religion would not appear to hold a key to universalism. Indeed most religions in some sense deny the claims of equality: traditionally Hindus found people of other religions polluting, and most other religions accord the nonbeliever an inferior status in both religious and secular systems.

   The various cultures in Asia seem to be upholding the importance of community. Cultures, therefore, developed around this concern. This aspect of Asian cultures is opposite to the Western emphasis on the individual.

   It must be noted that China, Malaysia, and Singapore mainly espouse the views above. (Ghai 1994: 8-14)

   In opposition to the view about the existence of "Asian " values, it is argued that the cultural diversity in Asia is based on profound differences in values. Thus the attempt to identify concrete examples of "Asian" values is "... likely to lead to a degree of selectivity and subjectivity." It is likewise mentioned that values perceived as Asian are actually similar to values existing in other regions of the world. It is thus questionable, to say the least, to assert that there are uniquely "Asian" values. (Pelkmans 1996:9. 16-17)

Approaches in Reconciling the Two Views

Basic premises

   A number of authors espouse the view that there is a common ground upon which ideas on human rights coming from the West, East or other regions of the world can be reconciled. There is no comprehensive agreement on all aspects of culture but there are basic elements in all cultures, which sustain a common understanding of human existence.

One author states that:
human rights do rely on the idea of human dignity which can also be found in various cultural and religious traditions. Thus, although human rights do not derive immediately from religious traditions, they are not alien to those traditions that have recognized the idea of human dignity. Hence, with reference to human dignity, a critical reconciliation between competing requirements of particular religious traditions and modern international human rights standards might be conceivable. (Bielefeldt 1995: 601)
Another author states that:
[T]here is an apparent cross-cultural consensus on a few practices that cannot be justified by even the hoariest of traditions, and certainly not by a new custom (such as prohibition of torture, requirement of procedural due process in imposing and executing legal punishments).

There is also a striking cross-cultural consensus on many values that today we seek to protect through human rights, especially when those values are expressed in relatively general terms. Life, social order, the family, protection from arbitrarily rule, prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, the guarantee of a place in a life of the community and access to an equitable share of the means of subsistence are certain moral aspirations in nearly all cultures.

   Authentic traditional cultural practices and values can be an important check on abuses of arbitrary power. It can be illustrated as follows:

a. rights to life, liberty, and security of the person; the guarantee of legal personality; and protection against slavery, arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and inhuman or degrading treatment are so clearly connected to basic cross-cultural requirements of human dignity, and restated in sufficiently general terms, that any morally defensible contemporary form of social organization must recognize them (although perhaps not necessarily as inalienable rights).

b. civil rights such as freedom of conscience, speech, and association may be a bit more relative. Because they assume the existence and positive evaluation of relatively autonomous individuals, they may be questionable applicability in strong, thriving traditional communities. In such communities, however, they would rarely be at issue. If traditional practices truly are based on and protect culturally accepted conceptions of human dignity, then members of such a community simply will not have the desire or need to claim such civil rights. (Donnelly 1993: 112-113; 121-123)
   One view, however, is that the development and understanding of rights are contingent on a variety of factors, moral ideas as well as material conditions, and that differences in the perception of human rights are attributable to these ideas and conditions rather than to any inherent notion of culture or community. This approach does indeed provide a basis for reconciling the so-called Western and Eastern perceptions of human rights. (Ghai 1994: 12)7

Suggested approaches

   With the understanding that there are common grounds for reconciling different conceptualizations of human rights according to different cultures, many authors suggest approaches to attain this objective. Each approach may constitute a part of the same effort of finding a view of human rights that applies to varying cultural contexts. Following are the suggested approaches:

   a. Dialogue Between Cultures

   Dialogue between cultures is the better way rather than an imposition of a "universal idea" that is based on a specific culture. Each culture must therefore be open to insights and criticisms of other points of view. A healthy pluralism of cultures, as against global monoculture, means that each culture learns about itself by seeing itself through the eyes of another. It does not preoccupy itself with hegemonic ambitions. It enables cultures to benefit and borrow from the strengths of others. And it helps clear up misconceptions about other cultures. (Holeman 1987: 214-215)

   In the same vein, a suggestion is made for the various cultures to have "rational conversation about rights". This consists of rectifying mistakes by discussion and experience. What is fixed on temporarily as right is the outcome of a collision of opposing opinions. Even what is wholly true must be contested to avoid its becoming a mere prejudice. This procedure does not allow the imposition of a moral truth, or the coercion of those not seized of it because coercion is only legitimate for the protection of the self and not for the enlightenment of others. But it does suggest a view of the discussion of human rights in international politics as appealing to an empire of reason, and not merely to that of power, or circumstance. It supposes, more deeply, that no human being can seriously hold some ethical principle to be right, or imperative, without wishing that others too deem it right, or imperative. (Vincent 1986:56)

   Naming the process cross-cultural dialogue, it is of the view that since cross-cultural interaction and mutual influence is always occurring, it should not be difficult to introduce into it some elements of a human rights agenda.
There are already human rights implications to the processes of intercultural relations, but these tend to be incidental and somewhat arbitrary. The proposed approach to the cross-cultural legitimacy of universal human rights recommends that the processes of intercultural relations should be more deliberately and effectively utilized to overcome cultural antagonism to human rights norms that are problematic in a given context... [T]his process must be both mutual between cultures and sensitive to the needs of internal authenticity and legitimacy. Those of one cultural tradition who wish to induce change in attitudes within another culture must be open to corresponding inducement in relation to their own attitudes and must be respectful of the integrity of the other culture. They must never even appear to be imposing external values in support of the human rights standards they seek to legitimize within the framework of the other culture. This approach, however, does not seek to repudiate the existing international standards of human rights. On the contrary, it maintains that there are compelling reasons for accepting and working with these standards. .. This approach is based on the belief that, despite their apparent peculiarities and diversity, human beings and societies share certain fundamental interests, concerns, qualities, traits and values that can be identified and articulated as the framework for a common "culture" of universal human rights." (An-Naim 1992: 4-5, 21)

   This approach can succeed if people of differing cultures create an environment of respect and openness to each other's perspective. Much of the conflict in viewing human rights from a cultural vantage point stems from lack or misunderstanding of the cultures involved. The first step therefore toward an effective dialogue with people of different culture is the casting away of cultural blinders such as prejudices and animosities, which may have developed through previous relationships or inadequate knowledge of the other cultures.

   b. Internal Dialogue in Cultures

   A corresponding process of reconciling culture and human rights is dialogue within the cultures. This is where the initiative to examine own culture comes from the members of the community owning the culture. It proceeds from an honest recognition of a need to review own culture with the hope of relating it to human rights.

   To be effective at local and community levels, the imposition of the universal must be by way of an opening in the culture itself, not by external imposition on culture. Therefore, it is of great importance to nurture cultural rethinking, reinterpretation, and internal dialogue. (Falk 1992:49)

   Virtually any cultural heritage is morally rich enough that it can, if appropriately construed under some circumstances, make inspirational contributions to the struggle for human rights, democracy, and social justice. The international protection of human rights cannot proceed very far without liberating the culture itself to serve these ends. There are no fixed points of normative reference, so that we are all responsible for the discovery and protection of human rights, and must establish such a process of inquiry as to be itself an expression of the integrity of any given cultural identity. (Falk 1992:54, 60)

   Human rights enshrined in international law, and largely embodied in Western cultural practice, cannot be effectively protected in some cultural settings. Indeed, their attempted implementation may produce a devastating breakdown of social order as well as a heightening of influence for restrictive or fundamentalist cultural tendencies.

   There may be room for changing a cultural position from within, through internal discourse about the fundamental values of the culture and the rationale for these values. In view of the fact that such discourse is always taking place in relation to moral, political, and social issues, it should not be difficult to focus attention on the human rights implications of those issues. This public awareness can be achieved through intellectual and scholarly debate, artistic and literary expression of alternative views on those issues, and political and social action furthering those views. It is imperative, however, that the proponents of alternative cultural positions on human rights issues should seek to achieve a broad and effective acceptance of their interpretation of cultural norms and institutions by showing authenticity and legitimacy of that interpretation within the framework of their own culture. (An-Naim 1992: 4)

   Another author suggests that cultural reconstruction is linked to the prospects of human rights. Such reconstruction must have open access communication, free from dogmatic interference. It is only from within the spiritual and humanistic core of civil society that restorative energies can emerge to redress cultural imbalances. (Falk 1992: 57).

   It is possible that systems for dialogue among the members of communities exist and can be harnessed in looking at the relationship of human rights to their own culture. In communities, however, where systems for dialogue are not present, effort must be taken to support the development of the appropriate systems.

   c. Emphasis on Global Cosmopolitan Culture

   An extreme relativistic view is denied validity by the inescapable admission of basic common elements found in moral value codes of large section of humanity. There is also the undeniable fact that values change due to the penetration of cultures from various sources in many societies as a result of the growing constellation of commercial, technological, and communication enterprises around the world. Increasing interaction among peoples in various capacities due to academic, economic, political, social, health, environmental and cultural pursuits create a sense of shared understanding of what are common values.

   It said that it is "...increasingly recognized that while absolute universals cannot be found, it is possible, and indeed desirable, to seek common denominators across cultures..." (Obermeyer 1995: 368) An author would even limit the common denominators to political and legal standards. He states that:
...[H]uman rights constitute only limited normative demands in that they focus on political and legal standards of international justice. At the same time, however, they can potentially be connected with more comprehensive doctrines or cultural values, insofar as they refer to the principle of human dignity which itself might facilitate a critical mediation between the normative requirements of human rights on the one hand and various religious or cultural traditions on the other. Thus an overlapping normative consensus between religions and cultures might be achievable." (Bielefeldt 1995: 594-595)
   It is also said that
[U]ltimately, the search for cross-cultural universals must be realistic. Even the discovery of a moral principle embraced on a universal basis may not be translated easily into a particular human rights. But this approach offers the possibility of grounding international human rights in reality instead of naturalistic abstractions. By identifying principles that are shared we can construct standards which could be implemented because they are based on values meaningful in all cultural contexts. (Renteln 1988: 31).

   e. Rethinking Human Rights Concept

   There can be a rethinking of the concept of human rights drawing on common threads in varied traditions. There are seeds of a reconciled concept of human rights in the broad ideals of political participation, restraints on the use of force and violence and sanctions against violators. The traditional synthesizing and absorptive character of Indian culture, for example, may provide a vehicle for reconciling divergent views of human rights. [Johnson 1988: 44-45] Also, identification of rights that all cultures and jurisdictions subscribe to - the obvious candidates being right to life, the prohibition of slavery and the prohibition of torture (but beyond this, lists tend to diverge) can be one approach related to the rethinking of human rights concept. (Ghai 1994: 14)8

   f. Modified Cultural Relativism

   The kind of cultural relativism that demands tolerance for dissimilar ways of resolving rights problems in different cultures seems legitimate. Likewise, the cultural relativism that calls for the West to forbear condemning intact traditional societies as defective because they fail to protect human rights according to modern international standards seems justifiable. What does not seem defensible is cultural relativism that would insulate the conduct of modern nation-states from critical scrutiny because the states claimed to be following the dictates of a religion or a local culture that exempted them from duty to abide by the standards of international human rights. (Mayer 1991: 21)

Harmonizing with Different Cultures with Human Rights

   More recent thinkers propose a more positive view about the relations between human rights and the different traditional cultures. Following are views about some cultures:

1. Islamic culture

   Understanding human rights to be an international and cross-cultural demand is tantamount to the insight that these rights cannot be simply integrated into the existing normative framework of the sha'ria. It has indeed to be admitted that there are fundamental tensions between traditional sha'ria norms and the requirements of human rights. These tensions need careful assessment, rather than premature harmonization. What is at stake is a self-critical reevaluation of the sha'ria and its underlying principles: an opportunity to seek out ways to genuinely mediate between and reconcile the competing normative requirements.
...some reconciliation between the traditional sha'ria and the modern idea of human rights conceivably could be accomplished in accordance with the well established Islamic should not underestimate the potential for Islam to cope with new challenges and demands in a pragmatic way. In conformity with the humane flexibility that has largely marked the sha'ria, some of the conflicts between different normative requirements might be settled. (Bielefieldt 1995:610, 114 )
   Rights must be linked to duties, and individual claims must be reconciled with the common good. In the Islamic view human rights are universally true, and yet implementation of these rights may require various forms. Challenged by the West, Islamic societies are rediscovering their own tradition in new ways. While grounding human rights in their own faith, Muslims nonetheless affirm the universality of human rights. In addition, a number of Muslims have been stirred to action by the lack of protection for fundamental human rights, in their own societies as well as in the rest of the world. (Traer 1991: 123)

2. Chinese culture

   In Chinese culture, human rights must be a matter of consensus because of the Confucian culture which has shaped for centuries the life and understanding of the people. Yet the Chinese also affirm individual rights and the rule of law. Chinese intellectuals must have the responsibility for achieving the convergence of the two political cultures and honor both a Chinese tradition and exercise Western-inspired human rights if they could use their freedom of thought to advance an appropriate political theory sustaining human rights. (Hung-chao Tai, Taiwan). (Traer 1991: 162)

   Neo-Confucian doctrines are in accord with the concept of freedom and human rights. Each person is endowed by Nature with one universal moral principle. One must be loyal to one's inner self and moral integrity. Otherwise, one loses humanity. To be ethical and to be public-spirited is one and the same. Humanity and benevolence are expressed by the same word (ren in Chinese, jin in Japanese). Rulers are supposed to be models of morality and thus must reign over their subjects benevolently in order to make people's lives secure and ethical, while humbly listening to public opinion. If everybody realizes each one's inner principle under the aegis of good rulers, there will be no conflicts and wars in the world. Based on this view of Confucianism, the Western concepts of republicanism and democracy are seen as embodying important Confucian values. This view is becoming quite prevalent among the new Confucianists in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. (Hiroshi 1995: 429)

3. Buddhist culture

   Buddhists do affirm human rights, as central to their understanding of dharma and the living out of the Buddhist precepts. Despite the conceptual difficulties of justifying human rights, as central to Buddhist faith, at least some Buddhists find human rights language expressive of their religious commitment to the Three Refuges: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Thus the Dalai Lama says that "... all have equal right to be happy ... because of our common humanity." Thus "...the shared aspiration of gaining happiness and avoiding suffering, as well as the basic right to bring it about, are of prime importance." (Traer 1991: 140) It is also said that Buddhism has principles consistent with specific human rights. (Peek 1995: 540) A list of such rights, considered to be inherent and inalienable, has been suggested.9

4. Hindu culture

   Modern concepts of human rights are a reflection of Western influence and interfere with traditional notions of dharma. Yet Hindu reformers seek to interpret dharma in ways which support the notion of human rights. This is not easily done. Perhaps this is why the Indian Constitution sets forth the major human rights affirmed in the Universal Declaration without providing any philosophical foundation for them. The fact remains, however, that most educated Hindus not only accepted these fundamental rights but insisted that they expressed age-old Hindu principles. Hindus affirm both dharma and human rights. (Traer 1991: 133)


   The Vienna Declaration (1993) states that
All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities 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. (Section 5, Part 1)
   This is the latest consensus among States on the issue of universality and culture. It is supposed to embody a compromise on the diverging views of States on the nature of human rights and the cultural peculiarities (among other differences) of societies. It reaffirms the universality of human rights and at the same time takes account of the actual realities obtaining within each State.

   This provision is a clue to where an examination of the present issue must lead. It is a formal basis, at least, of an assumption that States in the Asia-Pacific region are not contesting the premise that human rights are universal which can relate to the specific situations of countries.

   There remains an issue on whether such an international statement of agreement is translated into concrete policies, programs and activities in the different countries in the region.

   In a regional conference held recently, several Asia-Pacific countries declared support for human rights education that draws "... on the rich cultural heritage and diversity in the region, including appropriate recognition of family and community values." The same declaration states that "... human rights education must affirm not only rights and freedoms but also responsibilities" , should "... promote the values and practices of healing, reconciliation and conflict resolution", and should "... cultivate participative values of governance, consensus building and accountability". (Conference-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Human Rights Education for Development 1995)10

   One relevant recommendation is the development of appropriate human rights teaching strategies that "... build on the liberating elements of indigenous concepts, folk knowledge and cultural practices".

   This document indicates a regional consensus among some States on the proposition that human rights must be seen in the light of the cultures obtaining in the region. What particularly makes the document different, which is a normal course for a regional declaration, from the Vienna Declaration is the citation of specific principles that are descriptive of the elements of cultures in the region that States want emphasized in any human rights education program, and the kind of perspective that States must adopt in relating to indigenous concepts, folk knowledge and cultural practices. There is clearly a strong stress on the positive aspects of culture.

   This is yet another clue on how a study of human rights and the cultures in Asia-Pacific should proceed.

   The literature review presented here contains the different views on the relationship between human rights and culture, and the possible approaches in mediating two extreme views of universality and relativity. Most human rights writers would espouse a middle ground that promotes the universal character of human rights while respecting cultures. This middle ground aims at finding an accommodation of differences in cultures by having a deeper clarification and understanding of the meaning of human rights to people and communities with varying histories and contexts.

   The question of applying human rights principles to a particular situation will always invite a response that dwells on the content and the means of making this application. Many writers seem to agree that a certain degree of relativity occurs when it comes to the question of realizing human rights relating to specific issues.

   The human rights literature writers have formulated a set of approaches to this question. It is notable that these approaches are generally in agreement that human rights and cultures can be reconciled through dialogue (within and between cultures) that would result in finding common bases of close interaction. There is a general thinking that such dialogues will benefit both human rights and cultures as they mutually develop. Basic guidelines on reconciling human rights and cultures exist. They can later on be expanded for purposes of making the approaches much more effective.

   The issue that needs to be settled is on the content of such dialogue. Human rights literature writers have cited some general examples of cultural elements, which relate to human rights. These examples, however, may still be subject to further interpretation by the different communities. In such a case, cultural values would need further clarification. This is more so when one considers the fact that cultural values that may be identified with the Asia-Pacific region are mentioned in a general sense. Dialogue within and between cultures on the issue of human rights will find much more meaning when actual realities are taken into account.

   The international and regional affirmations by governments of the universality of human rights and their intrinsic link to the cultures of peoples provide the context for these dialogues.

   Therefore, the study of the cultural values in Asia should be able to identify and examine their meaning as seen through the eyes of the members of the community and find out how they can truly be linked to human rights. It is likewise important to know if there has been any attempt at facilitating this link through means akin to any of the proposed ways of reconciling the universality of human rights with the particularity of cultures.

   The discussion on universality and relativity suggests a situation of conflict of values. In some cases, that conflict is seen in the opposite ideas between some human rights principles and some traditional systems. There is a ground, however, for saying that on the whole human rights principles still need further refinement/interpretation as they apply to concrete situations, while communities are not static and can have the flexibility to incorporate ideas that are couched in an unfamiliar language. In other words, present day societies are changing and will thus find a room for discussion and adaptation to growing internationally-enunciated principles such as human rights. It may not therefore be a case of conflict of values but a process of clarification of the varying formulations of principles that aim to serve the needs of people in their respective societies. What would be most important to know is the result of this process. What adjustments have been made and how do they promote human rights?

   This is the task that goes beyond literature review.


  An-Naim, Abdullahi Ahmed (1992) "Toward a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights," in Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives, An-Naim Abdullahi, ed., University of Pennsylvania Press , Philadelphia, 1992.
  Bielefeldt, Heiner (1995) "Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate," Human Rights Quarterly, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, November.
  Dias, Clarence J. (1993) "The Universality of Human Rights: A Critique" in Lokayan Bulletin, New Delhi, India, volume 103.
  Donnelly, Jack (1993), International Human Rights, Westview Press, Colorado, .
  __________(1989) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, Cornell University Press, New York.
  Falk, Richard (1992) "Cultural Foundations for the International Protection of Human Rights," in Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives- A Quest for Consensus, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, ed.., ibid.
  Ghai, Yash (1994) "Human Rights and Governance: The Asia Debate," in Center for Asian and Pacific Affairs , occasional papers, The Asia Foundation, San Francisco, November.
  __________(1996) Rights, Duties and Responsibilities, unpublished.
  Watanabe, Hiroshi (1995) "Comments on the Windsor Paper," in The End of the Century - The Future in the Past, Japan Foundation, Center for Global Partnership, Kadansha International, Tokyo.
  Holeman, Warren Lee (1987) The Human Rights Movement - Western Values and Theological Perspectives, Praeger, New York.
  Johnson, M. Glen (1988) "Human Rights in Divergent Conceptual Settings - How Do Ideas Influence Policy Choices?," in Human Rights Theory and Measurement, David Louis Cingranelli, editor, MacMillan Press, London.
  Mayer, Ann Elizabeth (1991) Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics, West View Press, Colorado.
  Obermayer, Carla Makhlouf (1995) "A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Reproductive Rights," Human Rights Quarterly, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, May.
  Pathak, Raghunadan Swarup (1989) Introductory Report on Universality of Human Rights, in Universality of Human Rights, Council of Europe, Strasbourg .
  Peek, John M. (1995) "Buddhism, Human Rights and the Japanese State," Human Rights Quarterly, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, August.
  Pelkmans, Jacques (1996) Understanding Values in Asia, Foundation Cini, Venice.
  Plantilla, Jefferson R. (1996) National Human Rights Institutions and Human Rights Education, paper submitted at the Preliminary Meeting on National Human Rights Commissions held on March 13-16, 1996 in Hong Kong by the Asian Human Rights Commission.
  Renteln, Alison Dundes (1988), "A Cross-Cultural Approach to Validating International Human Rights - The Case of Retribution Tied to Proportionality," in Cingranelli, ibid.
  Senger, Harro von (1993) Chinese Culture and Human Rights, in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity - Europe, Arabic-Islamic World, Africa and China, Wolfgang Schmale editor, Keip Publishing, Goldbach, London.
  Traer, Robert (1991) Faith in Human Rights: Support in Religious Traditions for a Global Struggle, Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C.
  Vincent, R.J. (1986) Human Rights and International Relations, University Press, Cambridge.


1. Cultural relativism is defined as the theory that there are no objective standards by which to evaluate a culture, and that a culture can only be understood in terms of its own values or customs. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1993.

2. Jack Donnelly explains this statement in the following manner: "Although human rights are Western in origin and thus historically particular, they are of near universal contemporary relevance. Contemporary social conditions have given the idea and practice of human rights wide applicability... Human rights represent a distinctive set of social practices, tied to particular notions of human dignity, that initially arose in the modern West in response to the social and political changes produced by modern states and modern capitalist market economies. Most non-Western cultural and political traditions, like the premodern West, lacked not only the practice of human rights but also the very concept... these concerns have been handled almost entirely in terms of duties that are neither derivative from nor correlative to human rights. These societies recognize that certain social guarantees are essential to realizing human dignity, and they have elaborate systems of human duties designed to protect human dignity. But human rights are quite foreign to their approaches." (Donnelly 1989:50)

3. Harro von Senger argues that "..[T]he human rights of the first period (pre-1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights) as they developed in Europe were by no means designed to be universal: there was to be no gradual expansion to include women and human beings of all races. Thus, it was only logical that the first initiative in international law towards international recognition of an equality of human beings that transcended the bounds of the white race did not come from the West. This is a historic fact that finds no mention whatsoever in the usual Western publications on the "universality of human rights". Instead of duly recognizing what was in this respect an historic role played by Japan directly after the First World War, global assertions are made that it is restraining itself in participating in international platforms of human rights. But it was in Japan where the first ever "League for the Abolition of Racial Discrimination" was established immediately after the First World War. It was a Japanese diplomat who proposed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1918 that the principle of equality be included in the covenant of the League of Nations..." (which was not approved by major Western representatives such as US President Woodrow Wilson).
   "The universal human rights of the second period (after 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are as new for the West as they are for China. Less than 50 years have passed since both cultural spheres were confronted with such a universal conception for the first time. Indeed, the image of the human being underlying even the present-day concept of human rights - especially in the liberal-democratic states of the West - is still not truly universal. This is because the human rights position of the unborn human being - usually referred to in a trivializing manner as "unborn life" in a public debate in German-speaking areas - has yet to be clarified." [Senger 1993: 286-293]

4. Richard Falk states that "... [O]ne important consequence of globalization of social, political and economic life which often goes unnoticed is cultural penetration and overlapping, the coexistence in a given social space of several cultural traditions, as well as the more vivid interpretation of cultural experience and practice as a consequence of media and transportation technologies, travel and tourism, cross-cultural education, and logarithmic increase in human interaction of all varieties. Such a reality posits its own distinctive and opposing social demands: respect for difference (culture; to sustain diversity), acknowledgment of sameness (international law of human rights; to establish normative authority). The emergence and the implementation of international human rights embody both the opportunities and obstacles arising from this always-shifting interplay between the valuing of differences and the quest for sameness."(Falk 1992: 46)

5. R.J. Vincent explains the doctrine of cultural relativism in the following manner:
   "In the first place, it asserts that rules about morality vary from place to place. Secondly, it asserts that the way to understand this variety is to place it in its cultural context. And, in the third place, it asserts that moral claims derive from, and are enmeshed in, a cultural context which is itself the source of their validity. There is no universal morality, because the history of the world is the story of the plurality of cultures, and the attempt to assert universality, or even Kant's procedural principle of 'universability', as a criterion of all morality, is a more or less well-disguised version of the imperial routine of trying to make the values of a particular culture general." [Vincent 1986: 37]
   In relation to human rights, cultural relativism is seen from one extreme point of absolute relativism to the other extreme of absence of relativism (complete universalism). Below are two variations of both extremes, emphasizing more the middle ground:
    i. strong cultural relativism - human rights (and other values) are principally, but not entirely, determined by culture or other circumstances. "Universal" human rights serve as a check on culturally specific values.
   ii. weak cultural relativism - human rights are held to be largely universal, subject only to secondary cultural modifications. [Donnelly 1993: 109-110]

6. According to Harro von Senger, the ancient Chinese " was not an instrument for the protection of the individual, for example against injustice committed by the authorities, nor was it a medium for regulating all kinds of human relations. Rather, it was a tool in the hands of the authorities for preserving the cosmic-ethical-social order and for disciplining the population (there was no clear distinction between penal law and military punitive expedition) as well as for regimenting the bureaucracy. In a sense, the population stood outside statutory law. There was no community under the law that encompassed both the ruler and the population.
   For three thousand years, there was no real jurisprudence in China. A science of logic and of rhetoric, the methods that the people could, under favorable circumstances, have used to defend themselves against injustices committed by authorities, did not develop beyond rudimentary stages. The people did not learn to make use of statutory law for their own concerns or even to judge it critically. The omnipotence of the authorities remained largely unchallenged by juristic expertise. This is not to deny that, in some cases, certain officials were able to acquire special legal expertise, but such was not the rule.
   The individual saw himself primarily in relation to groups of persons (clan, family) and individuals (family members, "friends" and "acquaintances", officials, to whom personal bonds of loyalty existed, etc.) The result was the common destiny shared with such reference persons for better (career advancement, etc.) or for worse (collective punishment). The bond to persons and not to abstract legal norms favoured a certain tendency towards lawlessness or "collective egoism" (the propensity to preserve the interests of one's own "clique", of compatriots from one's own region, etc.).
   This was supplemented by a latent individualism, i.e., the extremely strong sense of self-esteem which existed among the Chinese, but which also took the form of blatant egoism (although this was always suppressed officially). The fact that Chinese civilization, as far as I know, is the only one in the world which developed a fundamentally positive attitude to stratagems, may be regarded as an indication of the pronounced sense of self-esteem on the part of many Chinese. The so-called "conformity" and "servility" of the Chinese is often no more than a pretence. The mask of subjugation and conformity is not infrequently used to hide individual objectives which are then achieved by means of ruses." [Senger 1993: 303-304]

7. Warren Lee Holeman maintains that "...[A]bstract, ahistorical notion of being human translate into universal and potentially imperialistic notions of human rights. If human rights are not linked to membership in the institutions of society, neither are they linked to the cultures which create the institutions.
   Liberalism defines humans in transhistorical, transcultural terms. Thus it conceives human rights in transhistorical, transcultural terms. From the perspective of non-Western philosophies of life, as Marxism and Hinduism, such a view fails to address the needs of persons as they exist in their historical-cultural milieu. It abstracts individuals from society and grants rights to the abstraction, not to any empirically extant being. From the standpoint of Western liberalism, viewing humans and human rights in abstract terms has the advantage of offering a transcendent reference point from which to judge injustice that is being condoned at the cultural level. It is thus suggested that a dialectical relation between abstract and historical conceptions of humanity, which in turn makes possible a rapprochement between universal and cultural conceptions of human rights is best. (Holeman 1987: 217)

8. Rhagunadan Swarup Pathak has the same opinion and suggests the following approach:
   a. formulation of a short list of universal rights constituting the minimum of what is required for the protection and development of human personality;
   b. admission of a broader catalogue of human rights principles and paying attention to the varying specifications of the claims and conditions desirable for promoting the achievement of the ideal. Since the world is pluralistic, composed of societies which are culturally, ideologically and economically different, there can be no single or specific way of going about realizing that ideal. The ideal, nevertheless, remains universal.
   ...c. recognition of order of priorities among the human rights. The enjoyment of most human rights makes demands upon the material and the institutional resources of the State. Since these resources are available only in finitude, the fulfillment of those needs, represented in the human rights programme, must be made amenable to arrangement in an order of priority. It must take into account the surrounding economic realities, since the response from the economic and institutional resources of the State varies according to the economic capacity and technological capability of the State.
   While there will be general agreement with the standards embodied in the provisions of the Universal Declaration and its Covenants, the order of priority in which the concrete realization of those standards can be expected will depend upon the conditions of cultural readiness to accept the concerned standards and the resources available within the State to implement them. Viewed as objective to be aimed at by all civilized societies, a certain universality is recognized in these provisions.
   The realization and the expression given to them will depend upon the response of local factors. Diversity will continue to exist in form and expression, but this is to be expected, and indeed it should be welcomed because the resulting grand mosaic within the universal fold can result in enriching the totality of human society. (Pathak 1989: 10 )
   The approaches mentioned immediately above is similar to the hierarchical levels of variation of cultural relativity presented in the first part of this paper.

9. John Peek lists the following rights as in keeping with Buddhism:
   a. freedom to select government;
   b. right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and to receive just compensation;
   c. freedom from cruel and unusual punishment such as torture, the death penalty, and inhuman treatment;
   d. right to equal and fair treatment under the law;
   e. freedom of religion and conscience;
   f. freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, creed, economic class or gender;
   g. right to education;
   h. right to work and receive just compensation including health care;
   i. freedom from want for those unable to work through social security programs;
   j. right to a clean environment.
   (Peek 1995: 540)

10. The Conference-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Human Rights Education for Development, held in Manila, Philippines in December 1995, seems to be the first regional workshop that was attended by government and non-governmental organization representatives. It was attended by government representatives from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand and the Philippines. The final document that came out provides an interesting enunciation of principles that support people's empowerment, focus on disadvantaged sectors, respect for indigenous cultures of the region, adoption of participatory methods, promotion of the right to development, human rights accountability for transnational/multi-national corporations as well as international financial institutions such as Asian Development Bank, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, among others. This regional workshop comes as part of the series of regional inter-government activities in the region since 1992.
   The series of regional inter-governmental workshops resulted in the adoption of the following action plans:
   a. development of national human rights programs and plans of action in accordance with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Manila 1995, Kathmandu 1996);
   b. continuing dialogue and sharing of experiences in the region and creation of a working group of government, national institutions and non-governmental organizations for the purpose (Manila 1995, Kathmandu 1996);
   c. development of strategies for human rights education in the region, or drafting a regional plan of action, pursuant to the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (Seoul and Manila 1995);
   d. focusing human rights education in the schools and universities (Tokyo 1995);
   e. further development of human rights education programs for judges, civil servants, police, security and defense forces, lawyers, prosecutors, prison officials, community leaders, parliamentarians, health professionals, artists, members of the media, the family and other social institutions or those in a position to effect the realization of human rights (Tokyo and Manila 1995);
   f. coordination of national human rights education programs and strengthening linkages between grassroots communities and human rights agencies (Manila 1995);
   g. linking human rights education to the realization of the right to development and working for the empowerment of citizens and governments to impress upon intergovernmental or bilateral agencies (WB, IMF, ADB) and private sector organizations (TNCs) the need to uphold human rights in all their policies and activities related to human rights (Manila 1995);
   h. coordination of human rights education programs with the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, UNESCO, UNICEF, and local and international non-governmental educational programs (Manila 1995).

* This is a slightly different version of the article of the same title that was published as Chapter 1 in Jefferson R. Plantilla and Sebasti l. Raj, SJ, editors, Human Rights in Asian Cultures - Continuity and Change, HURIGHTS OSAKA (New Delhi: 1997).