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FOCUS March 1997 Volume 7

Collective Rights in Asia

Communities articulating the concept of collective rights they possess and exercise have much to contribute to the human rights discourse in Asia.

While collective rights have been mentioned quite frequently as a feature of the perception of rights in societies in Asia, there are not so many discussions on how communities actually define and practice them in their own contexts and perspectives.

A study on collective rights aims to look at this issue. The study is part of a bigger program that looks at positive experiences on indigenous mechanisms and cultural dynamics of harmonious multi-ethnic co-existence at the community-level in Asia. It also looks at ways in which ethnic diversity is accommodated at the larger social or State level.

Several countries are covered by the collective rights project, namely, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Each country study focuses on specific group of people belonging mainly to the minority/ indigenous peoples. The India study focuses on the Goms tribal group in Madhya Pradesh, Bangladesh on three minority groups (the Santals, Garo and Chakmas); Thailand on various hill tribes; the Philippines on an indigenous Filipino community; and Indonesia on Indonesian Chinese and the former political prisoners.

The collective rights project will hopefully be able to provide some answers to tough questions such as:

  1. is there a collective right to customary law and the institutions of customary legal system? If so, are there other human rights frameworks that ensure that customary law systems do not themselves violate the laws of the individual within the context of the collective?
  2. are there competing claims of collective rights? If yes, how are they resolved? Can national, constitutional and international norms be applied?
  3. how are collective rights asserted? Does it lead to a demand to be discriminated in favor of the community asserting its rights?
  4. what makes collective rights collective? [1]

The importance of this project lies in its subscription to the over-all theme of presenting successful experiences in Asia on multiculturalism, management of diversity, and maintenance of peaceful coexistence. This links directly to the Declaration and Program of Action of the World Summit on Social Development which offers a key priority of promoting social integration based upon the principles of tolerance, harmony, diversity and pluralism. [2]

For further information, contact: The Sasakawa Peace Foundation, The Sasakawa Hall, 3-12-12 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108 Japan.

End Notes

  1. See minutes of the meeting on collective rights project held on October 22, 1996 in Tokyo, Japan.
  2. See Dr. Clarence J. Dias, Management of Ethnic Relationships in Asia, paper presented during a panel discussion held in Berlin, Germany on the occasion of the Founding Aniversary of the International Peace University, Berlin, Germany (September 16-18, 1995). Dr. Dias is the head of the research group on collective rights.

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