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FOCUS March 1997 Volume 7

Dynamics of Cultural Values and Human Rights

Human rights and cultures when seen as ideas in the process of continuing development find appropriate links with each other.

In a current research being done on the relationship between cultural values and human rights in Asia, it is shown that there are elements in cultures/cultural values which change due to espousal of better ideas (as in the rejection of inequality and discrimination in the caste system, or the change of political order brought by independence of colonized states) or external influences (as in the introduction of new religion) which bring ideas closer to human rights principles. These changes are in turn reflected in laws as in the case of the Constitution of India and in the modern laws in south Korea.

There are cultural values in some Asian countries (India, south Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines) that show common areas of importance. Family-centeredness figures prominently in most of these cultural values. Good inter-personal relationship also comes out as a common element that finds meaning in relation to maintaining social order, and performing duties to the family and to society.

There are also instances when values very much akin to human rights had actually taken root in some countries in Asia. The equality, freedom and peaceful coexistence principles in Buddhism, the Baul movement and the Bhakti movement in India, and the Tong Hak movement in Korea are examples. They also show a process of change in culture - process of reacting to the oppressive features of the older, mainstream cultures mainly done by the marginalized members of society.

It is noticeable that in each of the countries under study, there exists a basic culture on which new ideas and values are added on or set against. This can be the basic Javanese culture in Java island in Indonesia, the Malay culture in the Philippines, the Confucian-influenced culture in Korea, and the Hindu culture in India. And historically speaking, the trend among these cultures is toward having freedom, equality, and other positive values.

The challenge being posed by the research is in discovering more elements in cultural values and in human rights that can be bases of mutual enrichment. Needless to say, there can be cultural values in Asia which can contribute to the prevailing international thinking on human rights.

The research result is planned to be published later on as a material that will initiate further debate/discussion on the issue of culture and human rights in Asia-Pacific. This research is related to the effort at looking at ways and means of understanding human rights in the context of today's society.

For more information contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

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