Human Rights in Asia
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Human Rights in Asia

Edited by Thomas W.D. Davis and Brian Galligan

Does the increasing prominence of Asia also mark a new era for human rights in the region? This timely book uncovers the political drivers behind both recent regional and country-based changes to the recognition, promotion and protection of rights.
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Chapter 12: Human Rights in Asia: Comparative Reflections

Brian Galligan


Brian Galligan The latter part of the twentieth century was viewed by many as ‘the age of rights’ (Bobbio, 1996). This followed the formation of the United Nations in 1945 with a primary purpose of ‘promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all’. The rights focus of the UN was consolidated in 1948 when the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that proclaimed in Article 1: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Consensus on human rights soon fractured, however, with disagreements over combining civil and political rights with economic, social and cultural rights. The former were championed by the Anglo-American and European countries, whereas Communist and developing countries insisted on the primacy of the latter. Deepening Cold War antagonism between Communist regimes led by the Soviet Union and China and Western liberal democracies led by the United States, and divisions between developed, mainly Northern hemisphere countries, and developing, mainly Southern hemisphere countries, split the UN on basic rights priorities. Consequently, two human rights instruments were adopted in 1966: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). While there was some overlap, each UN declaration was championed by different sets of countries for political and ideological reasons that suited their own domestic and international politics. The Western liberal democracies were privileged, being both economically affluent and with better established traditions of civil and political rights....

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