The Emerging “Asian Value” in South East Asia Nations

By Peter Reat Gatkuoth

February 8, 2013 (SSNA) — Human rights struggle is not always or partially connected with the economic success and function. Some nations had been very successful in economic development, yet there are a lot of grievance and violence due to the lack of human rights considerations and the respect of human value. The rights to be free from injustices and traditional mistreatments are partially not connected with the economic success. A nation could be economically developed but respect of human dignity and freedom may be under threat. The good example is Russia where it is economic function and development index is high as North America nations but yet security forces always engaged in killings, torturing people and/or humiliating citizens, often with impunity. Therefore, the scope of this analysis argue that the human rights system in ASEAN could not work well if they only look at the success of their economic development and promotion of “Asia value” as a functional step in order to implement the human rights system.

Human rights concept is an institutional discourse that need a special consideration before people looks at their economic progress. Although there is no system without economic consideration, it should be argued, on the other hand, that there is no better system without consideration of the pressing social issue of human rights and human dignity. The human rights in South East Asia countries had never been well established although they argued that their system of “Asian values and Asia ways” of life is equivalent with the international Universal human rights system (Bauer, 15). Establishment of recognizable human rights system should have been separated from the economic political unity of the ASEAN countries. The claims that they are economically better off is disputable by the other nations that had adapted the universal human rights systems since it does not reflect the progress of the human rights system in Asia society.

Looking back into the principle and the purpose of the AICHR, the author of this analysis came up with clear ideas that the main reasons behind the formation of this ASEAN network is to bring all ASEAN nations into an umbrella of economic progress, development and political unity of the ASEAN. This fact is reflected by the role played by foreign affairs leaders in dealing with the situation of everything; and perhaps it may send a clear message to all readers and international scholars that the organization is not meant for the promotion of human rights. It is a separate entity that does not deals for the mobilization of the public to accept and practice human rights issue but political unity within the South East Asian.

The argument contrast to the international Human rights system does not hold any substantive points. “Asian values” should reflect all Asian culture but in reality, the Asian values are government valued systems that subordinate and oppress women’s activities or the entire civilian population activities at large. The counter argument that human rights are “western phenomenon and ideology, imported through colonialization and aliened to the Asian culture” may be seen as a justification of skipping the reality in order to promote freedom and respect for human rights (Avonius, 41). If the ASEAN government allow the Asian societies as a community to debate on the issue of human rights and choose to go with the cultural perspective, then people in the international community may just challenges the people and not the government for their failure to respect and integrate some standard aspect of the human rights system, like the other regions in the world. However, the fact is that “political dissidents are still risking their lives to achieve political freedom” within the ASEAN society (Avonius, 42). This is reflected on the daily reality that majority of the population are living under the authoritarian threat; and yet they still have no ways to achieve the respect of human dignity, freedom of expression and freedom of political participation and opinion until these days.

The current debate of the “Asian ways and Asian value” is a political escapism of accepting the universal reality (Bauer, 14). African had traditional value (Ubuntu way of life), and yet they formed the regional human rights systems. The European and Inter-American also have the same human right wings. Would Asians objection still post the question of colonialism, then the question may also goes back to them that there is no one colonializing Asian through the recognition of universal human rights system and discourse.

African had gone through the toughest colonization than some of Asian countries. If the ideas of human rights meant imperialism, then African would have been the first society in the world to object the ideas of universal human rights system. However, the question and the promotion of the Universal Human rights systems is more linked to the rights of individuals as the person as well as the society, inclusively. Some rights are natural rights that everyone should have without conditions but Asian authorities do not allow anyone to practices his/her rights, simply for the fear that Western ideology may get room in the minds of the people, and allow the citizens to declare opposition war against the authoritarian principle.

This is the reasons why Asian States’ government do not open a public dialogue and “present Asians with an opportunity to promote an open discourse on human rights and its cultural relevance.” This is because they do not want the community to express their communal rights over the state authorities (Avonius, 42). Women’s rights in Asian community (ASEAN) are considered as their husband rights and girls are forced to respect the religious rights within the Asian countries. The good example was in Afghanistan in 1994 when the Taliban regime forced all girls not to attend the public school, simply because they thought that, attending the school violate the rights of their religious dignity.

This happened when the Taliban troops occupied the town in 1994 when they defeated the Afghanistan government out of the city. “The first edicts were to remove the girls from school, forbade women from employment outside the homes, and required women to wear garments totally covering themselves when they appeared in public” (Fraser, 853). This measure was a clear abrogation of the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. If this practice is the “Asia value,” then how would we expect the change to happen or the human rights discourses to be implemented when 70% of women population are denied access to education?

For the Asia leaders to compare the Asian values to the international Human rights standard is almost a sign that the governments is not willing to adopt and accept the international human rights instruments. What they should claim was an assertion of legitimacy of authoritarian political model, economic success and the unity of ASEAN community because all states in that particular region focus on “the level of national ideology, with the deprivation of the rights and freedom of their citizens” (Mutarbhom, 413). This has been indicated by the leader of ASEAN in the youtube that “the UN is like a market” and this tells us that they have no intention to accept the universal human rights system as an important instrument rather than promoting “Asian Value.”

Therefore, the author of this analysis argued that the emerging human rights mechanism in South Asia Nations will not have any practical and positive impact, because the rights and the interest of the family and the community have been underscored by the “Asian value”. This traditional of Asian value is rooted in various negative practices that subordinate women, and social activists to a various cultural demands. For the society to survive injustice and human right violation, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of political participation must be accepted to the extent of international universal standard. Limitation of accepting the rights of individuals will post a great challenge to all human being because “the States’ authorities have not yet acceded to other key international human rights instruments. They emphasize on the principle of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the non-use of human rights as an instrument of political pressure” (Muntarbom, 408-409).

The author lives in North America. You can send him any comment at [email protected]/[email protected] or visit his blog at

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