The ‘Regional and National Context’ Under the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and Its Implications for Minority Rights
6 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2017 Last revised: 12 Apr 2018
Date Written: 2017
The notion that human rights are universal, i.e., to be applied in the same way everywhere regardless of regional or national particularities, has in recent decades been called into question by governments in various regions of the world. These governments argue that the nature and scope of international human rights obligations may be determined in the context of each region’s and nation’s unique “culture”, broadly defined as history, religion, need for economic development, etc. Such cultural relativism is known in East Asia under the rubric of ‘Asian Values’ and is embraced in the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) through that instrument’s reference to the need to consider the “regional and national context”.
The ten member nations of ASEAN span a population of over 600 million and form a rich mosaic of national and minority cultures. Examples of current rights issues faced by the region’s myriad minority populations are resettlement of indigenous groups in Laos for the building of infrastructure projects; the protection of language rights among Thailand’s Khmer-speaking minority; and human security issues in Burma’s ethnic states. Minority cultures thus seems an apt topic for inquiry under the AHRD and, in that connection, the present article will address what the AHRD’s embrace of the “regional and national context” likely implies for the protection of minority rights. For purposes of this article, minority rights will refer to the rights of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities “to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language” within the meaning of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
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