Human Rights
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We plan to have 8 content partners and are identifying them through our research.
The content partner will be one NGO / NPO from 6 continents (Oceania - Australasia, Asia, Africa, Europe, North America & South America) plus one each from India & Thane.
We know that as of now, there does not exist an NGO / NPO in Antarctica continent.
We plan to provide one free banner to 6 continent content partners. This will be either the name of the NGO or their logo and the size of each banner will be 190 px width and 30 px height.
The banner for NGO in Asia will be from countries other than India because India & Thane are our global examples and we will give a banner of 502 px x 40 px each to an NGO from India & Thane at the top of this folder.
All the 8 banners will be from now to March 2018.

Reports that Yahoo aided US e-mail surveillance draw concern of UN human rights expert

State-owned enterprises must be ‘role model’ in respecting human rights – UN report
17 June – A United Nations expert group today said that State-owned enterprises must lead by example in respecting human rights, noting that Governments often ask private businesses to respect human rights, but forget to mind their own business.
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Human Rights In Various Regions
Democracy is a valued principle, so much so that some people have sacrificed their lives to fight for it. While no system is perfect, it seems that democracy is once again under assault. What are the challenges posed in a democratic system and are established safeguards helping to strengthen democracy or are their forces successfully weakening it?

Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns. This article explores racism from around the world.

Women’s Rights
Women’s rights around the world is an important indicator to understand global well-being.

A major global women’s rights treaty was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.
Yet, despite many successes in empowering women, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less; gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and girls are often are the ones that suffer the most poverty.

Gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women’s rights and gender equality should not be underestimated.

Rights Of Indigenous People
There are approximately 370 million indigenous people spanning 70 countries, worldwide. Historically they have often been dispossessed of their lands, or in the center of conflict for access to valuable resources because of where they live, or, in yet other cases, struggling to live the way they would like. Indeed, indigenous people are often amongst the most disadvantaged people in the world.

The Internet And Human Rights
Rights Of The Child
Corporations And Human Rights
Large, transnational corporations are becoming increasingly powerful. As profits are naturally the most important goal, damaging results can arise, such as violation of human rights, lobbying for and participating in manipulated international agreements, environmental damage, child labor, driving towards cheaper and cheaper labor, and so on. Multinational corporations claim that their involvement in foreign countries is actually a constructive engagement as it can promote human rights in non-democratic nations. However, it seems that that is more of a convenient excuse to continue exploitative practices.

At the start of June 2013, a large number of documents detailing surveillance by intelligence agencies such as the US’s NSA and UK’s GCHQ started to be revealed, based on information supplied by NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden.

These leaks revealed a massive surveillance program that included interception of email and other Internet communications and phone call tapping. Some of it appears illegal, while other revelations show the US spying on friendly nations during various international summits.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of furor. While some countries are no doubt using this to win some diplomatic points, there has been an increase in tension with the US and other regions around the world.

Much of the US surveillance programs came from the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. Concerns about a crackdown on civil rights in the wake of the so-called war on terror have been expressed for a long time, and these revelations seem to be confirming some of those fears.

Given the widespread collection of information, apparently from central servers of major Internet companies and from other core servers that form part of the Internet backbone, activities of millions (if not billions) of citizens have been caught up in a dragnet style surveillance problem called PRISM, even when the communication has nothing to do with terrorism.
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Human Rights Watch has embarked on a bold Global Challenge campaign in order to protect more people, in more places around the world.
Projecting our information in key regional centers – in Delhi, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bangkok, Beirut, São Paolo, and Cairo – is our crucial next step in advancing fundamental rights for people everywhere. At the same time, deepening our research in areas where we are too thinly staffed will enable us to expose more abusers than ever before and hold them to account.

To meet this goal Human Rights Watch needs to expand our team of activists by nearly one-third. Based in the countries they cover, our staff will build vital bridges with local officials, policy-makers, and the media. To bring this vision to fruition, Human Rights Watch will need to grow our annual budget from today’s $50 million to $80 million.

The Challange
Inspired by our vision and our strategy, George Soros has invested $10 million a year for 10 years. With this gift, Soros is challenging our community of supporters and other global philanthropists to provide the remaining $20 million per year to fully implement our strategic plan.

The Ideals of Human Rights
Respect for human rights underlies many other social priorities, including global security, economic development, environmental protection, and public health.

"The world order is shifting and Human Rights Watch must have the resources to engage those emerging powers best placed to put human rights on the global agenda."
Jim Hoge, Board Chair, Human Rights Watch
"I believe investing in human rights is critical to making the world a better place because improving human rights does more than just restore people’s dignity: it also fosters long-term development and economic progress. Human rights are the most efficient aid multipliers that exist today.
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Human Rights

The first two principles of the UN Global Compact, which are derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are:

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: Business should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Respecting and supporting human rights remains one of the most challenging areas of corporate sustainability. This is because, in part, human rights have traditionally been the concern of States, and international human rights instruments are addressed to them. However, in the lead up to, and following the endorsement of, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by the Human Rights Council in 2011, more businesses are coming to realize their legal, moral and/or commercial need to address human rights issues within their own activities and their business relationships. At the same time they are confronted with a number of challenges. For example, there is the need to come to grips with the human rights framework and how a company’s own activities might relate to it. In addition, companies are often uncertain of how to avoid complicity in human rights abuse and where the boundaries of their human rights responsibility lie.

The Human Rights and Business Dilemmas Forum enables businesses and stakeholders to explore such challenges in an interactive way in the context of approximately 25 human rights and business themes. Access the Human Rights and Business Dilemmas Forum.

Regardless of size or operational context, all companies can benefit from tools and guidance to help them with their implementation efforts. The UN Global Compact strives to bring more clarity to this field by highlighting the relevance of human rights for business, demonstrating the business case for human rights, emphasizing practical solutions and pointing to useful tools and guidance materials. The Human Rights and Labor Working Group also produces Good Practice Notes and case studies that identify approaches that have been recognized by a number of businesses and stakeholders as being good for business and good for human rights. This activity is in keeping with the goal of showing that advancing human rights is not just about managing risks and meeting standards and expectations; it can also be about realizing new opportunities for sustainable growth.

For a more detailed description about the human rights principles, including what companies can do to implement them, see the ten principles and principles One and Two.
Access guidance materials to help with implementation of the Human Rights principles.
Note on the Global Compact and Business and Human Rights (doc).
To learn more and to test your knowledge, access the Human Rights and Business Learning Tool, prepared by the Global Compact and OHCHR. A certificate is available upon successful completion.
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The Challenge of Human Rights and Cultural Diversity
The end of the cold war has created a series of tentative attempts to define "a new world order". So far, the only certainty is that the international community has entered a period of tremendous global transition that, at least for the time being, has created more social problems than solutions.

The end of super-power rivalry, and the growing North/South disparity in wealth and access to resources, coincide with an alarming increase in violence, poverty and unemployment, homelessness, displaced persons and the erosion of environmental stability. The world has also witnessed one of the most severe global economic recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

At the same time, previously isolated peoples are being brought together voluntarily and involuntarily by the increasing integration of markets, the emergence of new regional political alliances, and remarkable advances in telecommunications, biotechnology and transportation that have prompted unprecedented demographic shifts.

The resulting confluence of peoples and cultures is an increasingly global, multicultural world brimming with tension, confusion and conflict in the process of its adjustment to pluralism. There is an understandable urge to return to old conventions, traditional cultures, fundamental values, and the familiar, seemingly secure, sense of one's identity. Without a secure sense of identity amidst the turmoil of transition, people may resort to isolationism, ethnocentricism and intolerance.

This climate of change and acute vulnerability raises new challenges to our ongoing pursuit of universal human rights. How can human rights be reconciled with the clash of cultures that has come to characterize our time? Cultural background is one of the primary sources of identity. It is the source for a great deal of self-definition, expression, and sense of group belonging. As cultures interact and intermix, cultural identities change. This process can be enriching, but disorienting. The current insecurity of cultural identity reflects fundamental changes in how we define and express who we are today.

Universal Human Rights and Cultural Relativism
This situation sharpens a long-standing dilemma: How can universal human rights exist in a culturally diverse world? As the international community becomes increasingly integrated, how can cultural diversity and integrity be respected? Is a global culture inevitable? If so, is the world ready for it? How could a global culture emerge based on and guided by human dignity and tolerance? These are some of the issues, concerns and questions underlying the debate over universal human rights and cultural relativism.
Cultural relativism is the assertion that human values, far from being universal, vary a great deal according to different cultural perspectives. Some would apply this relativism to the promotion, protection, interpretation and application of human rights which could be interpreted differently within different cultural, ethnic and religious traditions. In other words, according to this view, human rights are culturally relative rather than universal.

Taken to its extreme, this relativism would pose a dangerous threat to the effectiveness of international law and the international system of human rights that has been painstakingly contructed over the decades. If cultural tradition alone governs State compliance with international standards, then widespread disregard, abuse and violation of human rights would be given legitimacy.

Accordingly, the promotion and protection of human rights perceived as culturally relative would only be subject to State discretion, rather than international legal imperative. By rejecting or disregarding their legal obligation to promote and protect universal human rights, States advocating cultural relativism could raise their own cultural norms and particularities above international law and standards.

Universal Human Rights and International Law
Largely through the ongoing work of the United Nations, the universality of human rights has been clearly established and recognized in international law. Human rights are emphasized among the purposes of the United Nations as proclaimed in its Charter, which states that human rights are "for all without distinction". Human rights are the natural-born rights for every human being, universally. They are not privileges.
The Charter further commits the United Nations and all Member States to action promoting "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms". As the cornerstone of the International Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms consensus on a universal standard of human rights. In the recent issue of A Global Agenda, Charles Norchi points out that the Universal Declaration "represents a broader consensus on human dignity than does any single culture or tradition".

Universal human rights are further established by the two international covenants on human rights (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), and the other international standard-setting instruments which address numerous concerns, including genocide, slavery, torture, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, rights of the child, minorities and religious tolerance.

These achievements in human rights standard-setting span nearly five decades of work by the United Nations General Assembly and other parts of the United Nations system. As an assembly of nearly every State in the international community, the General Assembly is a uniquely representative body authorized to address and advance the protection and promotion of human rights. As such, it serves as an excellent indicator of international consensus on human rights.

This consensus is embodied in the language of the Universal Declaration itself. The universal nature of human rights is literally written into the title of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its Preamble proclaims the Declaration as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations".

This statement is echoed most recently in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which repeats the same language to reaffirm the status of the Universal Declaration as a "common standard" for everyone. Adopted in June 1993 by the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Austria, the Vienna Declaration continues to reinforce the universality of human rights, stating, "All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated". This means that political, civil, cultural, economic and social human rights are to be seen in their entirety. One cannot pick and choose which rights to promote and protect. They are all of equal value and apply to everyone.

As if to settle the matter once and for all, the Vienna Declaration states in its first paragraph that "the universal nature" of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is "beyond question". The unquestionable universality of human rights is presented in the context of the reaffirmation of the obligation of States to promote and protect human rights.

The legal obligation is reaffirmed for all States to promote "universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all". It is clearly stated that the obligation of States is to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights. Not selective, not relative, but universal respect, observance and protection.

Furthermore, the obligation is established for all States, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other instruments of human rights and international law. No State is exempt from this obligation. All Member States of the United Nations have a legal obligation to promote and protect human rights, regardless of particular cultural perspectives. Universal human rights protection and promotion are asserted in the Vienna Declaration as the "first responsibility" of all Governments.

Everyone is entitled to human rights without discrimination of any kind. The non-discrimination principle is a fundamental rule of international law. This means that human rights are for all human beings, regardless of "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". Non-discrimination protects individuals and groups against the denial and violation of their human rights. To deny human rights on the grounds of cultural distinction is discriminatory. Human rights are intended for everyone, in every culture.

Human rights are the birthright of every person. If a State dismisses universal human rights on the basis of cultural relativism, then rights would be denied to the persons living under that State's authority. The denial or abuse of human rights is wrong, regardless of the violator's culture.

Human Rights, Cultural Integrity and Diversity
Universal human rights do not impose one cultural standard, rather one legal standard of minimum protection necessary for human dignity. As a legal standard adopted through the United Nations, universal human rights represent the hard-won consensus of the international community, not the cultural imperialism of any particular region or set of traditions.
Like most areas of international law, universal human rights are a modern achievement, new to all cultures. Human rights are neither representative of, nor oriented towards, one culture to the exclusion of others. Universal human rights reflect the dynamic, coordinated efforts of the international community to achieve and advance a common standard and international system of law to protect human dignity.

Inherent Flexibility
Out of this process, universal human rights emerge with sufficient flexibility to respect and protect cultural diversity and integrity. The flexibility of human rights to be relevant to diverse cultures is facilitated by the establishment of minimum standards and the incorporation of cultural rights.
The instruments establish minimum standards for economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. Within this framework, States have maximum room for cultural variation without diluting or compromising the minimum standards of human rights established by law. These minimum standards are in fact quite high , requiring from the State a very high level of performance in the field of human rights.

The Vienna Declaration provides explicit consideration for culture in human rights promotion and protection, stating that "the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind". This is deliberately acknowledged in the context of the duty of States to promote and protect human rights regardless of their cultural systems. While its importance is recognized, cultural consideration in no way diminishes States' human rights obligations.

Most directly, human rights facilitate respect for and protection of cultural diversity and integrity, through the establishment of cultural rights embodied in instruments of human rights law. These include: the International Bill of Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice; the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; the Declaration on the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation; the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities; the Declaration on the Right to Development; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and the ILO Convention No. 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

Human rights which relate to cultural diversity and integrity encompass a wide range of protections, including: the right to cultural participation; the right to enjoy the arts; conservation, development and diffusion of culture; protection of cultural heritage; freedom for creative activity; protection of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities; freedom of assembly and association; the right to education; freedom of thought, conscience or religion; freedom of opinion and expression; and the principle of non-discrimination.

Cultural Rights
Every human being has the right to culture, including the right to enjoy and develop cultural life and identity. Cultural rights, however, are not unlimited. The right to culture is limited at the point at which it infringes on another human right. No right can be used at the expense or destruction of another, in accordance with international law.
This means that cultural rights cannot be invoked or interpreted in such a way as to justify any act leading to the denial or violation of other human rights and fundamental freedoms. As such, claiming cultural relativism as an excuse to violate or deny human rights is an abuse of the right to culture.

There are legitimate, substantive limitations on cultural practices, even on well-entrenched traditions. For example, no culture today can legitimately claim a right to practise slavery. Despite its practice in many cultures throughout history, slavery today cannot be considered legitimate, legal, or part of a cultural legacy entitled to protection in any way. To the contrary, all forms of slavery, including contemporary slavery-like practices, are a gross violation of human rights under international law.

Similarly, cultural rights do not justify torture, murder, genocide, discrimination on grounds of sex, race, language or religion, or violation of any of the other universal human rights and fundamental freedoms established in international law. Any attempts to justify such violations on the basis of culture have no validity under international law.

A Cultural Context
The argument of cultural relativism frequently includes or leads to the assertion that traditional culture is sufficient to protect human dignity, and therefore universal human rights are unnecessary. Furthermore, the argument continues, universal human rights can be intrusive and disruptive to traditional protection of human life, liberty and security.
When traditional culture does effectively provide such protection, then human rights by definition would be compatible, posing no threat to the traditional culture. As such, the traditional culture can absorb and apply human rights, and the governing State should be in a better position not only to ratify, but to effectively and fully implement, the international standards.

Traditional culture is not a substitute for human rights; it is a cultural context in which human rights must be established, integrated, promoted and protected. Human rights must be approached in a way that is meaningful and relevant in diverse cultural contexts.

Rather than limit human rights to suit a given culture, why not draw on traditional cultural values to reinforce the application and relevance of universal human rights? There is an increased need to emphasize the common, core values shared by all cultures: the value of life, social order and protection from arbitrary rule. These basic values are embodied in human rights.

Traditional cultures should be approached and recognized as partners to promote greater respect for and observance of human rights. Drawing on compatible practices and common values from traditional cultures would enhance and advance human rights promotion and protection. This approach not only encourages greater tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, but also fosters more effective international cooperation for human rights.

Greater understanding of the ways in which traditional cultures protect the well-being of their people would illuminate the common foundation of human dignity on which human rights promotion and protection stand. This insight would enable human rights advocacy to assert the cultural relevance, as well as the legal obligation, of universal human rights in diverse cultural contexts. Recognition and appreciation of particular cultural contexts would serve to facilitate, rather than reduce, human rights respect and observance.

Working in this way with particular cultures inherently recognizes cultural integrity and diversity, without compromising or diluting the unquestionably universal standard of human rights. Such an approach is essential to ensure that the future will be guided above all by human rights, non-discrimination, tolerance and cultural pluralism.
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The Challenge to International Human Rights
The Challenge to International Human Rights This is a chapter in Constructing Human Rights in the Age of Globalization, published by M.E. Sharpe (April 2003).

A commonly held notion among Western liberals is that Asian, African, and Arab perspectives on human rights are the greatest challenge to universality—the implication being that once the international human rights community reckons with the countries of these outlier regions, it will have eliminated the obstacle to universal human rights. This idea is mistaken. It ignores both the fact that even within the West, particularly in the United States, there are significant numbers of people who hold ideas of human rights that are in tension with the dominant liberal interpretation of international human rights, and the fact that within Asia, Africa, and the Arab world there are strong traditions that are consistent with it.

Sweeping characterizations of regions or civilizations have been widely discredited since Samuel Huntington’s publication of The Clash of Civilizations. The analysis has been accompanied by an “us” versus “them” rhetoric that reflects an unconscious but persistent failure to acknowledge that regions consist of diverse cultures and that all societies bear multiple and conflicting ethical perspectives. Careful observers know that any reference to an “Asian” perspective, for example, signals an ideological purpose: namely cultural nationalism, and likely a defensive reaction to Western pressure. To equate a region or society’s human rights perspective with cultural nationalism is to neglect the efforts of many brave, highly committed people around the world struggling to promote support for human rights and take a stand against abuses in the settings they call home.

In this chapter I argue that conflicts over the meaning of human rights and the priority to accord to them occur within as well as across regions, reflecting their diversity. There is not only a need but also a basis, therefore, for resisting the temptation to view conflicts as occurring primarily across North-South or East-West lines. I begin by presenting a typology of the major ideological challenges to international human rights, drawing upon the work of Rhoda Howard, to support the point that the challenges are emanating from all parts of the globe, including the West. The empirical part of this chapter is devoted to a consideration of the human rights debates within three non-Western regions—Asia, the Arab world, and Africa—and in the United States. In all four settings I contrast the caricaturized version of the debates, which emanates from cultural nationalist agendas, with the debates among local activists and intellectuals. Two observations emerge: first, that genuine disagreement takes place not so much over human rights principles, but in their implementation and prioritization; and second, that Western human rights scholars must take their cue from scholars and activists in other parts of the world and shift their focus from a preoccupation with cultural relativism to the project of cultural legitimation.

Who Is Challenging “International Human Rights”?
Typically the scholarly debate over human rights is thought to take place between two opposing camps: the universalists and the cultural relativists. The universalists build their understanding of human rights upon the liberal tradition whereby rights are accorded to the individual by virtue of being human. Cultural relativists, on the other hand, argue that values are grounded in specific communities and that the communal group, not the individual, is the basic social unit. In reality, however, the ideological spectrum is much more complex; realizing that complexity can help point us to where the challenges to international human rights actually lie.

In Human Rights and the Search for Community, Rhoda Howard describes five contemporary ideological challenges to human rights. Notably, each of these views is put forward within the North as well the South. “Radical capitalism,” a view held by Western liberals, dismisses social and economic human rights as irrelevant and idealistic. To Howard, this view represents a “capitalist culture’s rejection of economic rights” and confinement of rights to property rights and “the civil and political rights needed to carry out one’s own affairs in peace.” The behavioral manifestation of radical capitalism, according to Howard, is “social minimalism”: the belief in economic freedom without a corresponding recognition of the duty to assist those in need. The fact that social minimalism is so prevalent in the United States, a predominantly Christian society, underscores the fallacy of trying to characterize contemporary societies by their philosophical or religious roots. Clearly the conduct of American political life is not guided strictly by the principles of the “good Samaritan” or “do unto others,” and often stands in contradiction to them.

The four other challenges to human rights that Howard identifies all overlap with what in the West is called “communitarianism.” “Traditionalism” is adherence to the notion that international human rights conflict with traditional rules for orderly social behavior, and that within the confines of the group, the society protects the human rights of its members. It is this challenge that is usually presented under the guise of a distinctively “Asian,” “African,” or “Arab” perspective of human rights. “Reactionary conservatism” holds that the “excesses of contemporary freedom,” such as women’s liberation, homosexual rights, and so forth—in other words “excessive individualism”—are antithetical to social order. This view was inherent in the “Asian values” argument promoted by some Asian officials in the mid-1990s challenging the applicability of international human rights to Asia. It is also present in the West, where the argument resonated among large pockets of the population.

Howard’s fourth category, “left collectivism,” is a reaction against the West. Left collectivism holds that national self-determination and relief from Western imperialism and multinational corporations are the most important human rights. Adherents in the West can be found among ethno-religious minorities. Howard’s final category is “status radicalism.” Like the politics of identity, status radicalism is the belief that since rights are systematically denied to certain groups, one’s group status and protection of that group’s rights are more important than the protection of their individual rights. Many feminists and black activists in the Western world put forth this argument, demonstrating the failure of these societies “to incorporate all social groups in North America’s heterogeneous environment.” Here again the rejection of the liberal human rights philosophy is not strictly a “third-world” perspective.

Missing from Howard’s typology is religious fundamentalism, which while close to traditionalism, cannot be viewed as the same. Generally speaking, religious fundamentalism in its varied Islamic, Christian, and Jewish forms takes the notion of local norms much further than Howard’s traditionalism does in that adherents believe that human rights are ordained by God alone. They recognize only the codification of those norms within the religious laws of Sharia, the Bible, and the Torah and dismiss other public, local, and international law, including international human rights. Howard’s typology also does not specify the often heard critique of human rights that they conflict with societies and cultures – including many non-fundamentalist religious cultures -- that place a greater emphasis on duties and obligations over rights and challenge the notion of equality, although this argument can be accommodated within traditionalism.

This typology helps us to see that challenges to international human rights principles are not isolated to particular regions; rather human rights have multiple and shifting meanings and their contestation appears to be universal. This observation weakens the notion that there can be one or two or three outlier countries or regions that stand in the way of universal human rights, and underscores the need for analysis that is locally- situated, historical, and comparative. The rest of this chapter is devoted to an examination of rights discourses in both the non-West and the West in an effort to gain a better understanding of where genuine differences may lie.

Regional Perspectives of Human Rights
While there is no one Asian, African, Arab, or American perspective on human rights, it is possible to identify two broad types of perspectives within a given society: those wrapped up in cultural nationalism, which are often tied to and manipulated by the government; and what one might call the “activist-intellectual” perspective. The cultural nationalist perspective is easy to know: it can be found in government propaganda and policy statements aimed at both local and international audiences. The activist-intellectual perspective in many of these societies is less accessible, particularly since the people asking questions about and debating rights, governance, and social justice—intellectuals who tend to be also deeply involved in the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—often must do so within a climate of repression.

But even in the case of politically open societies, such as the United States, the human rights perspectives of the many groups extending the liberal interpretation of human rights remain little known simply because they cannot command the attention of the mainstream media. For example, even few Americans are aware of the efforts of people like Clarice Friloux of Louisiana, Richard Murphy of North Carolina, Ramona Ortega of New York City, Cheri Honkala of Philadelphia, and Loretta Ross of Atlanta, Georgia, who are leading movements to fight for the recognition of economic and social rights—relating to the right to health, the right to a clean environment, the right to housing, and welfare rights—in the United States.

Non-Western perspectives on human rights are being heavily shaped today by several overlapping trends: globalization, secularization, urbanization, and a resulting breaking down of community. These trends are also having their effect in the West. A major distinction between the discourses in the West and in the non-West is that in the non-West the social and economic dislocation resulting from globalization is coupled with another effect of globalization: exposure to the idea of human rights. The result has been a greater emphasis on economic and social rights in the South. A salient exception to this phenomenon is Latin America, where the human rights struggle has since its inception in the early 1970s been identified with the denunciation of violations and the defense of victims of authoritarian military dictatorships. Today, with so-called democratic consolidation in the region and the gross economic inequality and poverty that pervades, there is an active debate among human rights activists in these countries over whether to continue to prioritize civil and political rights or to move toward a new agenda that would include a much broader spectrum of rights.

Activist-intellectuals from outside the West concerned with human rights in their societies tend to focus their energies in two areas: first, to look within their cultures for values and practices that resonate with the current human rights regime; and second, to attempt to enrich the current international rights regimes with values and practices from their cultures that may also resonate with Western ideas, but are not currently part of the international rights regime. The palavar political system of communal Africa, where the chiefs routinely consulted elders, as an argument for the right to political participation, is an example of the former; and promoting Confucian ideas about respect for the elderly, a notion that cannot be found in the existing UN international human rights documents, is an example of the latter.

A new attribute of the regional discourses among activist-intellectuals is that they have become integrated into a global discourse that includes the West. There are several recent examples of cross-cultural dialogues in Asia, spurred on by the Asian values debate (discussed below), most initiated by Western scholars. Not only have the ideas generated from these dialogues begun to influence human rights debates locally, but they have also prompted serious reflection on the part of Western participants and observers about the validity of their own claims.

Absent a catalyst like the Asian values argument, there has not been an engagement between Western and non-Western academics in Africa or the Middle East with the intensity of that between Westerners and Asians. But there has been a mixing of ideas of human rights through other means. Most notably, the major UN human rights conferences that began in the 1990s—Rio (environment), Vienna (human rights), Cairo (population), Copenhagen (social exclusion), Beijing (women’s rights), Istanbul (human settlements), and Durban (racism)—have brought increasing opportunities for the integration of regional discourses with global discourses. In what follows, I provide overviews of the contemporary human rights debates within four regions–Asia, the Arab world, Africa, and the United States—contrasting the cultural nationalist perspective with the intellectual perspective.

The cultural nationalist perspective most closely associated with Asia can be found in the Asian values debate of the early to middle 1990s, which was sparked principally by the provocative writings and speeches of Singaporean senior minister Lee Kuan Yew and other senior Singaporean officials. The thrust of the Asian values argument is that Asia can provide a countermodel to the “American model” or way of life, which has been overrun by civil society, shattered by excessive individualism, and has left the United States ridden with violent crime, drugs, guns, vagrancy, and immoral behavior. The countermodel, which relies on the strong hand of the wise and benevolent patriarch, can succeed by instilling respect for “Asian values”—obedience, thrift, industriousness, respect for elders and authority, an emphasis on family, and restraint of immediate gratification. Underlying all this is the claim that Asians prioritize economic and social rights over civil and political rights, the community over the individual, and social order and stability over democracy and individual freedom. It is important to note that these values are not so much “Asian” as they are those most often identified with Confucianism, which leaves out Asian countries throughout South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia without a Confucian past. In this sense “Asian values” is a misnomer. While maintaining the “traditionalist” position on human rights, Asian governments have come to see engaging in the international debate on human rights as a way of warding off Western influence. As Chinese legal scholar Xin Chunying explains in the case of China:

Compared to Western societies, China places much less emphasis on individual rights and significantly more emphasis on the value of the individual in terms of his or her contribution to harmony in society. In fact, there is a strong reaction against the younger generation which thinks more about their “selfish” rights than the good of society. This is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. But today, in contrast to the past, human rights is not perceived as a threat to China’s cultural identity. Rather, engaging in the international human rights discourse is seen as a way of resisting foreign influence and keeping Chinese culture distinct.
The Asian values rhetoric can thus be seen as a manifestation of this desire on the part of Asian governments to engage the international community in a debate on human rights while attempting to enjoin their people in an affirmation of the cultural nationalist perspective.

The primary target of Lee and his Singaporean colleagues was his home audience, and to some extent Western audiences. Yet his remarks were well received throughout Asia, notably even in the democratic (and non-Confucian) Philippines, where Lee gave a major speech on the subject. But many Asian activist-intellectuals remained unconvinced. For example, Japanese political philosopher Tatsuo Inoue argued that Asian values are an extension of Orientalism or what he terms “Asian Orientalism.” And as Singapore legal scholar Kevin Y. L. Tan noted at the height of the Asian values debate, “Asians appear to be speaking from a position of strength—strength drawn not from the merits of intellectual arguments but from their economic success.” The financial crisis that struck many of the East and Southeast Asian economies in the late 1990s put a hole in the argument that Asian economic success is due to the stability of the authoritarian and neoauthoritarian governments. But the unexpected recovery of the region just a few years later allowed the Asian values argument to regain some momentum.

Among Asian activist-intellectuals and human rights activists, two perspectives of human rights stand out. The first perspective is found in the NGO statement during the Bangkok regional preparatory conference leading up to the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, which supports the universality and indivisibility of human rights: We affirm our commitment to the principle of indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, be they economic, social and cultural, or civil and political rights. There must be a holistic and integrated approach to human rights. One set of rights cannot be used to bargain for another.

Support for the indivisibility of rights can also be found in the Bangkok Declaration, the statement crafted by Asian government officials at the conference, although it was not picked up within the official rhetoric once conference representatives returned home and received little attention within the ensuing “Asian values” debate.

The second perspective put forth by Asian NGOs is that the Asian values argument should not be dismissed as cultural relativism, but rather that it is important to remain open to the possibility that justifications for human rights can be found in local traditions. The project of cultural legitimation has been a primary endeavor of Asian activist-intellectuals in recent years, at times carried out together with their Western counterparts. An example is the work of the Malaysian women’s group Sisters in Islam. This group advocates for the right of women to hold public office, protection of women from domestic violence, and other campaigns for women’s rights that rely chiefly upon the technique of locating the justification for those rights in the Quran.

The Arab World
Among the common misperceptions of the Middle East is that Islam is the only factor in the attitudes one finds toward human rights. The impression is fed by the manipulation of Islam by conservatives, who invoke Islam in denying the applicability of international human rights, much the same way the proponents of Asian values use Confucianism. As Ann Elizabeth Mayer writes, “The precepts of Islam, like those of Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and other major religions possessed of long and complex traditions, are susceptible to interpretations that can and do create conflicts between religious doctrine and human rights principles or that reconcile the two.”

A significant difference between the use of Islam in Arab rights discourses and the use of Confucianism in Asia is that whereas principally the governments of East Asia have used Confucianism in defense of their derogation of rights, in the Middle East and other parts of the Islamic world (including Southeast Asia, as seen in the example above) the NGO community invokes Islam in protesting repression by regimes. In fact, the debate over human rights within the Arab world is, in the most basic sense, between reformists (be they Islamists or secularists) and conservatives.

The discourse among Muslims in the Middle East can be summarized as follows. Globalization has revitalized cultural identity, but it has also helped the spread of ideas and information about other religious and cultural traditions. Overall, Muslims are concerned about losing their ability to control their own economies, their position in world power, and perhaps most importantly, their cultural assets. With respect to this set of issues, there are three identifiable perspectives: to Muslim conservatives, individual rights are immaterial to social justice; to Muslim liberals, the Muslim world must adjust to universal standards of human rights, an adjustment that requires a transformation in Islamic thinking; and to Muslim reformers, the revolution in information and communications technology, along with higher incomes and educational opportunities, offers new standards against which to assess progress toward the realization of human rights ideals.

Contrary to popular belief, with a few exceptions, such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, modern Muslim politics has generally acquired a pragmatic dimension, and radical Islam has been relegated to the fringes of Muslim societies. Current reformist thinking in the Muslim world focuses on tolerance, civil society, minority rights, women’s rights, cultural identity, and social welfare. Women’s struggles for freedom in the Middle East have turned them into agents of modernization and globalization. Many reform-minded women in Iran take their lines from the transnational women’s rights movement.

While the preceding discussion emphasizes the perspectives and dynamics among Muslims, it is important to note that Islam does not characterize the entire Arab world. In Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, for example, there are strong Christian populations, and in many cases it is the Christians who are at the forefront of the local human rights movement.

Compared to Asia, there appears to be greater popular pressure on the governments of the Middle East to change. Unlike in East Asia, where economic success is closely correlated with a fairly equitable distribution of educational and income opportunities, in the Middle East, failed economies and the rising gap between the rich and the poor have swelled the ranks of the discontented. In particular, a growing middle class are demanding better jobs, housing, educational opportunities, political pluralism, transparency, and accountability, especially in the context of a globalizing world. Whereas Asians attribute their economic success to stable governments, in most Arab countries such stability today is hardly defined in these terms; rather, people tend to speak of a crisis of governance. The lack of consensus on modernization and social change in the Arab world has resulted in a “cultural politics” that reflects an ongoing internal struggle over who defines cultural meanings, symbols, and ideas.

The social and political concerns of Africans are shaped mainly by the legacy of colonialism and postcolonial instability together with the severe socioeconomic conditions the continent faces: staggering international debt, the highest number of refugees in the world, widespread starvation, and severe resource depletion. Despite this situation, the local African debate on human rights today is not as active as either the Asian or Middle Eastern debates. This is likely attributable to the fact that there are relatively few locally based human rights NGOs in Africa. With the exception of a very small number of activist organizations, most African NGOs are either church-based or law-oriented, such as legal aid groups or bar associations.

Foreign scholars of Africa and international human rights groups, therefore, generate much of the human rights activity and debate that takes place in Africa today. The few indigenous human rights groups that do exist, which are for the most part not membership-based organizations, are stigmatized within Africa as “elitist” and “out of touch.” African social justice advocates, in particular, criticize them for their dependency on foreign funds and for having stronger ties with the international elite than with the common African people they claim to serve.

This critique has fueled the perception among Africans of the human rights regime as not just Western-inspired, but as something foreign and even imperialist. The support that Western powers gave over the years to Africa’s dictators—perpetuators of massive violations of human rights—has raised suspicions about the intent of Western governments and NGOs in advocating for human rights. Some observers see the crisis of local legitimacy of the international human rights movement in Africa as stemming from its failure to build coalitions with the local human rights movement, thereby rendering the international movement (also known as “secondary activism”) vulnerable to being hijacked by other political agendas. The fact that in the 1990s the international human rights community was ineffective in stopping the genocide in Rwanda further discredited human rights in the region. But perhaps the greatest failing of the international human rights community, according to some Africans, is not exposing the human rights abuses of the imperialist system that Africa has long been subject to, and not promoting Africa’s main human rights problem: the violation of the right to self-determination. It is this failing that has brought the human rights movement to the point of near irrelevance, according to a number of African critiques.

Most recently, some scholars have argued that there was in Africa’s past a vibrant rights discourse that has been lost in the contemporary debate on human rights, which if drawn upon can become the basis for a renewal of a genuinely local debate on human rights. They point out that as early as the 1960s, when most African countries became independent, African leaders and activist-intellectuals from Nyerere of Tanzania to Nkrumah of Ghana were involved in a continentwide discussion about how to best guarantee human rights in their respective postcolonial states. In 1981, well before the Asian values debate gained currency in the West, the Organization of African Unity adopted the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights, which emphasized economic, social, and cultural rights, the rights of people to self-determination, and the right to existence, equality, and nondomination. According to human rights historian Bonny Ibhawoh, “At a time when the rest of the world was more concerned about civil and political rights, the African charter reflected the human rights concern about equality and non-domination of most Africans.”

To the extent that there remains a local debate about the possibilities of human rights, its characteristics are remarkably similar to those of the Asian values debate in several respects. Cultural nationalists arguing against the applicability of international human rights for Africa claim that the notion of the individual, upon which human rights rest, does not exist in Africa. Instead the individual’s worth can only be found in the context of the community. Here again, primacy is placed on the communal nature of rights and social harmony, with an emphasis on duties and obligations over rights. Standing opposite the proponents of those claims are activist-intellectuals, such as Ibhawoh, Abdullahi An-Na’im and Makau wa Mutua, who are seeking to identify a foundation for the legitimation of universal human rights in the African context and to inform the cross-fertilization of ideas between Africa and the rest of the world. A third prevalent argument made by some African scholars is that human rights in the West developed over a long period of struggle for democracy and that Africa has yet to go through these stages.

Also in Africa, as in other Southern Hemisphere contexts, the claim that economic and social rights should take priority over civil and political rights is prevalent. Yet, while many African activist-intellectuals hold the position that the two sets of rights are equally important, they tend not to dispute the claim as forcefully as their counterparts in other regions do. This attitude reflects the long-standing Marxist approach that still has many adherents in Africa today.

The United States
The split between the cultural nationalist perspective and the intellectual perspective of human rights is also found in the United States. The American rights debate centers around four main issues: what priority to accord economic, social, and cultural rights; the applicability of international human rights law to the United States; when, if ever, to use capital punishment; and most recently, whether there is justification for curtailing civil liberties in the interests of national security.

In one of his many recent writings on the human rights movement, Michael Ignatieff reminds his readers that the American vernacular of justice—civil liberties, civil rights, labor rights—is not the international language of human rights. The fact that Americans and the international human rights movement based in the West have long equated human rights with civil liberties is precisely the cause of so much resistance to “international human rights” throughout the world. And when human rights advocates in the West rebuffed genuine efforts to promote a more expansive notion of rights, they only fueled this sentiment. Such was the response southern NGOs in Asia and elsewhere faced in the early 1990s when in the wake of the end of the Cold War they sought to fight the historical tendency—particularly strong in the United States—to delink civil and political from economic, social, and cultural rights. At that time, then–executive director of Human Rights Watch Aryeh Neier reportedly pointed out that

human rights activists in a number of Third World countries, especially Asia, have long held the view that both kinds of concerns are rights. Their argument has not proved persuasive in the West, however, and none of the leading international nongovernmental groups concerned with human rights has become an advocate of economic and social rights. 28
Much has changed in the last decade, however. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the world’s first and second largest human rights organizations headquartered in London and New York respectively, have put major effort into thinking through and developing an effective strategy for championing economic, social, and cultural rights.29 In addition, in the 1990s a new organization, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, which also houses the International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, was established in New York, devoted entirely to promoting these so-called second-generation rights.

Americans are accustomed to thinking of human rights as a foreign policy issue, not as a matter of domestic concern. A minority group of left-leaning activists and intellectuals have long been pushing for the recognition of a broad range of rights for Americans, not only civil and political but also, increasingly, economic and social rights. Yet as in other domains of international affairs, American cultural nationalists resist the notion that international human rights rules should apply to the United States. The latter view appears to have won out in Washington, where the Senate has ratified few international laws and, most notoriously, has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history, with 191 participating nations—making the United States the only country not to do so. Together with the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the area in which American exceptionalism has most infuriated the international community has been in its refusal to support the International Criminal Court.

One treaty upon which there has been recent action in the U.S. Congress is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. The debate on ratification of this treaty has touched a nerve among conservatives not unlike the reaction that has been taking place to the treaty in societies throughout the developing world. They have attacked the treaty, which the United States was instrumental in drafting and which President Carter signed in 1980, as “the work of international forces promoting abortion rights, sexual freedom, and promiscuity, while undermining motherhood” and “one more attempt to impose global norms on the U.S.” To date, the United States is the only industrialized nation that has not ratified the convention.

Another area of significant controversy is the use of the death penalty in the United States. Protests against the death penalty have been taking place since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, after overturning the death penalty in 1972. In 1985, the Council of Europe adopted Protocol 6, which outlawed the death penalty during peacetime; in 1994 ratification of Protocol 6 was made a precondition for EU membership. In recent years activists have used the tactic of shaming the United States by drawing attention to the company it keeps in its liberal use of the death penalty. In 2001 the United States, along with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, accounted for 90 percent of the world’s executions. The United States has the dubious distinction of being the only developed country that still has and actively imposes the death penalty.

The American perspective on human rights priorities is also becoming remarkably similar to that of nations the United States and the international human rights movement have long targeted in the arena of curtailing civil rights for the sake of national security. Such is the domestic fallout of the Bush administration’s worldwide campaign against terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist incident. Public criticism of the Bush administration and its measures to curtail civil liberties immediately following the World Trade Center attacks was limited to groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other, smaller civil liberties organizations. In fact, the public tolerance for detention of terrorism suspects and open discussion of the merits of torture during interrogation in left-leaning publications, such as The Atlantic Monthly, shocked many American rights advocates. Pundits at all points on the political spectrum argue that the U.S. government’s policies in the aftermath of September 11 reflect a necessary trade-off between freedom and security. Wire tapping of phone calls and e-mails is now acceptable; cable repairmen, truckers, and meter maids are encouraged, through the TIPS program, to report “suspicious activity” to a government hotline; and the Freedom of Information Act has been effectively thrown out with the issuance of Executive Order 13233, barring public access to presidential documents from the past four presidents. The justification for these measures resonates with arguments once heard only in places such as China and Singapore, which have long used public security as an excuse to limit individual rights. Similar claims to be protecting “more important rights” are being echoed in Malaysia’s renewed usage of the Internal Security Act, and in the campaign slogan “firm hand, large heart” of Álvaro Uribe, the newly elected president of Colombia, who sees greater state authority—not negotiations—as the first step toward resolving Colombia’s crisis.

In this brief overview of regional perspectives of human rights in four regions I have tried to show that conflicts over human rights are taking place across the board, not along civilizational lines and not primarily between North and South as so often assumed. The challenges to human rights, including the suspension of civil liberties, resisting economic and social rights, and the denial of rights to certain groups, are taking place in our own backyards. At the same time we see a creative borrowing of ideas and unplanned convergence of human rights debates worldwide among what I have been calling “activist-intellectuals.”

Several lessons can be drawn. The first is the most obvious, but also one that bears repeating: while some regions are more diverse than others—the characterization of “Asian values” is a particularly big stretch—all regions consist of diverse cultures and carry differing viewpoints on human rights. Those views range from the assertion that local values are compatible with human rights principles; to the claim that human rights values are a product of Western culture—or in the case of American critics of CEDAW, liberal international forces—and therefore alien to the local culture; to in-between views that local values are not so much inimical to international human rights, but that in the application of rights they receive different priority. We need to recognize the diversity of human rights views existing within a society and avoid construing a government’s human rights rhetoric as “the Asian,” “the American,” “the African,” or “the Arab” perspective. To do so is to undermine the genuine debates on human rights happening within these cultures, and worse, to be complicit with states in silencing these voices.

Second, at the same time that we are seeing convergence of perspectives, different societies continue to have different human rights priorities that stem from their distinct histories and experiences. It is a mistake, however, to interpret the difference of priorities as a disagreement over norms. Investigations of rights discourses in different regions rarely turn up a conflict over principles. The death penalty and abortion—areas in which U.S. policy is heavily influenced by perspectives that go against the grain of the emerging international consensus—are two of the exceptions. Instead the area of difference almost always lies in the implementation and prioritization rights.

The third message is to scholars of human rights: cultural relativism is not where “the action” is. Rather than be sidetracked by the politically motivated statements of cultural nationalists, human rights scholars would do well to turn their attention to the projects of cultural legitimation that activist-intellectuals are engaging with in virtually every corner of the globe. Human rights advocates in the United States are among the newcomers. In 1997, with core support from the Ford Foundation, an initiative called “Human Rights USA” was started with the stated goal of demonstrating “that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents are as relevant to life in the U.S. as they are to life in other countries, and to improve the protection of human rights in American communities by increasing Americans’ awareness of these rights.” There is plenty of work to be done in this area, and focusing on cultural legitimation rather than cultural relativism is a surer way of meeting the many challenges to international human rights everywhere.
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