Human rights in southeast asia series 1 : breaking the silence
The papers selected for this book can be broken into quite distinct themes and this introductory chapter shall be synthesising them accordingly. Underlying many of the papers in this collection is the philosophical debate between the universalism versus the relativism (or to use the term favoured in Southeast Asia, “Asian Values”) of human rights. It is fitting therefore to begin this synthesis with a discussion of Vo Van Ai’s paper “Universality and Particularity of Human Rights: A Vietnamese Buddhist Viewpoint”. Vo challenges this distinction by drawing upon Buddhist traditions to illustrate that the concept of human rights is not alien to Southeast Asian thinking. He rejects the idea that the concept of human rights is a western construct which does not fit easily within Southeast Asian belief systems. In his paper, he directly denounces the Vietnamese government’s approach towards human rights. In Vietnam, the official ideological stance towards human rights is that the rights of the individual are intertwined with the nation state. Thus with the overthrow of imperialist forces and the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), it is deemed that with the success of the revolution, and the freeing of Vietnam, the individual’s human rights has been fulfilled as he too is, via the State’s status, free. The individual is thus subsumed by the collective.
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