Universal Human Rights?

ADRI Professor Bill Logan delivered an invited paper at an international symposium on Human Rights/Collective Cultural Rights in Warsaw last week.

The majestic Institute of Law Studies at The Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
The majestic Institute of Law Studies at The Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Prof Bill Logan gave an invited paper on 'Recognition and Enforcement of Collective Rights in Asia' in an international symposium on 'The Impact of Collective Cultural Rights on General International Law' hosted by the Institute of Law Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw on 24-25 June 2013. His paper will be published in 2013 in a selection of symposium papers in a volume edited by Andrzej Jakobowski (Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw), Christoph Germann (U. Berne) and Ana Vrdjolak (U Technology Sydney).

The symposium theme reflects a concern among international jurists that the growing attention paid to collective cultural rights may undermine universal human rights. Collective cultural rights are generally thought of as covering a group’s ability to protect its way of life (child rearing, language maintenance, cultural self-determination, access to and enjoyment of its cultural heritage). However it is sometimes argued that collective cultural rights are not truly human rights because they are group-differentiated rather than universal to all people just by virtue of being human. Indeed sometimes groups assert the right to protect their cultural identity and heritage by preventing non-members of the group from having access to the group’s heritage. Sometimes individual members of a group who reject elements of a group culture can be denied all access to and enjoyment of the group culture.

Following several papers by European jurists dealing with terminology and the development of international legal instruments on human rights and collective rights, the participant from Nigeria, Prof Folarin Shyllon (U. Ibadan), made the case that the African conception of rights is communal. Prof Logan started his paper by noting that, unlike Africa, Europe and the Americas, Asia does not have a regional intergovernmental human rights charter. In seeking to explain this, he outlined the diversity found within Asia which makes it difficult to achieve a united 'Asian' viewpoint on almost any policy matters, let alone one as sensitive as human rights.

Efforts to protect and enhance human rights can only occur within states and the record is very mixed. For many Asian states the collective that counts is the state and sub-national collectives such as ethnic minorities are disregarded or, at worst, seen as inimical to 'nation-building' and persecuted. He used case studies of China, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar to support the view that human rights arrangements need to be understood within the historical and governance contexts of each individual state. He concluded by observing that while there is an increased awareness of human rights as a necessary government concerns in states across Asia, the movement towards developing a regional approach has been actively resisted in the past and continues to be very slow in coming.

Bill is currently working on two ARC Discovery Projects. He published two book chapters last year, as well as presenting at four major international conferences overseas by invitation.

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