Buddhism and Human Rights

By Damien V. Keown; Charles S. Prebish et al. | Go to book overview

9
HUMAN RIGHTS AND CULTURAL VALUES:
THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES OF THE
DALAI LAMA AND THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC
OF CHINA

John Powers

The preamble of the United Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" claims that its provisions constitute "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," and since its ratification in 1948 it has in fact served as a general standard by which the conduct of nations is judged in international forums. Recently, however, some states have publicly questioned the universality of the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration, claiming that its provisions are based on Western concepts of government and human nature, that it is a tool of Western cultural hegemony imposed on non-Western countries, and that it ignores the distinctive cultural values of non-Western peoples.

Although the Universal Declaration is held by its proponents to be a neutral document that applies to all human beings and takes no position regarding what type of government or social order societies should adopt, representatives of third world countries have criticized the Declaration on the grounds that its framers were all from Western countries and that no Africans or Asians, for example, participated in the process. They further claim that the vision of rights contained in the document is slanted toward the West and that it is biased in favor of Western individualistic conceptions of human rights while ignoring the values of communalism and social harmony cherished in many non-Western societies.

The most prominent critic of this document in recent years has been the government of the People's Republic of China, which is frequently castigated by international organizations and in the press for violations of human rights. China is often cited as one of the leading abusers of human rights along with such nations as Iran and Iraq, and human rights monitoring agencies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly release reports indicating that China is one of the worst transgressors of human rights standards. 1 For many years the Chinese government insisted that it was in full compliance with these standards and that attacks on its human rights record were politically motivated slander perpetrated by its enemies. However, in the face of overwhelming documentary evidence contradicting these assertions, China was regularly denounced by

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