The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights

The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights

The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights

The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights

Excerpt

Many scholars think of human rights as constitutional rights, not without reason: In their minds, the rights recognized in constitutions would be enforceable and could be properly called "rights" in the strictly legalistic definition. As a consequence, they tend to consider human rights as originating with constitutionalism in the Western world. For example, Duchacek wrote in 1973:

Over two thirds of the existing national constitutions were drafted and promulgated in the last three decades. . . . Most modern founding fathers seem to be constitutional copycats. . . . The principal models for the content and style of bills of rights have primarily been the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (enacted on August 26, 1789) and the American Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments of the Constitution, enacted in 1791). The English, French and American bills of rights have, of course, their antecedent and model too: The English Magna Carta of 1215. . . . The French and American lists of fundamental rights and liberties, echoing their English antecedents, have been circling in the constitutional orbit for nearly two centuries. The following chapters will examine their actual implementation or distortion and their modification in substance and style as well as their impressive increase in scope and length. All these changes have been made by political leaders--some honest and others less so--but all captives of different political cultures and all responding to changing times with their new challenges and unforeseeable dilemmas.

Moreover, still according to the said dominant school of thought, this European and American--or, as some have put it, this North Atlantic Basin view of human rights--has also contributed much to the elaboration of international human rights under United Nations auspices. According to Louis Henkin, "International human rights, born during the Second World War, drew heavily on both American constitutional history and constitutional developments in Europe and Latin American."

Is it true that human rights are the product of Western civilization and that as for traditional Asia--or, more particularly, traditional Vietnam-- there was only what some scholars have called "Oriental despotism"?

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