This study has ranged widely across theoretical and practical contexts, exploring diverse understandings and applications of human rights in Southeast Asia. While issues of democratic transition and consolidation have featured extensively, the nexus between democracy, human rights and economic development is central to understanding regional human rights discourse. Principles of indivisibility between civil-political and economic-social rights bear strongly on prospects for eventual incorporation of universal human rights into ASEAN states' institutions and processes.
The regional economic crisis, whatever its causes, has represented an assault on basic economic rights of Southeast Asians. Triumphalist responses in some quarters, linked to promotion of neo-liberal programmes has allowed some revival of false labelling of human rights as western imposed. Governance agendas aimed at integrating political democratisation, accountability, market openness and well targeted anti-poverty programmes, have encountered similar responses.
Security and economic development dominate ASEAN states' national political agendas, while defence of national sovereignty is paramount in external relations. Universal human rights are consequently far from central to ASEAN states' concerns, and are to some extent seen as dysfunctional to them. Assessments in this study offer only modest encouragement to prospects for their institutionalising United Nations human rights instruments. Despite advances during the 1990s, participation in and compliance with UN treaties remains patchy and subject to the vagaries of domestic politics. A rhetoric of convenience, whether of Asian, western or Australian values has been developed to legitimise political interests. Asian values polemic appears more directed at western countries than specifically at UN human rights instruments. National sovereignty doctrines are routinely invoked against even the possibility of unwanted intervention, ignoring UN Charter obligations to uphold human rights.
The language of universal human rights nevertheless represents a pervasive counter-discourse to official agendas. Here Donnelly's paradox of piecemeal incorporation of the substance of UN human rights treaties into domestic law and practice without formal recognition as rights can assist understanding of reform processes in ASEAN countries. To the extent that UN human rights treaties represent the highest international levels of normative consensus at any given