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The Quandary of Human Rights Diplomacy

April 28, 2010

Michele Acuto in Diplomatic Courier:

It is not always self-evident that human rights are, as Richard Rorty once put it, a “fact of the world.” This is a soundly challenged assumption, often considered biased and westernized. So how can freedoms be fundamental and submitted to the hypocrisy trap if they are in the end not universal at all? To fully understand this paradox, one must first detach oneself from the stereotypical notion that human rights—as an altruistic value—is essentially Western. A case in point is, for instance, the Singaporean Government’s “Shared Values” doctrine, which identifies an attack on the Asian cultural basis of the Singaporean state. Such a view is prejudiced and tainted by false claims of cultural exceptionalism, and fosters already lingering anti-Western resentments that rest on the false assumption that the “West” is a homogeneous united bloc. [More]

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