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32 N.Y.U. J. Int'l L. & Pol. 291 (1999-2000)
Culture and Human Rights: The Asian Values Debate in Context

handle is hein.journals/nyuilp32 and id is 301 raw text is: CULTURE AND HUMAN RIGHTS: THE ASIAN
VALUES DEBATE IN CONTEXT
KAREN ENGLE'.
The 1990s international human rights arena has been
largely subsumed by the question of the meaning of culture.
Although the issue of culture and its relationship to human
rights law has been discussed since the inception of the Uni-
versal Declaration of Human Rights, its prominence during
the 1990s has taken on a new hue, representing a trajectory in
the rise and development of identity politics. That is, identity
politics of the 1980s led many women, racial and ethnic minor-
ities, indigenous peoples, and third world countries and their
citizens to question the corpus of human rights law for its
seeming exclusion of them. These groups aimed to be assimi-
lated to human rights law. The 1990s, however, brought a dif-
ferent critique, one that explicitly questioned the ability of
human rights law and discourse to address the concerns of wo-
men and the third world. For some, the critique borrowed
from an earlier argument that human rights law might be too
Western or too liberal to accommodate third world culture.'
Others, particularly postcolonial scholars, offered a more radi-
cal critique. By the end of the 1990s, for this latter group,
human rights law was not problematic because of the areas it
excluded or because of its inherent Western orientation, but
* Professor of Law, University of Utah. Many thanks to Antony Anghic,
Daniel Greenwood, David Kennedy, and Mary Westby for their comments on
early drafts of this piece and to participants of the Singapore Institute of
International Affairs Roundtable and the Boston University School of Lw
faculty workshop for their feedback on oral presentations of this work. I am
also grateful to Anne Cameron and Brenda Viera for their research assist-
ance, Barbara McFarlane for her technical assistance, and the University of
Utah College of Law for its summer research grant support.
1. See, e.g., Makau-wa Mutua, The Ideolog) of Human Rigtits 36 VA.J. I.r'L
L. 589, 591-93 (1996) (arguing that human rights discourse diffuses and fur-
ther develops Western liberal political traditions on an international level);
Makau-wa Mutua, The Banjul Charter and the Afiican Cultural Fngerprin: An
Evaluation of the Language ofDuties, 35 VA.J. INT'L L 339, 341 (1995) (stating
that a narrow formulation of Western liberalism cannot adequately respond
to the historical reality and the political and social needs of Africa.).
291

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