'The DNA of Human Rights'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel at 3/02/2012 08:12:00 AM
Here's an interesting counterpoint to the "Asian values" argument that prioritizes collective well-being over individual rights. While I to a certain extent buy into that argument, it is at this point in time largely due to objections to how Western nations that are usually loudest about blathering about human rights are hypocritical about them. Witness Bush minor's Guantanamo Ghraibing, or Obama's refusal to disavow himself of this taint by shutting down the American extralegal detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

So it was kind of refreshing to hear someone argue for human rights in this day and age--especially when it is becoming increasingly passe among developing nations keen on developmental authoritarianism and its offshoots. The LSE's own Professor Conor Gearty argues for two things: (a) human rights are not necessarily a "Western" invention in being innate and that (b) human rights abuses committed in the name of preserving cultures ostensibly dedicated to such principles are not acceptable:
What are human rights and where do they come from?', asks Professor Conor Gearty in the latest Burning Issue lecture from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In the online public lecture, entitled 'The DNA of Human Rights' Gearty, a professor of human rights law and a practising barrister, looks at the history of human rights and ideas that have informed their development such as democracy and dignity.

Gearty challenges the notion that human rights are a western idea, a mere 'cultural accessory', or that they can be used to justify 'necessary evil' – as an excuse to go to war or to torture as part of interrogation for example... Professor Gearty argues: "We risk our culture if we collude in the idea that our way of life is so valuable that we can afford to depart from it in order to secure it..."

For Gearty human rights come from a "solidarity to the human race".He says: "We're driven to engage in an energetic empathetic solidarity - a commitment to a common project which does not distinguish people by their colour, gender, nationality or wealth, but one which sees their humanity." 
Do watch the video of the lecture and see what you think. I myself though wonder why empathetic solidarity does not rule out respecting the wishes of those who can legitimately choose to prioritize collective well-being over individual rights. That is, why is still usually just Anglo-Saxons who are fond of this sort of dialogue? (With a few exceptions, granted.)