The abolitionist movement in death penalty-friendly Asia: The cases of South Korea and Taiwan

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At the 1993 Asian regional preparatory meeting for the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, the representatives of some Asian governments asserted that human rights must be understood in the context of ‘significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds’ (Bangkok Declaration 1993). In this, the so-called ‘Bangkok Declaration on Human Rights’, participating governments stressed that the universalist perspective of human rights does not properly acknowledge and respect cultural variations. Emphasising the incomparability of ‘Asian values’ and the universal conceptions of democracy and human rights, they contended that Asia has different definitions and standards of human rights that are appropriate to its own cultural legacies. Proponents of Asian values, including politicians and (often politically well-connected) intellectuals denounced the universal application of international human rights standards: ‘Imposing the human rights standard of one’s own country or region on other countries or regions is an infringement upon other countries’ sovereignty and interference into other countries’ internal affairs’ (Xie and Niu 1994, 1), ‘[we are] reaffirming the principles of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States’ (Bangkok Declaration 1993). The Asian discourse on human rights has been growing since the 1993 Bangkok meeting, but key components of its arguments already appeared a few years prior in some Asian countries’ official governmental documents and statements. For instance, China’s 1991 White Paper on human rights stated that, ‘[o]wing to tremendous differences in historical background, social system, cultural tradition and economic development, countries differ in their understanding and practice of human rights’ (Government of China 1991).1.



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Against the Death Penalty: International Initiatives and Implications

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