Human rights in East Asia


With their different cultures, it is impossible to envisage the human rights developments that have occurred over the years in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Evident with the developments, the situation of human rights in the three countries varies with the different political orientation, histories, and even the different contexts on human rights (Neary, 2009). Even with the differences in cultures and political backgrounds, the three countries have made significant improvements in human rights. With the improvements, however, there still exists challenges in human rights experienced in these countries. Similar to the improvements, the challenges are still influenced by the political orientations and the different histories of the three countries.

The improvements have been influenced by specific political and social actions in the three different countries. For example in Japan, there have been both social democratic and liberal ideas over the many years that have played a crucial role in eliminating the existing authoritarian ideas (Jacobs, 2007). These democratic movements and ideas have influenced Japan’s government resulting to an inclusion of human rights consideration in the constitution, and even signing of specific treaties aimed at protecting human rights. This has resulted in a generalized human rights culture within the country (Gao, et al., 2016).

In South Korea, social movements have also played a crucial role in influencing the perceptions of human rights. In this country, however, the political culture characterized by weaker liberal influences from the social and democratic movements and the strong opposition has and still presents a major challenge in the push for human rights (Neary, 2009). Taiwan also has experienced improvements also evident in the impacts of the liberalization movements over the years. These improvements have not only influenced human rights only in the three countries but also in the other East Asian countries (Jacobs, 2007).

Among the three countries, Taiwan has made more progress evident in the impacts made by the liberalization movements in the country.  The progress made by the country is also evident in how effective the human rights organizations and liberalization movements were towards the last decade of the 19th century. The progress made, however, began in 1988 after the death of Chiang Ching Kuo. After his death, the obstacles to the liberalization movements, the restrictions on political activities, and the freedom of expression had cooled (Jacobs, 2007). The Taiwanese citizens had the freedom to fight for their human rights. Even with this, however, the fight for human rights had begun before the death of the president. After the death of Chiang Ching Kuo, it was easy for the existing organizations such as the Chinese association for human rights to take effect. The Taiwanese government made specific regulations, which primarily focused on the promotion of the protection of human rights and the cooperation between the organizations and the citizens.

Another element showing the progress made by Taiwan was the democratization of the political structure, which allowed the emergence of the judicial system and the growth of civil societies. The emergence of the judicial system meant that the citizens through specific avenues had the capability to challenge the constitutionality of the acts by the government. This meant that the democratization and the liberalization of the politics in Taiwan were complete giving the citizens more freedom rights. Taiwan also signed specific treaties with the United Nations, which also pushed for human rights among the citizens.  During the period most of the restrictions implemented by the Chiang Ching Kuo’s government were lifted which resulted to human rights organizations changing their specific interests (Neary, 2009).

By 1992, the specific organizations focused on specific interests such as human rights institution building, human rights education, the abolition of death penalty, judicial reform and even the accountability for abuses by law enforcement officers and the military (Neary, 2009). The main concerns with this aimed at promoting human rights both domestically and regionally as well as internationally so at to ensure the engagement of the Taiwanese government and community in the global movement for human rights. The Taiwanese laws, in their fight for human rights, have had significant impacts on the reduction of sexual discrimination, and the upholding of linguistic and cultural pluralism.

Even with the progress made, however, Taiwan still faces threats from the mainland, which has still not ruled out the possibilities of invasion. The government also is still not a fully active member of the international regime to human rights, which may have impacts in the future.

As evident in the case of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, the political systems and the different histories acted as the main challenges towards the fight for human rights. The three countries had political systems that hindered the revolutions in the fight for human rights. A key element in these was the fact that the systems primarily focused on restricting the liberalization movements that existed in the three countries. For example, in Japan, there is still an attitude, which is unhappy with the attempts to cooperate with the foreigners and other involved parties outside the bureaucracy (Bell, 2009). Even with the many motions towards the fight for human rights, the government has still not allowed non-governmental organizations to join the fight for human rights through collaborations with the international organizations (Shin, 2017). Also, the government has not ratified the first protocols allowing its citizens to send its complaints to the human resource commission. Another element showing how the political system threatens the progress is the fact that Japanese government has still not developed a mechanism to collaborations both internally and externally towards ensuring there exists effective human rights.

In Korea, oppositionism is still stronger, limiting the influences from liberal influences. The South Korean government over the years, has and still uses the power of the ruling class without subscribing fully to the rule of law. Even after South Korea adopted to the constitution which provided the nominal commitment to democratic practices and human rights the state still maintained its authoritarian tradition, which has existed over the history of the country. South Korean citizens for most of the 20th century lived under the non-democratic rule of law (Shin, 2017). Their attempts for liberalization and democratization has been stopped by the authoritarian regimes, which still exist up to date. The civil liberties and liberalization movements especially those for the freedom of speech association were restricted by the associated risks of imprisonment and torture.

Taiwan on the other hand even with the success it has achieved over the years has and still faces challenges in fighting for human rights influenced by the existing political regimes. As evident, the past political regimes, for example, the Chiang Kai Shek regime and the Chaing Ching-Kuo has played a major role in limiting the developments in fighting for human rights

With the developments in human rights over the years, human rights in East Asia will continue improving over the coming years. Today, the three countries, through their governments, organizations, and even citizens have aggressively fought for human rights through revisions of constitutions and even implementations of better regulations in support of human rights. For example, in Japan, the specific individuals such as a Shinzo Abe in 2015 engineered fundamental shifts aimed at strengthening their freedom of speech. The constitutional reform of 2014 also prohibited discrimination of specific citizens. In South Korea, also the organizations and the criminal justice systems have strengthened allowing them to deliver their roles as mandated by the constitution better. Taiwan has had made the most significant developments in the fight for human rights (Bell, 2009). The increase in the power of liberal thought has played a crucial role in the developments made in the three countries; these trends are set to improve in the countries in the coming years.

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  1. Bell, D. A., 2009. East meets West: human rights and democracy in East Asia. s.l.:Princeton University Press.
  2. Gao, X., Charlton, G. C. & Takahashi, M. A., 2016. The legal recognition of indigenous interests in Japan and Taiwan.. Asia Pacific Law Review.
  3. Jacobs, J. B., 2007. Taiwan and South Korea: Comparing East Asia’s Two“Third-Wave”Democracies. Issues and Studies.
  4. Neary, I., 2009. Human Rights in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. s.l.:Routlegde.
  5. Shin, Y. J., 2017. Human rights practice in South Korea. Contextualized cosmopolitanism.
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