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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
> Date: March 29, 2020 at 12:28:06 PM EDT
> To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]:  Kraft on Renshaw, 'Human Rights and 
> Participatory Politics in Southeast Asia'
> Reply-To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> ´╗┐Catherine Renshaw.  Human Rights and Participatory Politics in 
> Southeast Asia.  Philadelphia  University of Pennsylvania Press, 
> 2019.  256 pp.  $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-5103-6.
> Reviewed by Herman Joseph Kraft (University of the Philippines)
> Published on H-Diplo (March, 2020)
> Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
> The issue of human rights in Southeast Asia has been an entire 
> intellectual industry since Southeast Asian political leaders first 
> challenged the idea of universal human rights with the idea of "Asian 
> values." Aside from the debate over the legitimacy of cultural 
> relativism as a critique of liberal interpretations of human rights, 
> the discussion about human rights in Southeast Asia has covered a 
> number of topics ranging from specific country issues (such the Dili 
> massacre and struggle for self-determination of East Timor, and 
> political repression in Myanmar) to the question of how human rights 
> norms can be propagated in the region. The latter includes debates 
> that try to explore structure (the prevalence of existing regional 
> norms such as broad adherence at the official level to the principle 
> of non-interference) and agency (the role played by civil society at 
> both the national and regional levels, and, more importantly, the 
> role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). While the issues 
> addressed by scholars in these different areas of discussion are 
> interrelated, they tend to focus on one or two as the core component 
> of their research. Catherine Renshaw's book covers these same issue 
> areas but takes off from a different starting point. 
> Renshaw asks a question which largely puts all of the discussion 
> points covered by the literature together: is the behavior of states 
> in the region towards human rights more likely to be influenced or 
> affected by global- or regional-level engagement? In _Human Rights 
> and Participatory Politics in Southeast Asia_, she argues that 
> regional and global influences operate differently to effect change 
> in the human rights behavior of states. This depends not just on 
> agency but also on the prevalent political norms within a region. 
> Global human rights norms have a better chance of being accommodated 
> within a region if states within that region endorse those norms, 
> whereas the opposite is true if there is intractable opposition 
> within the region because of political or religious factors, or when 
> the presence of a hegemonic power "distorts the socialization 
> process" (p. 14). Essentially she is arguing that where liberal 
> political values have traction within a region, those groups 
> promoting human rights norms have a stronger chance of seeing these 
> norms adopted nationally. Where these values do not have any support 
> within the region, groups promoting human rights are better off 
> appealing to global norms and mechanisms. At the same time, she notes 
> that responses to _specific_ norms are different across governments 
> and countries, and therefore not simply dictated by political 
> conditions. Differences in how states in Southeast Asia respond to 
> human rights and specific human rights norms can be attributed to the 
> "relative legitimacy of global and regional norms and the 
> institutions that promote them" (p. 14). 
> The book begins with the establishment of the Charter of the 
> Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was adopted in 
> 2007. At the time, it was unclear as to the extent this would open up 
> a new era for human rights in the region. The book argues that there 
> was reason to be optimistic about those prospects. The book is 
> divided into two parts. The first part covers the discussion on the 
> domestic political situation of the different Southeast Asian states 
> and how this affected progress at the regional level of the adoption 
> of human rights norms. In this context, Renshaw points out that the 
> democratic deficit in different Southeast Asian countries, 
> particularly among the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and 
> Vietnam), made it difficult to establish a robust regional human 
> rights mechanism with oversight authority. It might appear to be a 
> truism that human rights norms are easier to campaign for in 
> countries and regions that are more liberal and democratic. However, 
> Renshaw goes further by arguing that even where the regional 
> conditions might provide an opening for human rights norms to be 
> accommodated within regional structures, the absence of democratic 
> traditions at the state level provides obstacles for what Martha 
> Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink refer to as a process of "norm cascade" 
> taking place in the region.[1] The limited accommodation human rights 
> norms have received in Southeast Asia owes precisely to these 
> democratic deficits. Even as there are obstacles at the level of the 
> region due to the ASEAN Way, and the ASEAN obsession with 
> "non-interference," Renshaw correctly attributes these regional 
> issues to differences in political structures and the lack of 
> traction that democratic values and institutions have in a number of 
> states in ASEAN. This could be seen in how ASEAN had to settle for a 
> relatively weak ASEAN Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission 
> (AICHR), and an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration that offered less than 
> what was contained in the UN Declaration on Human Rights.      
> It is, however, in the second part of the book that Renshaw makes an 
> important contribution to the discussion on human rights in Southeast 
> Asia. Democratic deficits only explain part of the issue--a 
> significant part, but only a part nonetheless. It is in this section 
> where she identifies a more nuanced approach to human rights among 
> the members of ASEAN, regardless of how this is actually represented 
> in ASEAN. She does this by looking into the specific issues of 
> women's rights and trafficking in persons. In both cases, the 
> regional instrument is heavily influenced by global instruments. Yet 
> she notes a differentiated approach to both. This should end 
> continuing speculation about the centrality of "Asian values" to the 
> entire discussion of human rights in Southeast Asia and place it more 
> directly in its proper place--domestic and regional politics. 
> Renshaw's discussion on women's rights is particularly strong in the 
> way she nuances specific approaches taken by ASEAN and the ASEAN 
> states on different aspects of the issue. Renshaw shows that the 
> entire discourse on women's rights in ASEAN strongly inclines towards 
> the specific question of violence against women. This is shown in how 
> strong the support was for a regional mechanism on violence against 
> women in ASEAN with the adoption of the Declaration on the 
> Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Elimination of Violence 
> Against Children (DEVWC) in October 2013. Even as the DEVWC reflects 
> a strong ASEAN position on the issue to the point where it 
> "acknowledges the commitment of the ASEAN states to international 
> instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination 
> of Violence Against Women," she noted, however, that the ASEAN 
> Declaration did not include "the strong and specific definition of 
> violence that we find in ... the UN Declaration" (p. 117). This is 
> illustrative of how even in an area of strong consensus, details are 
> affected by _differentiated_ social norms. Consequently, specific 
> details that would make the regional instrument more robust are left 
> out in recognition of differentiated appreciation of the norm. This 
> is also reflected in the way that women's rights tend to be conflated 
> with children's rights. It makes the issue more consistent with how 
> Southeast Asian societies see women's rights but diminishes the 
> significance of women's rights in the context of advancing women's 
> equality in the region.  
> The very nuanced approach taken by ASEAN that Renshaw points to in 
> her chapter on women's rights takes a different tack on the issue of 
> trafficking in persons. Where the UN Declarations were stronger in 
> content and oversight on the matter of women's rights compared to the 
> ASEAN instruments, she notes that the ASEAN instruments on 
> trafficking in persons were better accommodated domestically by the 
> ASEAN states in terms of how most of the ASEAN states passed specific 
> legislation related to human trafficking. Renshaw argues that this is 
> probably because the regional instruments better reflected a 
> "specifically _regional_ understanding of the problem of trafficking 
> that is particularly well-suited to promoting the internalization of 
> norms about preventing trafficking" (p. 124). In this context, ASEAN 
> was a better purveyor of anti-trafficking norms than the global 
> instrument, that is, the UN Protocol on Human Trafficking. 
> The chapter on Myanmar emphasizes this dynamic between ASEAN and its 
> member states--that is, the extent to which ASEAN can influence its 
> members into internalizing regional norms. Since its acceptance into 
> ASEAN in 1997, ASEAN has had very little influence on Myanmar's 
> internal politics. The democratization process in Myanmar, while 
> encouraged by ASEAN, was not something that could be laid at the door 
> of ASEAN, even with adoption of the charter in 2007. Consequently, 
> the way by which Myanmar chose to adopt or ignore human rights in its 
> domestic politics was largely a byproduct of its own domestic 
> political dynamics. Thus, the Rohingya issue and the lack of ASEAN 
> influence over how Myanmar's government chose to settle it is 
> reflective of the weakness of ASEAN's institutional forms, the 
> capacity of ASEAN to enforce the norms they represent, and, more 
> importantly, their lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the people and 
> government that had to respond to them.  
> Renshaw's book is an important addition to the literature on human 
> rights in Southeast Asia because it looks at specific issues and 
> dynamics between domestic and regional politics, and how these 
> dynamics accommodate (or reject) the way that human rights norms are 
> represented. The arguments about how the difficulty of promoting 
> human rights in ASEAN can be attributed to the latter being a "club 
> of dictators" is challenged not only in the face of the political 
> structures of the member states of ASEAN, but in how the different 
> member states of ASEAN have reacted differently to specific human 
> rights norms regardless of their domestic political systems. This is 
> a book that will be of value to students of ASEAN and contemporary 
> Southeast Asian politics. More importantly, it challenges structural 
> arguments made about institutions in International Relations. 
> Overall, it brings us closer to understanding the complexities 
> involved in trying to make sense of ASEAN. 
> _Herman Joseph S. Kraft is the chair of the Department of Political 
> Science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon 
> City._ 
> Note 
> [1]. Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, "International Norm 
> Dynamics and Political Change," _International Organization _52, no. 
> 4 (Autumn 1998): 887-917. 
> Citation: Herman Joseph Kraft. Review of Renshaw, Catherine, _Human 
> Rights and Participatory Politics in Southeast Asia_. H-Diplo, H-Net 
> Reviews. March, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54322
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
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