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Human Rights in East Asia  

Ñusta Carranza Ko

East Asia is a region that has been the focus of discussions about economic development, democratization, nuclear proliferation, technological innovations, and health-related issues. Due to its historical past of colonization (including countries that have been colonizers and those that have been colonized), interstate and regional wars, involvement in world wars, and authoritarian governance, it is also a region that has experienced human rights violations, human rights advancements, and human rights–related policy developments. Thus, the study of East Asia and human rights encompasses colonial, Cold War, post–Cold War, and the post September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks periods of history. Based on the vast amount of scholarship on human rights in the region, a spectrum of approaches should be used to study human rights that (a) examines case-specific human rights violations which focus on vulnerable populations in society; (b) theorizes and questions the essence of human rights and its value systems; and (c) explores developments in human rights–related policy that involve transitional justice processes of truth-seeking, reparations, and criminal accountability regarding past human rights crimes. Examination of historic violations of women’s rights and children’s rights in the case of comfort women who were sexually enslaved by Japan’s Imperial Army during the Asia-Pacific War centers the victims and their experiences. A focus on minority rights leads to the consideration of issues of human trafficking of women and girls in Mongolia and North Korea, social and ethnic minority groups’ concerns in Japan and South Korea, and the plight of Uyghur people in China. The Asian (Confucian) values debate leads to consideration of why human rights have been questioned, why they may be considered as impositions, and which approaches can be taken to re-examine human rights with regard to this region. Finally, the discussion of transitional justice as it relates to East Asian states provides a much needed recognition of the importance of the region for innovating transitional justice policies.