By Kevin W. Fogg, Dec 10 2016 11:29AM
On 10 December, the United Nations celebrates Human Rights Day, in honor of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Granted, the UN General Assembly at that time was not so representative as it is today, although it did include the majority of countries in the Middle East and Latin America, even when Asia and Africa were still pushing for broader decolonization. Still, there is a good argument to be made that these rights are universal.
In Malaysia, there has been a lot of push-back against the idea of "human rights" as a foreign construct, inappropriate for Malaysia as a Muslim society. (There is a great article about this by Goh Beng Lan in the edited volume Questioning Modernity in Indonesia and Malaysia; check it out if you are really interested in this stuff.) This seems to forget the fact that the Muslim countries of the Middle East, some of which are held up as models by conservative Muslims in Malaysia, supported the passage of the Declaration in 1948-- Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey all voted in favor. (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia abstained, but did not oppose the document.)
In Indonesia, the history of support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is even stronger. Indonesia's first constitution was written and promulgated before the Universal Declaration, but in 1950 the country's leaders sat down to write a fresh (albeit temporary) constitution once independence was consolidated, and it explicitly drew from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Supomo, one of the drafters, makes clear in his exegesis of the Temporary Constitution of 1950, elements like freedom of religion and others were specifically crafted based on the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The late Adnan Buyung Nasution has taken this further, showing how the draft constitution formulated by the Konstituante (Indonesia's Constitutional Assembly, meeting from 1956 until Sukarno unilaterally disbanded it in 1959) also integrated strong human rights protection based on the Universal Declaration. These points were not controversial in early Indonesian politics-- they were a strong consensus across different parties and among all the players involved.
Human Rights still have a long way to go in these two countries today. Even when human rights receive lip service, they are not always upheld in practice (part of the general gap between the letter of the law and its implementation in Southeast Asia.) The point of this post, though, is that opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Southeast Asia's Muslims is ignorant of the document's history and its acceptance by the generations of Muslim leaders before them.