Reassessing Human Rights Protection in Malaysia and Singapore


  • Yvonne Tew Tew


This paper reassesses the perspectives on human rights that remain relevant in contemporary Southeast Asia. It assesses the supposed dichotomies between Western and Asian perspectives on human rights: universalism versus relativism, individualism versus communitarianism, and socio-political rights versus economic-social rights. These tensions are often false and should be rejected. Despite the deep flaws inherent in the “Asian values” approach, however, its ideology remains a powerful internal framework that continues to influence the political and judicial elite in Malaysia and Singapore. This is chiefly because of the lack of any competing theory regarding the conceptualization of human rights in the Asian context. I point out the gap in the jurisprudence in this area and conclude with some general observations on how to advance a model of rights protection to fill this lacuna.

Keywords: Human rights; Asian values; Malaysia; Singapore


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Author Biography

Yvonne Tew Tew

Associate-in-Law, Columbia Law School; Ph.D. Candidate in Law, University of Cambridge; LL.M.,
Harvard Law School; B.A. (Hons), University of Cambridge.


How to Cite

Tew, Y. T. (2015). Reassessing Human Rights Protection in Malaysia and Singapore. Thammasat Review, 15(1), 7–23. Retrieved from