by Randall Peerenboom, Carole J Petersen, Albert H. Y. Chen (eds). London and New York: Routledge, 2006. 544pp.Cloth. £110.00/$185.00. ISBN: 9780415360029. Paper.£36.99/$62.95. ISBN: 9780415360036.

Reviewed by Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, Philosophy of Law Department, Seville University Pablo de Olavide. Email: rasill04 [at]


This work, edited by by Randall Peerenboom, Carole J Petersen, Albert H. Y. Chen, constitutes the second installment of an ambitious academic research project involving nine consecutive conference volumes addressing the rule of law and legal system development in Asia. If the first volume of the series was aimed at grounding the scientific stage around the constituent issue of the rule of law, this second one adopts a qualitative-oriented legal-case-centered approach to human rights performance of, likewise, a dozen Asian countries. For the sake of both scientifically-grounded counterpoint purposes and so as to purportedly avoid falling victim to an uncritical inward over-idealisation of the Western model, the editors’ selected framework of study also takes on board the corresponding case-study of a common law and a civil law system country.

In their search for a more detailed empirical record of Asian human rights’ reality, the editors declare the goal to contribute to fill a gap in an ever-expanding literature spectrum ranging from abstract debates of a highly politicised character, while not exempt of philosophical- considerations, on the so decried Asian values’ discursive rhetoric, to quantitative studies of purportedly inconclusive utility for policy-making in this area. In accordance with the scientifically-grounded spirit that the overall project pretends to convey to the reader, each chapter follows a methodological pre-designed pattern which consists of the empirical study of an array of legal cases in each jurisdiction.

This analytically structured method is wrapped up by an introduction to rights theory and practice broadly informative of the peculiarities of each legal system under study, and by some selective comparative remarks regarding the different case studies along with key-issues highlights. The fourteen country studies that compose the book’s core are introduced by a General Series Editor’s overview introducing the reader to the subject matter through an interesting account of the most common explanatory factors derived from the empirical literature devoted to human rights performance.

Especially worth-reading for those always too-readily inclined to project their wishful thinking and herald the democratising-at-all-costs-creed is Peerenboom’s overview of the insights offered by political science experts on the “mixed offspring of democracy and authoritarism” (p.23) in some of the Asian countries under scrutiny. Similar [*359] down-to-Earth perspectives are provided, while not uniquely, in relation to economic development, culture, and religion. This introductory inter-disciplinary approach, although it constitutes the every-day material of the political scientist’s work, shall help a potential readership of international lawyers too easily captured by their own formalist standard approach to norm-identification within their human rights formalist-oriented project, to get a better background picture of the regional stage.

While the Series General Editors’ need to present extensive methodological considerations is understandable in view of the overall project’s declared ambitions, one can also anticipate that some of those state-goals risk provoking a blank stare-like reaction in a body of non-specialists in comparative legal analysis. Surely the book allows for a wide array of potential reading-approaches by distinct field-experts and non-experts alike. Truthful to the scientific approach that inspires the whole work, Chen systematically summarises the findings in a concluding chapter.

The six-level categorisation of the case studies under which the 14 states are grouped constitutes an interesting alternative to a linear reading. The referential character of a work that, while aiming at providing the reader with a deeper understanding of the human rights phenomenon in Asia at a precise historic conjecture in a legal comparative perspective, is also reflected by the fact that each of the chapters constitute a separate good introduction to human rights’ performance in the respective countries. Whether to opt for a linear reading, to follow as guidance the aforementioned comparative categorisation sketched by one of the editor’s in the final chapter, to approach each chapter as merely an informative introduction to the human rights’ “state of the art” from a case-centered approach or to come up with one’s own legal comparative framework of analysis become, thus, all valid alternatives to approach the present volume.

At a time when internal critics of the human rights movement are signaling that focus upon human rights increasingly creates delay and diversion from a renewed project that seeks to discover “what justice means each time and in each place anew” and a new post-human rights sort of sensibility is being projected and purportedly is gaining momentum,(Kennedy, 2006; also see Kennedy 2004), the book under review appears, in contrast, as a fairly descriptive classical approach to the complex reality that lurks beyond its analytical scope. It constitutes a methodological reaffirmation of faith in the globalising promise of human rights understood as benchmark in the moral progress of mankind, here systematically presented through a balanced account of both the progress accomplished and the ensuing practical difficulties looming ahead in the Asian region.

The teleological narrative behind Western human rights thinking benefits from to the presentation of actual data relevant to every country’s legal system in this region and the comparative framework manages to project both a [*360] Western civil-and-political-rights-first (USA) and a more balanced continental welfare inspired model (France) as yardsticks to measure the diverse Asian legal experience. One should do well, however, in not discarding that the Euro-American standard used here as a “comparison point” could be soon as considered an outmoded measuring-rod. The study of what is still an uncertain polyhedral Asian model-in-the-making would easily begin to influence what is a far from homogenous Western understanding of human rights’ theory.


Kennedy, David. 2004. THE DARK SIDES OF VIRTUE. REASSESSING INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARISM. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kennedy, David. 2006. “Two Sides of the Coin: Human Rights Pragmatism and Idolatry” Keynote Address: Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Rights, March 24, 2006, Clement House, London School of Economics. Available online at . (Last visited, 25th April, 2007).

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral.