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Are human rights
universal? Can cultural rights belong to universal human rights? This question
is a controversy topic in two aspects. First, we need to look at whether the
term universal human right exist, and then examine the content of cultural
rights and look at the relationship between the two. Unfortunately, the concept
of both universal human rights and cultural rights is still vague. There are
still conflicting arguments among scholars whether universal human rights exist
or if it’s a wholly westernize invention. This essay is first going to look at
the history and the background of international human rights, how it was
established and developed by generation to generation especially focusing on
gender perspective. Next, it’s going to mention cultural relativism and its
idea of pursing equality in the world. The limitation and problems regarding
cultural relativism is going to be mentioned with examples. Nevertheless, this
essay is also going to mention the proper way of legitimizing universal human
rights. This two study is going to reveal the current limitation of both ideas
and will try to find a solution. The new form of international human rights is
needed in order to be universalized and accepted by each culture.

 

The International Human Rights
developed most remarkably as a part of international law after the WW2 in order
to protect the human race from pain and suffering that was seen in the war. The
human rights regarding gender equality began to be issued after the end of WW2
and there have been number of international conventions that provide the
prohibition or sexual discrimination and the equal treatment of every person
(2015). Moreover, integrating the gender perspectives into the work of United
Nation Human
Rights treaty bodies have been
discussed. According to report by United Nation, from 1993 June 25, equal
status and human rights of women in general human rights activities expanded
greatly since the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna (2015). The UN have been supporting and effectively
integrating gender considerations into their work practices. The Commission on
Human Rights decided to reflect a gender perspective under all its agenda items
while mainstreaming the gender perspectives into all policies programs.

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However, claims begin to show
saying that human rights currently established is simply a form of western
cultural imperialism. As a part of resistance to such a wave from Western
world, there have been many activists for regionalism or cultural relativism.

The cultural relativism claims that there is no absolute human right, and every
culture is morally equal and effective to one another, supporting the national
and regional characteristics or historical, cultural and religious traditions
(Tax, 2017). Those cultural normative beliefs impose a sense of order and
control on aspects of life. The principle was first established by Franz Boas
during 20th century stating that “although for every culture some
moral judgements are valid, no moral judgement is universally valid.” (Tax,
2017). Therefore it is saying that one should not judge a particular cultural
custom or should change. However, if this position, “no moral judgement is
universally valid”, gets adopted it will be used as a way of avoiding the
problems which the world faces today. 

 

There are still many places in the
world where harmful cultural practices happen using the idea cultural relative
as one of the excuses. One example that can be mentioned could be practices
such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). For people with western human rights
idea, they will stand against this cultural practice. However, for the women
and men in Liberia or country where this action is practice will defend this
action claiming that no one has a right to judge their own cultural practice.

According to research done by UN, around half of Liberia’s 17 ethnic groups
practice FGM (2015). By the human rights perspective, the FGM practice violates
the rights of women and girls, including their right to be free from violence,
life and physical integrity, non-discrimination and more. FGM is a traditional
practice that remove external genitalia of girls and young women for
non-medical, tradition reasons, which is illegal in many countries but not all
(UNFPA). It causes severe health problems such as extreme pain, lack of
medically sterilized equipment, and sometimes death (UNFPA). However, despite
this danger, the cultural practice is still existing today and it has become a
great concern for the World Health Organization (2015).

 

The FGM is not the only harmful cultural
practices. There are still many more unknown, untouched or else ignored
cultural ideas that should be stopped. Those countries claim their own original
nature of human rights convention, and it’s important to distinguish that most
violations of gender human rights are based on social custom or traditions, not
under direct control of governmental power (2015). Therefore, it is necessary
for states parties to play active roles in preventing such violations of gender
and human rights. Therefore, we should not merely blame culture for those harsh
practices. Culture by nature, is actually a flexible system and has many
possibilities of choice or changing within the framework. The most
comprehensive definition of culture could be as follows: “Culture is a way of
life of a group of people- the behaviors, beliefs, values and symbols that they
accept, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation
to the next” (2012). Which means culture is made by people, not the opposite
way around. There are options to change or make better culture.

Such acts of human right abuse that are
occurring today can not be ignored under cultural practices and must be
condemned. The implementation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
International Law as a juridical measure is the only way this can be achieved,
to prevent further tragedies in the future. The main purpose, the reason why
this declaration was established should not be forgotten. Its main purpose is
to protect and promote the rights of Equality, Dignity and Liberty and it is
inherent to all human beings. The debate between Universalism and Cultural
Relativism is an ongoing conflict between the international community and it
has been since the creation of human rights. Jack Donnelly however, a scholar
of international relations made an interesting claim saying “this issue is not
an either choice between cultural relativism and universalism”. He mentions how
we need to both acknowledge the universality of human rights and the diversity
proclaiming that human rights are relatively universal (Donnelly, 2013). Donnelly
states, “No particular culture or comprehensive doctrine is by nature either
compatible or incompatible with human rights. It is a matter of what particular
people and societies make of and do with their cultural resources. Cultures are
immensely malleable” (Donnelly, 2013).

Then, in which ways should people promote
universal human rights? Proclaim by Francis Fukuyama for promoting democracy
can be used as an example of promoting human rights. According to the saying of
Francis Fukuyama and Michael McFaul, the promotion of liberal democracy is
actually the right thing to do. For democracy is so far, the best form of the
government (Carothers, 2007). This theory can be used in Human Rights since
Universal Human Rights so far can be said is the best form of protecting ones’
freedom. The states or people have a moral duty to promote this freedom.

Fukuyama first mentioned that the first step of becoming more effective
promoter of democracy is by first becoming one. Same goes for human rights.

People actions of being more supportive of human rights is needed around the
world as it’s the way to strengthen the international universal norms (Fukuyama
& Mcfaul, 2008). That is the reason why the significance of
international human rights needs to be acknowledged. This is the sphere that
gender minorities or any minorities have been more committed to than anything
else, and their individual rights is gradually being more approved and extended
into all aspects and levels of development, having significant effects on
civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. The legitimate aim to
pursue universalism should be the goal by agreeing upon certain core values and
human rights. Both cultural relativism and Universal human
rights need to avoid ethnocentric approaches and attitudes and enhance
understanding of different cultures.

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