The growing consensus especially in the western countries that human rights are universal and that it transcends the cultural differences is taking center stage among anthropologists. Different people from different parts of the world have different beliefs and the way they do things (Singh Bhatia 384). Culture has defined the norms and beliefs of people in a particular area. On the other hand human right is defined as the inherent rights that any human being is entitled to such as a right to safety, a right to freedom of speech or right to live. It cannot be assumed that the already established universal human rights are not controversial vis-à-vis the different cultures practiced in different parts of the world. It is evident that the human rights laid out in international covenants have ignored the traditions, religion and social, cultural pattern of the third world countries in Africa. This paper focuses on the concept of universal rights that transcend cultural differences with deep insights.
For human rights activists and professionals, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 is a very momentous document (Hajjar Leib 48). It was formulated in after the grisly happenings of the Holocaust in Germany. This was where the then leader of Germany Adolf Hitler, killed millions of Jews on the basis that they were inferior humans. The document contains thirty different articles that outline the human rights regarding social, political and economy rights that anyone should be accorded since every individual is born humans. The document suggests that humanity should be accorded to all people regardless of the state, culture of religion (Tharoor, 2001). In spite of the document being in place, there ate criticism that is criticism that has erupted regarding the document giving a deaf eye to the cultural differences that exist. Consequently, for the nations in African which have strong and staunch cultural beliefs and formulations, they were not consulted during the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
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Rights should be entirely constructed upon the acceptance of cultural behavior. Within the framework of a society or culture, rights can be able to carry more weight thus a less widely mode of ratified behavior (Fluehr-Lobban, 1995). If a culture has no regard for the human rights as declared by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), then it means it falls into the category of those individuals who are supposed to forcefully accept human rights through military means, or otherwise the concept of universal in universal human rights become meaningless. When one consider a country such as China, if it has no regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there is no one with the power to force them to accept such concept. This clearly shows that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are not universal. They are widely accepted because they represent good deed. However, it is not necessarily that they have to be followed.
The cultural differences are real, and they have different implications. Many people in developing countries argue that some of the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are not in tandem with their culture. For instance the right to political pluralism is not common to people in the developing countries. Case in point, the people of Saudi Arabia have problems with article sixteen and article eighteen of the universal human rights. The article respectively suggests that women have the right to choose whom to marry and everyone has the right to any religion. The Saudi Arabians were in opposition to the laws in the human rights declaration because of its defiance of the Islamic teaching of the patriarchal authority. It is not that societies are unable to provide the rights, but rather they view the universal concept as a way of imposing western values on them.
Group rights such as universal human rights are a good theory and a good idea. However, they can be an avenue to suppress those people who do not fit the idea. By protecting people, human rights suggest that they do not diminish the group but rather offer protection of everyone within the group. The advent of the cultural differences about universal human rights should be a wake-up call to the word to review some changes where some cultural elements are integrated so as to enable the realization of universal human rights.
In closing, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is not perfect since there is an issue regarding the cultural elements in the right. When human rights standards are applied internationally by considering countries legal system, then the universal human rights can become a reality. Culture is very important when deciding human rights. However, with the globalization, the issue of culture is becoming less important.
- Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. “Anthropologists, Cultural Relativism, And Universal Rights”. Home.sandiego.edu. N.p., 2017. Web. 8 Apr. 2017.
- Hajjar Leib, Linda. Human Rights And The Environment: Philosophical, Theoretical And Legal Perspectives. 1st ed. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2011. Print.
- Singh Bhatia, Gurcharan. Peace, Justice And Freedom: Human Rights Challenges For The New Millennium. 1st ed. University of Alberta, 2000. Print.
- Tharoor, Shashi. “Are Human Rights Universal?”. Thirdworldtraveler.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 8 Apr. 2017.