The issue of universalism of human rights vs. cultural relativism has been a focal point of heated debate for the last several decades. As globalization is bringing nations together, cultural differences and peculiarities become increasingly more salient. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nation in 1948, lists several categories of rights that the peoples of the world have agreed to accept and recognize.
These rights include the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to be free from slavery and servitude; the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; the right to marriage with the free and full consent of the parties; the right to own property; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religionm; and the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work (United Nations, 1948).
These rights are universally recognized because they protect the dignity of an individual and the basic social institutions which are present in virtually every culture. However, their universality is still contested, as “human rights as laid out in the international covenants ignore the traditions, the religions, and the socio-cultural patterns of what used to be called the Third World” (Tharoor, 1998, para.
1). For example, in some African societies, “group rights have always taken precedence over individual rights, and political decisions have been made through group consensus, not through individual assertions of rights” (Tharoor, 1998, para. 4). There are many instances when traditional practices conflict with universal human rights.
For example, female genital mutilation, practiced by some African and Asian people for cultural and communal reasons, translates into irreversible lifelong health risks for females (UNICEF, 2008). The debate whether human rights are universal is perennial. It is important to recognize, however, that an effective framework for the protection of human rights can be developed only using a bottom-up approach, giving the broad support of a society where human rights are promoted.
References Tharoor, Shashi. (1998). Are Human Rights Universal? World Policy Journal, 16(4). Retieved June 11, 2009, from http://www. worldpolicy. org/journal/tharoor. html UNICEF. (2008). Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Retrieved June 11, 2009, from http://www. unicef. org/protection/index_genitalmutilation. html United Nations. (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved June 11, 2009, from http://www. un. org/en/documents/udhr
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