Universality of Human Rights and Cultural Disparity - Essay Example

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The concept of universality in administration of human rights emerged in the 20th century, following signage of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by compliant member states. …
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Universality of Human Rights and Cultural Disparity
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College: Universality of Human Rights and Cultural Disparity The concept of universality in administration of humanrights emerged in the 20th century, following signage of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by compliant member states. This conception is founded upon the idea that fundamental principles that govern people’s rights are universal in nature. Some of the values provided for within the aforementioned declaration include the notion of individual freedom, democratic and political right for all, as well as, economic and social rights among others. The applicability of the universality of human rights has, however, sparked significant debate. While proponents support the concept’s ideology, opponents argue against it on the basis of cultural relativism and the apolitical nature of the campaign adopted in its advocacy. Perhaps the most pervasive argument against the universal nature of human rights is that of cultural diversity. This assertion is hinged on the assertion that since every nation or society has its distinctive cultural values, a universal approach to rights cannot be applied all around the world.
A key issue in the cultural disparity argument stems from the perception that the West differs significantly from other nations, on which it attempts to impose the idea of universal human rights. This notion is perpetuated by the fact that the UN Declaration of Human Rights was adopted when majority of Third World nations had not gained independence from the principally Western colonialists. Universality of rights is therefore perceived as cover for the West to intervene in developing countries’ affairs, while spreading its individualistic socio-cultural values in otherwise community-oriented societies. In further argument against universality, others posit that ongoing nation-building in developing countries cannot sustain individual-oriented human rights since it is a communal task. This implies that communal compliance with cultural norms is deemed viable, as opposed to upholding universal rights at the expense of an entire society’s cultural structure and stability.
Although the culture relativism argument puts forth a significant consideration on the need to tailor rights to valuable societal norms, it overlooks the numerous violations of rights justified by such practices. Upholding local or religious principles over rights may pave way for dictatorships or fundamentally religious regimes that enslave people in various ways, as an excuse for cultural adherence. An excellent example is the fundamentalist Islamic government of Saudi Arabia, which like many Middle Eastern nations defends an ideology of human rights based on the Koran, yet fails to reflect basic human rights. Saudi Arabia declined to be a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arguing that provisions of this declaration went contrary to Islam based law. Of particular concern was equality within the institution of marriage, which is deemed impossible in the primarily patriarchal society and the freedom of belief, among others. As a result, women are predisposed to domestic abuse and oppression and there is little to no tolerance for non-Muslims.
Overall, it is unquestionable that culture plays an integral role in any society including the process of defining and upholding human rights. This implies that universal rights advocates and other stakeholders in this ongoing debate should be sensitive to disparities embedded in culture. However, involved parties including governments and human rights campaigners should not allow cultural differences to supersede widely acknowledged civil liberties. Such fundamental universal rights include people’s right to be protected from harm, freedom to life, and freedom of existence, among others. Read More
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