International Human Rights: an Unattainable Concept

Topics: Human rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Law Pages: 19 (6754 words) Published: February 3, 2011
International human rights: an unattainable concept

“Can international human rights ever be effectively protected and enforced? Explain why or why not; and how (by what means).”

The codification of many international treaties into human rights law is an especially gray area. While there does exist half a dozen or more of these treaties establishing basic human rights, they are often an overlapping and confusing mess that is difficult to decode. International actors have agreed upon basic human rights through both formal and informal means; however, the active international enforcement of these human rights is impossible. Too many variables occur internationally to allow the protection and enforcement of these rights. The vast differences in countries’ social, institutional and economic frameworks prevent these international human rights from being enforceable. Socially, cultural relativity and norms act as a barrier to international human rights. Institutionally, the legal and political framework and policies will often prevent international human rights from being implemented. Finally, the economic status of a country, specifically their trade position, resources and stage of development can adversely affect how international human rights are applied. CULTURE AS A BARRIER TO HUMAN RIGHTS

The role of culture is a significant barrier to the implementation of international human rights. A universal agreement among certain human rights provisions is not likely to occur, specifically when dealing with countries outside of the Western liberal tradition, where many of these provisions began. According to Matt J. Granato in his article titled Is culture a barrier to human rights?, “In certain circumstances, conforming to human rights would signify a fundamental change in society that the elite is not willing to undertake, fearing a potential change in the balance of power,” (Granato 57). Therefore, while the cultural norms in Western culture may allow or condemn specific human rights actions, the cultural norms in other part of the world are different and rigid, unlikely to change because the norms are so ingrained. FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN ASIA AND AFRICA

A prevalent example of a practice that is explained through cultural norms is female genital mutilation (FGM). Historically, FGM was performed to prevent procreation of slaves. There are various forms of the surgery, ranging from a partial clitoridectomy to a full excision of the clitoris, labia minora, and majora followed by infibulations (the stitching of the vulva leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual blood) (Kalev 339). A midwife with no anesthetic in unsanitary conditions, often leaving infection and long-lasting pain, performs the surgery on both young girls and adult women. According to Vivienne Taylor, The girl is stripped naked and made to sit on a stool or on the floor. Held down by female relatives, a traditional birth attendant, lay person, or the local village practitioner, starts the cutting, using a knife, razorblade, scissors or sometimes even a piece of glass. The girl is given no anesthesia or antiseptic during the procedure which can last up to 15 minutes, (Taylor 31). From a Western society’s viewpoint, the practice is an undeniable violation of human rights, and as far as many are concerned, should be outlawed. The practice has been recognized as a human rights violation by Amnesty International (Kalev 339), and it has received increasing negative attention from the West over the past 20 years. Yet the surgery is still performed in many Asian and African countries. The undeniable reasoning for female genital mutilation’s current practice is that it is a cultural norm: “Currently, it is performed simply because it is customary, in the belief that sexuality will be controlled and virginity preserved until marriage…this tradition is preserved mainly by women themselves, living in traditional societies in...
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