The universality of Human Rights
In the course of history men and women have been struggling to obtain equal rights. Some major results have been achieved: a century and a half ago slavery has been abolished and in almost every country in the world women have voting right. Formally, the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN General Assembly in 1948 was a great accomplishment in this struggle. The intention of this declaration is clearly shown by the use of the word ‘universal’. Human rights should be respected universally.
Although they should be, human rights are not respected universally. In fact, eight nations abstained from the vote. Moreover, many nations that did consent do not act accordingly. Sometimes culture is used as an excuse for that. People are afraid to judge female circumcision, because they want to respect another culture. Are we supposed to accept torture, simply because it is part of another culture? According to Article 5 of the UDHR, no one shall be subjected to torture. This means that culture is no excuse and that the rule applies to every human being.
All over the world people know there are ethical standards. Everybody knows it is wrong to kill or to steal, because they would not want to be killed or robbed themselves. A Dutch saying perfectly describes this principle: ‘Wat gij niet wilt dat u geschiedt, doe dat ook een ander niet’. Kant states, in his categorical imperative, that something is morally permissible if you would have peace with it if everyone around you would do it. There is a clear resemblance between the Dutch saying and Kant’s words. Rights that you want yourself, you must assign to other people as well.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Dutch saying and Kant’s words are all expressions of the universality of Human Rights. They show that they are not bound by time or place. The establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not the formulation of...
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