Critically assess the case that values are relative to culture and that therefore the International Bill of Rights has no applicability in some countries. Cultural differences are evident throughout all societies through religious beliefs, traditions or lifestyle choices. The International Bill of rights therefore cannot be applied to all cultures due to its opposing ideologies, however the most basic level of human rights are found necessary in order to protect human life. Evidently, cultural relativism restricts judgement of alternative cultural practices. As a result, cultural differences must be tolerated and a universal body has no right to determine what is right and wrong in a society. Through specific cultures, cultural traditions are highlighted, many that appear to violate basic human rights. As a result of these alternate rights and practices differ it is difficult of establish a universal set of rights that observes the unique beliefs and ideologies of minorities around the world.
Approved in 1966, the International Bill of Rights consists of two covenants that attempt to represent a revised set of rights in the aftermath of the Second World War. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, together make up the International Bill of Rights. The creation of the International Bill of Rights was fraught with confrontation that lead to the division of two separate covenants due to pressure from the US and its allies. The immediate implementation of political and civil rights and the progressive nature of economic and social were thought of as necessary rights to include in the International Bill of Rights (Pollis & Schwab 2006). Referred to as a hierarchy of rights, certain values were believed more important through the perspective of western society. The US was seen to prioritise the civil and political rights above economic, social and cultural rights, which were regarded as necessary but by less developed countries (Beitz 2009). The aim of the International Bill of Rights was to create a convention that could be applied in all cultures as a way of implementing a standard of human rights. However, many cultural differences are overlooked or considered immoral under this convention. To apply this model internationally is argued as chauvinist, and simply inconsistent, and thus may agree that it has no applicability in all countries.
Culture sculpts our beliefs and traditions, governing our moral codes and thus, how one views society. The idea that right and wrong is determined by one’s culture refers to the concept of cultural relativism (Donnelly 2003). Cultural relativism states that every culture’s beliefs are unique to that particular culture. That is, universality does not exist; rather there are many different types of moral codes in society that are neither better nor worse than another (Rachels 1993). Donnelley (2003) compares cultural relativism to universalism, arguing that culture is the main source of establishing a moral truth. Cultural values or moral truths are relative in relation to the principles of that culture. Therefore, it cannot be presumed wrong or even immoral from a foreign perspective. James (1994) continues by arguing that one cannot judge another culture, as each culture’s traditions are equally relevant and valid as another. From this, it is evident that a Universal declaration could not comply with a realist’s beliefs. A moral relativist states that moral claims established outside of a community are not valid to that community because they are not sympathetic to the culture (James 1994). The argument that values are relative to a culture restricts one from labeling a practice within a culture as wrong and therefore a human rights violation. What one sees as a human rights violation may not be one in another country, and thus a universal set of moral standards would simply fail and...
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