What are your perceptions on the universal declaration of human rights would you like to amend any of the articles or add a new article to the declaration? In: International Laws [Edit categories]
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is half a century old, but critics are still asking whether anything in our multicultural, diverse world can be truly universal. Some ask, isn't human rights an essentially Western concept, ignoring the very different cultural, economic and political realities of the South? Can the values of the consumer society be applied to societies that have nothing to consume? Isn't talking about universal rights rather like saying that the rich and the poor both have the same right to fly first-class and to sleep under bridges? At the risk of sounding frivolous: when you stop a man in traditional dress beating his wife, are you upholding her human rights or violating his? The fact is that there are serious objections to the concept of universal human rights which its defenders need to acknowledge honestly, the better to refute them. The first is philosophical. All rights and values are defined and limited by cultural perceptions. There is no universal culture, therefore there are no universal human rights. Some philosophers have objected that the concept is founded on an individualistic view of people, whose greatest need is to be free from interference by the state. Non-Western societies often have a communitarian ethic which sees society as more than the sum of its individual members and considers duties to be more important than rights. In Africa it is usually the community that protects and nurtures the individual: 'I am because we are, and because we are therefore I am.' In most African societies, group rights had precedence over individual rights and conflict resolution would not necessarily be based on the assertion and defence of legal rights. Then there is the usual North/South argument. The Universal Declaration was adopted at a time when most Third World countries were still under colonial rule. 'Human rights' are only a cover for Western intervention in the affairs of the developing world. Developing countries, some also argue, cannot afford human rights since the tasks of nation-building and economic development are still unfinished. Suspending or limiting human rights is thus the sacrifice of the few for the benefit of the many. The human-rights concept is understood and upheld only by a small Westernized minority in developing countries; it does not extend to the lowest rungs of the ladder. Universality in these circumstances would be a universality of the privileged. Many also object to specific rights which they say reflect Western cultural bias: the right, for instance, to political pluralism, the right to paid vacations (always good for a laugh in the sweatshops of the developing world) and, most troublesome of all, the rights of women. How can women's rights be universal in the face of widespread divergences of cultural practice, when in some societies marriage is seen not as a contract between two individuals but as an alliance between lineages, and when the permissible behaviour of womenfolk is central to the society's perception of its honour? In addition, some religious leaders argue that human rights can only be acceptable if they are founded on transcendent values of their faith, sanctioned by God. The Universal Declaration claims no such heritage - a draft reference to the Creator was consciously left out of the final text. There is a built-in conflict between the universality of human rights and the particularity of religious perspectives. How can one respond to these objections? Concepts of justice and law, the legitimacy of government, the dignity of the individual, protection from oppressive or arbitrary rule and participation in the affairs of the community are found in every society on the face of this earth. The challenge of human rights is to identify the...
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