The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims that the rights discussed in the document are "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations." This document, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), are meant to be global agreements that span all cultures and traditions. These documents however do not live up to their intent. In fact, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights prove this unrealized and unrealistic expectation of the earlier universal' and international' treaties.
Theoretically perhaps, there does exist a set of universal human rights, but in this diverse world any set of human rights that is to be recognized internationally must be more of a universally accepted set of human rights. This Declaration of Universally Accepted Human Rights' would be a document focused on overlapping consensus of many cultures. In order to accomplish this, first, an all inclusive document must be drawn up that deals with those rights that fall under an overlapping consensus of the many different cultures of the world. Specifically, more input from African, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures must be included in this consensus. Second, the legacy of imperialism and slavery must be acknowledged and addressed. Many African and island cultures have suffered and continue to suffer because of these practices. The novels Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, and A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, deal with many of these issues. The purpose of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was to establish a standard of human rights that is universal. Unfortunately, shortly after the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 the United States found itself politically and ideologically at odds with the Soviet Union and China, the latter falling to the Communists in 1949 (Donnelly 7). As a result, human rights issues became just another political outlet for the world superpowers to attack each other (Donnelly 7). Much work for the advancement of human rights was put on the back burner because of cold war politics. The ICESCR and ICCPR were put off for over a decade and split into two separate entities as a result of ideological conflicts between the US and USSR (Donnelly 8). This weakened their effectiveness as universal' treaties. The political arm wrestling between the US and Soviet Union also shows why building an overlapping consensus was so difficult during the cold war. Additionally, many African and Asian countries were under Western colonial rule during the initial drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Donnelly 8). This left many voices unheard. As a result, documents such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and the Banjul Charter have been drafted and signed by Islamic and African nations, respectively. The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was signed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference on August 5th, 1990. In the preamble it states a wish to "protect man from exploitation and persecution, and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah." Article One of the Cairo Declaration states that "All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam." These religious references to the Shari'ah, God, and Adam are all aspects of the Islamic viewpoint that are obviously not in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because in the UDHR's attempts at universality it can not embrace one religion openly. Some articles in the Cairo Declaration could be interpreted at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 6a of the Cairo Declaration specifies that women are equal to men...
Cited: Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann, 1958.
Bielefeldt, Heiner. "Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate." Human Rights
Quarterly Vol. 17.4 1995, Johns Hopkins University Press. Online. 18 Oct. 2001.
Center for the Study of Human Rights. Twenty-five Human Rights Documents. New
York: Columbia University, 1994.
Donnelly, Jack. International Human Rights. Boulder: Westview, 1998.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988.
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