Thursday, September 24, 2009

Human Rights and The Debate Between Universalism and Cultural Relativism

hrdebate.pdf (application/pdf Object)

I stumbled upon a scholarly analysis of the ongoing debate from a perspective in which I knew was going to be biased in some way or another from other than a"western" notion of human rights and cultural relativism. This is good however, to look at other perspectives to enhance our own perspectives and gain better insight into any subject regardless of what it is you are studying or trying to gain knowledge of. Trust me on that. Anyway I just wanted to post that a conference was held in Vienna in 1993, to discuss the Universalism of Human Rights and the notion of cultural relativism. The nation-states invited were China, Syria, and Iran.

Immediately, from a "western" viewpoint what do you think were going to be the results of the analysis? Should I even have to tell you? Probably not by now right? Of course not. Either way I will just summarize a bit of the conclusions:

"At the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, a delegation led by China, Syria and Iran officially challenged the universality of Human Rights and put forward the following conclusions:
1. Human Rights as currently defined are not universal but based on Western morality.
2. They should not therefore be imposed as norms on non-western societies in disregard of those societies’ historical and economic development and in disregard of their cultural differences and perceptions of what is right and wrong."


"3.they contend that the imposition of one’s standard on another culture is unjust and imperialist in nature."

"Relativism as linked to culture will appear later thanks to the work of anthropologists who empirically demonstrated that there exist in the world many different cultures, each equally worthy. However, International Law has only recently begun to tackle the issue of cultural relativism, which first emerged in a 1971 book by Adda Bozeman entitled The Future of Law in a Multicultural World. The central themes of the book are as follows:
1. There exist profound differences between western legal theories and cultures and those of Africa, Asia, India and Islam.
2. In order to fully understand a culture, one must be a product of that culture.
3. Even if a culture were to borrow a concept from another culture, that concept’s meaning would be filtered through the first culture’s unique linguistic-conceptual culture.
4. There can be no universal meaning to a moral value.
5. A universal text on values is a futile exercise.
Theoretically speaking, the debate then is inscribed on a spectrum ranging from radical universalism that disallows any derogation from certain standards to radical relativism which explains culture as the sole source of the validity of a moral value."

In other words, you might as well just disregard the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafted in 1948 as being a meaningful piece of human rights legislation altogether, right? These are just some of the conclusions of the Vienna meeting in 1993, however all of the roads basically led in the same direction. I am a proponent of the UDHR of 1948, so of course I disagree with the outcome and the conclusions I just wanted to represent to you the major philosophical differences that exist in our world today, with countries in which we have to make major dealings with, on a globally significant, day to day basis. This is of course culturally relative to everyone.


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