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Human rights and universality

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  1. Introduction
  2. The UDHR: Western conception of human rights
    1. Human rights: A western invention
    2. Human rights as opposed to duties and collective mechanisms
    3. The accusation of cultural imperialism
    4. The issue of the hierarchy of rights within the UDHR
    5. The necessary respect for cultural diversity
  3. Striving for universalism (the defenders of the UDHR)
    1. The hidden side of cultural relativism
    2. The accommodation of universal rights in a non-Western cultural context: The case of Islamic countries
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

We'll see that a mediate position can be found between what Donnelly has identified as radical cultural relativism (a) and radical universalism (b). Thus, it seems that a cross-cultural consensus can be found on the universality of some basic rights contained in the UDHR, whereas some other articles may be susceptible of cultural adaptation. But in the first place we will examine the position of cultural relativists and its potential weaknesses and hidden rationals

[...] This jurisprudence, emanating from a typically ?Western? court (even if its composition has now been extended to Eastern European countries), shows that the Western conception of human rights does not ignore collective values and interests. Nor does it ignore the notion of duties. Indeed, art.29(1) stresses that Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. Thus, even if the UDHR can be said to represent Western values, it could turn out to be more adaptable than expected. [...]


[...] Silk reminds us that very idea of human rights means nothing if it does not mean universal human rights?. As a result, it appears that, if we are to preserve the notion, we have to narrow its scope. Hence the resort to the notion of basic rights. The concept has been defined in many different ways, which has led authors to give each their own list of basic rights. For a dominant trend, however, the notion refers to a set of principles embedded in a few common moral values: the respect for human life, dignity, physical integrity and personal liberty are often cited as basic rights. [...]


[...] The necessary respect for cultural diversity More fundamentally, cultural relativists argue that we shouldn't regard as violations of human rights any practice that finds itself in contradiction with what we consider universal rights (namely the UDHR, and following international instruments). Instead, we should admit that the notion of human dignity, which lies at the basis of modern theories of human rights[xii], is a moral, cultural and therefore relative one that can either justify or denounce these alleged violations. Thus, the interdiction made to Muslims to convert to another religion (apostasy) is in direct contradiction with the freedom of religion enounced in art.18 UDHR. [...]

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