Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders...those are some of the many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world based on the protection of human rights. Given they are international organisations, does it mean human rights are universal, i.e. they apply to everyone? The first step to answer this question would be to refer to the foundations of the universal concept. We might think of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, in 1948) as a main source, but in fact the notion of universal human rights is much older. With a flashback in the history of human rights theories, it is then possible to point out the problem of a relative Western conception of rights presumably applying to everyone. This peculiarity has been underlined through the doctrine of cultural relativity. More than fifty years after the vote of the Declaration, raise some delicate questions: can we go as far as to say that the Declaration of Human Rights is as universal as it pretends? The world is a gathering of states whose cultures and history are different, so how can a common ideal applied to them without destroying their specificities? Is it in the world interest to spread a similar way of life and thought? "The man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" wrote Rousseau, a French philosopher of the XVIIIth century, in his book Du Contrat Social (The Social Contract). Actually human beings have, for ages, wanted to claim their rights as a will to liberate themselves.
[...] Encyclopaedia Encarta, section ‘John Locke'. Eude, AsbjØrn and Alfredson, Gudmundur (1992) ‘Introduction'. In The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a commentary. Scandinavian University Press. Page 11 (Chap part C). Badinter, Robert (1998) Dossier : La Déclaration Universelle a 50 ans [Translation : File : The Universal Declaration is 50 years-old]. Paris : Hommes et Libertés. Page 17. Eude, AsbjØrn and Alfredson, Gudmundur (1992) ‘Introduction'. In The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a commentary. Scandinavian University Press. Page 11 (Chap.2, part [...]
[...] From which one concludes that non-governmental organisations defending human rights or for example the European Court of Human Rights are fundamental, as long as reports show the continuation of acts such as segregation by caste, death penalty or stoning Bibliography Alleton, Viviane Dossier : La Déclaration Universelle a 50 ans [Translation : File : The Universal Declaration has 50 years old] (Paris : Hommes et Libertés, 1998). Dunne, Tim; Wheeler, Nicholas J., eds, Human rights in global politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). [...]
[...] To sum up, it is possible to refer to the Swiss thinker Jeanne Hersch, leader of the philosophical section of the UNESCO, who claimed that have need the barbarity of our times so that was imposed the necessity of maintain them [the rights claimed through centuries] on an international level”. These were relatively immediate experiences (first part of the XXth century), yet the struggle and necessity for the recognition of individual rights, and above all dignity, has existed since a long time. [...]
[...] The latter advises to underline the importance of national sovereignty, the priority of collective, economic and social rights as well as the notion of cultural and historical specificities of the countries: in that sense there cannot be universal human rights, even if they are recognised in the Declaration. Nevertheless, the concept of common human rights is not only debated in Asia. The Islamic world also discredits the universality of human rights, notably with the sharia, a set of laws guiding the daily life of every Muslim. [...]
[...] In defence, the less powerful can deny the existence of universal human rights by accusing the Western countries of trying to build a new colonialist world order through the spread of specific values, valid in one culture. This neo imperialism can also be seen as ethnocentrism: Western values and morality are the values. As the philosopher Mohamed Arkoun said in the French newspaper Le Monde in 1989, is not possible to want every country to follow the same path, because it would mean that every culture has to confine itself in the occidental model of historical, intellectual and artistic development”. [...]
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