Should demands for human rights be tempered with recognition of cultural difference?

Essay 2009 3 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Public International Law and Human Rights


Task: Should demands for human rights be tempered with recognition of cultural difference? Give your own analysis in approximately 500 words

Human rights in connection with culture are a very delicate issue. Subsequently, I am going to outline my thoughts about human rights – if demands for them should be tempered with recognition of cultural difference.

In general, human rights are considered as those rights that everybody should possess simply on the account of being human. However, "in a number of non-Western cultures, individuals are not accorded rights in the same way as they are in the West" (Tharoor 1999/2000). A major criticism underlies the argument that cultures are and have always been diverse, stressing different values as compared to the Western culture[1]. Critics claim that these rights have to be seen in the light of cultural context.

It is obvious, as several authors agree, that this cultural relativism is often closely related to the protection of existing power relations between the leaders and the led[2] and that "the language of rights – human rights – is used by all actors to support their case" (Anand 2009, p. 3). Due to this cultural relativism human rights are not of the same relevance in all places, and violations become justified in turn (Huysmans 2004, p. 303, 306). Thus, for the mentioned reasons it would be ideal if demands for human rights are not tempered with recognizing cultural difference. However, in practice it is barely possible to pose demands for human rights from one day to the other, leaving culture behind.

Considering these aspects, Brown puts forward an interesting and more realistic idea how to propagate the realization of a universal human rights idea, leaving culture step by step behind. First, like other scholars he differentiates between three generations of human rights, i.e. political (like freedom of speech or not being subjected to torture), economic/social rights and peoples' rights. According to him, in the first category "the remedy is clearly in the hands of national governments", since states could end torture simply by stopping it (Brown 2008, p. 515), whereas the latter two cannot necessarily be guaranteed by states if they do not dispose of the capabilities to do so (e.g. provide enough food to end hunger). Based on this classification, a first step therefore would consist in providing for those basic political rights without considering cultural aspects.



ISBN (eBook)
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412 KB
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Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – Center for Global Politics
human rights Menschenrechte culture Kultur




Title: Should demands for human rights be tempered with recognition of cultural difference?