Good Critical Thinking On Universalism And Culturalism
The real definition, composition, boundaries, and limitations of human rights, are some of the most heavily debated aspects of social science. Human rights is something that is being heavily advocated and supported by the United Nations, an international group of countries that aim to interconnect countries economically, politically, and even strategically. The term human rights, in fact, pertain to a set of moral norms and principles that describe a specific set of standards of human behavior that may be enforced and or judged by means of municipal, local or national, and international laws. In most cases, the set of moral principles and norms detailed in the declaration of human rights, particularly that supported by the United Nations are recognized by countries internationally. There, are, however, some countries who fail, either intentionally or unintentionally, perhaps due to some geopolitical or any other reasons, to uphold the moral and norms and principles detailed in the declaration of human rights.
Such countries are often persecuted by the countries that religiously honor the concept of human rights. At some point, such countries even get referred to as rogue countries—mainly because of the fact that they do not adhere to the already set international standards when it to moral codes, norms, and principles. This can be easily compared to the way how the church regulates things during the different periods under the middle Ages. It would be to note how the church during that time uses its authority to excommunicate countries that fail, either intentionally or unintentionally to uphold the teachings, principles, and concepts being advocated by the church. Excommunicated countries during that time are the ones who can be the subject of persecuting actions that may be perpetrated by the members of the church. At that point, invasion and military activities meant to humiliate the excommunicated countries were some of the most common forms of persecution initiated by member countries or states.
The same is practically true today only that the subject organization is not the Roman Catholic Church anymore but the international political organizations such as the United Nation. The United Nations defines human rights as “rights that are inherent to all human beings, whatever the nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status as people are all equally entitled to human rights without discrimination, and are interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible” . This was operationally the same definition used in the work of Merry about Human Rights law and the Demonization of Culture. One of the issues Merry described in her work was the way how human rights and of course human rights organizations fail to destroy the cultural barrier that prevents such organizations from practicing the concepts and principles of human rights in order to benefit all people, regardless of their culture, race, or ethnic origin.
According to Merry (2003), “perceptions of culture as static tradition is fundamental to contemporary transnational human rights discourse”. Society’s static perception of culture is what makes it impossible for new moral policies, norms, conducts, and behaviors such as the human rights to be implemented fully. For modern concepts such as the human rights to be fully and successfully enforced and implemented, society’s perception of culture and probably other barriers to this ultimate agenda must be dynamic so that changes can be easily accommodated and people would be more likely to adapt to the new concepts and ideologies being proposed by the advocating organizations.
Another important issue discussed by Merry was the issue regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a modern form of imperialism. Some of the authors of the works that she cited in her work asked “how can the proposed declaration be applicable to all human beings, and not be a statement of rights conceived only in terms of the values prevalent in the countries of Western Europe and America?”. Notice that the main organization that supports the proliferation of the idea that supports the implementation and enforcement of Human Rights is the United Nations; also, notice that the United Nations, specifically some of the most prominent members of it are from the western part of the globe, particularly in the European and Northern American continent. The United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are some of the best examples.
Merry (2003) supports the argument that there is really no way for even the largest organizations such as the United Nations and even the most powerful countries such as the United States to lawfully and or legally enforce the application of human rights internationally, including other countries, even those whose religions and established cultural norms oppose that of the ones that have been included in the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is because there will always be a barrier—in this case, it is a cultural barrier, which would create conflicts in the human rights’ application. In the case of Pakistan, for example, there are certain policies in Pakistan, some of which are political in nature and some are religious.
It may also be relevant to mention that Pakistan is a Muslim country and some of its political and legal policies are heavily dependent on the Islamic Law which in turn may appear to be very conservative and restrictive (from a human rights perspective) when compared to that of western countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. All in all, Merry (2003) simply discussed some of the issues related to human rights and why it really cannot be fully implemented and enforced. Nonetheless, she too believes that doing so is an essential geopolitical strategy to promote equality and to prevent the development of political regimes that are ruled by a dictatorship, communism, or any other similar form of government.
The same issue was discussed in the American Anthropologist New Series article which was published in 1947 . According to this source, the problem faced by the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights is directly related to the somewhat disregard of the CHR on the different cultures and human groups, something, even in the absence of human rights and other similar international laws or policies, must be treated with equality. In the case of an environment where the principles of human rights are fully and successfully implemented, this would not be the case because there will always be countries whose religious, political, or even natural law-based policies, norms, and culture would be different from the ones that the universal declaration of human rights would go against.
The result would be the creation of conflicts, especially between countries who want to strictly follow what the UDHR suggests, and those countries that have opposing political, religious, and cultural views about the UDHR’s applications. All in all, Merry, the author in reading one, and the author in reading two agree that society’s static view when it comes to culture creates a barrier that makes it impossible for the principles and concepts of human rights to be fully implemented and enforced.
In another work cited in Human Rights and Culture, author Makau Mutua explained how the implementation and declaration of human rights have improved the standard of living of a lot of people, maybe not from an economic standpoint but from a socio-political one. One of the main theses in his work suggests that human rights exist and have been created to give people a certain form of power. This power will then be used by the people to protect themselves from the different possible abuses that they may experience from the government or more specifically, the politicians and the people who run and control it. A great example of this power that is bestowed to every citizen regardless of his or her race, culture, nationality, or ethnic origin, is every person’s right to undergo due process. This right is often used in the criminal justice and law enforcement industry.
It suggests that it is against the international declaration of human rights to persecute a person or treat that person wrongly just because he was charged with an administrative or a criminal case, for as long as that person has not undergone the necessary court and other legal proceedings. It essentially provides everyone the power to defend his or her rights in cases where legal charges have been filed against him or her, often for as long as the court has not issued a sentence. The same is, in fact, the truth when it comes to human rights, in general. They offer an additional layer of protection to citizens of countries that honor the UDHR, mostly the democratic countries, so that they may escape or even be immune to the potentially abusive and oppressive policies and actions.
In summary, what one can infer from the three readings is that firstly, successful implementation and enforcement of the principles of human rights, as what was instituted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is key to giving power to normal people, albeit only a little bit of it, perhaps enough to protect themselves from the possible abuse and oppression that may be perpetrated by powerful people in the government such as politicians and dictators. There are, however, some challenges that society has to successfully address in order to maximize the real benefit of human rights. Merry and the author of American Anthropologist suggested that the main problem has something to do with society’s static perception of culture; so static that the application of new concepts such the universal declaration of human rights becomes impossible. Nonetheless, all three readings support the notion that successful upholding of human rights concepts and principles, its legalization in the international geopolitical map, and of course, the creation of continuous amendments to the declaration so that countries, especially the ones that still complain of having opposing views (e.g. political, religious, legal) with the UDHR, would finally break the barriers that prevent them from fully embracing the concept of human rights.
Anonymous. (1947). Statement on Human Rights. American Anthropologist New Series.
Merry, S. (2003). Human rights Law and the Demonization of Culture and Anthropology Along the Way. Human Rights and Culture.
Mutua, M. (n.d.). Human Rights and Powerlessness: Pathologies of Choice and Substance. Human Rights and Culture.
United Nations. (2015). What are Human Rights. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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