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Are Human Rights Universal?

Uploaded by chalice on Dec 10, 2001

The notion that human rights are universal stems from the philosophical view that human rights are inextricably linked to the preservation of human dignity. This means that respect for individual dignity is due equally to one and all, regardless of circumstance. In this way, human rights must apply universally.

This is clearly the thrust behind the world’s main human rights instruments in operation today. The earliest human rights Charter of the modern era – the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and of Citizen 1789 – refers to the "natural and inalienable rights of man" and that "[m]en are born free and equal in rights". (Note the term ‘man’ is used in the sense of all human beings or ‘mankind’.)

The same sentiment was expressed almost 160 years later in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which refers to:
"the inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world".

The human rights contained in both of these instruments, and the many others that share their aspirations, are considered essential to the respect of every human being’s dignity.

"… this single page of print, which outweighs libraries, and is stronger than all the armies of Napoleon".
Lord Acton (British Law Lord), on the French Declaration on the Rights of Man (1789)

What does ‘universality’ mean?


The ‘universality of human rights’ is a concept. This concept holds that human rights belong to all human beings and are fundamental to every type of society. In this way, everyone has the same basic human rights. Individuals may exercise different rights, or exercise the same rights differently, depending on which group they belong to within society. Different groups include women, children, or those of a certain race, ethnicity or religion. Even if the form or content of human rights changes over time, the concept of their universality remains true.

The central tenet of the notion of universality is that human rights are themselves the right of all human beings. The most important rights of all, in other words, are everyone’s right to human rights!

Some argue that the concept of universality is culturally constructed. Human rights are viewed as representing the particular belief systems of some cultures and societies rather than those of all cultures and societies. This is the so-called ‘cultural relativist’ argument, the very rationale of which...

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Uploaded by:   chalice

Date:   12/10/2001

Category:   Politics

Length:   7 pages (1,543 words)

Views:   2535

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