Are human rights universal?

Human Rights, Universal -

Are human rights universal?

Are you one who considers yourself a global citizen or student of the world? The concept of universal human rights is where and how global citizens derive their morality and ethics. Without a moral rationality what does it mean to be a global citizen? How does a global citizen make judgments on situations like war and genocide? The importance of this is outlined in the first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it states:

 “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” [3]. 

Because of words like “brotherhood” and “dignity,” non-governmental organizations, social movements, and nations spend enormous amounts of blood, treasure, and time fighting for human rights. Is it worth it?

Westerners accept the concept of human rights as fundamental but there are issues globally with consensus. For example, freedom of speech is found in many European and North American countries. However, in many nations around the globe, blogging an unfavorable opinion can get someone thrown in jail or executed. 

There are two major positions on the universalism of human rights. The first is that universal rights exist, and the second position disagrees. Someone who believes human rights exist understands there are social norms or mores each person will eventually agree upon and accept [1]. This is foundational for the idea of universal human rights, otherwise it would be known simply as “Mexican Rights” or “Canadian Rights.” Universalists place human rights at a basic level of human social interaction, while other pressures are placed on top, such as culture and self-interest of sovereign nations [1]. Culture will override and subjugate human rights for concepts like tradition, and sovereign nations will plow over human rights in the name of self-interest, protecting the common good, or to maintain their existence [1].

Opposition sees human rights as having no universal definition. Instead, there exists only cultural relativism. Arguing each culture establishes group norms and behaviors through proximity. This argument furthers its position by holding that universalism needs to establish a foundational absolute, which is considered a fallacy [2], since it is impossible to prove whether a concept is universally right for all people, places, or circumstances. Cultural relativists believe society should go on with the attitude of, “to each their own,” since there is no consensus on human rights. The solution being each society acknowledges and accepts there are differences to reduce cross culture violence and conflicts. 

[1] Kirchschlaeger, Peter. Universality of Human Rights. Centre of Human Rights Education. 2015. 

[2] Kim, Eun-jung Katherine. Justifying Human Rights: Does Consensus Matter? Human Rights 

Review 13, no. 3. 2012: 261-78

[3] Patricia J. Campbell, Aran S. MacKinnon and Christy Stevens. An Introduction to Global Studies. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. eBook Collection. EBSCOhost. 2010.

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