Thursday, 14 February 2008

Global Justice and Human Rights

I have just started a module with the title 'Global Justice and Human Rights', and am thoroughly enjoying it at the moment.

Yesterday we had a seminar on the construction of human rights and whether or not they are 'universal' or 'relative'. The universalist approach states that human rights are universal (hence the name!) and apply to everyone. EVERYONE has the right to life, the right to an education etc., regardless of where they live in the world. The relativist approach disagrees and says that we should not force our western liberal thinking on others, but that human rights are relative to the particular culture/people that we are talking about.

Both have their arguments for and against. Whilst it is easy to agree that we should not detract from someones culture and heritage, it is difficult to allow practices such as Female Genital Mutilation to go on without questioning the logic behind them.

It was interesting to note that in the seminar, when asked at the beginning of the session, 90%+ said that they were from a universalist persepective (as well as acknowledging the drawbacks that this has), but by the end of the lecture about the same proportion were now arguing relativist arguments!

Any thoughts?


Chris said...

I think I would tend to be a universalist in the sense that there must be some rights that are protected, similar to the theory behind the UN Human Rights Charter etc., but then there is something about individual culture and the way in which westernised culture tries to force 'democracy' and 'liberralism' on these cultures yet it isn't always appropriate, a prime example is the way that Australians treated the Aboriginals and are now apologising for it.

Yet on the other side Archbishop Desmond Tutu on radio 2 was highlighting the need for universalistic rights, and the way in which politics should interfere with the Olypmic games, in the way that it interefered with South African sport and contributed massively to the end of apartheid.

Make of my random thoughts what you will!

Phil Lewis said...

Interesting points chris.

At the seminar we were trying to decide what views should be universal. How do you decide? Surely we as the West can't just decide, as that would actually be a form of relativism - we'd choose the rights according to our culture.

So do you choose the rights that everyone has in common; the rights that everyone wants to keep? If so, what are they? Surely there aren't going to be that many that we can all agree on? And what would've happened if Nazi Germany had won WWII, taken over the world, and all the dominant powers were Nazi now? Would that mean that Jews wouldn't be given equal rights because the prevailing thought (hypothetically) would be that they were not 'full' humans?