Debate: Universality and Cultural Relativism.

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Date Submitted: 02/01/2011 04:17 AM

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1. Introduction


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“One of the most pertinent issues of the past twenty years has been the conflict between two different ideologies of human rights on a national scale, Universalism and cultural relativism. Universalism holds that more “primitive” cultures will eventually evolve to have same system as western cultures. Cultural relativism holds an opposite, but similarly rigid viewpoint, that a traditional culture is unchangeable.

A founding principle of human rights embraces the notion that human rights belong to everyone wherever he or she resides i.e human rights are universal. In contrast to this Universalism is the basic theme that individual cultures define their own values and ethics. A universal application of human rights without deference to cultural traits diminishes the cultural identity – a human rights violation in itself. Academic discussion of Universalism as against cultural relativism often focuses on cultural identity. However cultural relativism also occurs in western countries like USA. It is a reality that no country or culture readily accepts the imposition of a “universal” human right when that right clashes with their native viewpoints.

This work shall basically discuss the emergence of the debate, recent manifestations of the debate, relationship between human rights and culture, a rationalization of both sides to the debate and a conclusion that posits a new approach.

2. The Emergence of the Debate

This debate was first advanced by a delegation led by China, Syria and Iran officially challenged the universality of Human Rights and put forward the following conclusions:

1. Human Rights as currently defined are not universal but based on Western morality.

2. They should not therefore be imposed as norms on non-western societies in disregard of those societies’...