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20 June, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Human rights can never be universal

Muhammed Raza Hussain

For seventy-years, there has been a constant need for one version of human rights to be imposed on all of humanity, on seven billion people and 193 nation-states. From theory to practice, from ideology to action, from rhetoric to reality — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created a set of 30 rights, which are expected to be upheld, implemented, and adhered to by every governmental and non-governmental institution in the whole wide world.

Failure to do so can lead to economic sanctions, isolation, and even violation of sovereignty. One only has to look at Syria to understand the dire implications of refusing to uphold people’s rights according to universal standards.

However, is it fair, just, and logical to expect all of humanity — from North, East, West, and South — to adhere to the same principles of human rights?

While the intention of creating a universal document of human rights may be regarded as good in theory; it is, however, chaotic and illogical in practice. If the conflicts of the past 70 years are anything to go by then one would conclude that a universal set of human rights is inconceivable, impractical and merely a utopian dream which should only be confined to theory books. It is in the spirit of universality that Amnesty International publishes its The State of the World’s Human Rights, criticising countries’ human rights record from A to Z. But it has very little real-life implications.

The absolute aspect of human rights is flawed because it ‘is a social concept’, noted Darren O’Byrne who is a lecturer in Sociology and Human Rights, in an academic journal. Social concepts are constructed by people through values, norms, culture, and experience; they are constructed based on what people attach significance to in their daily lives.

There should be a bottom-up approach, instead of the top-down approach. Human rights are merely a social construction which describes aspects of the social world; its interpretation is therefore, the responsibility of the people — not those sitting in the cosmopolitan cities of New York or Geneva but the people whom you elect in your state capitals, the people of your culture, religion and nation.

In other words, human rights are relative to place, attitudes, and the surrounding circumstances. ‘From a social constructionist perspective’, wrote Malcolm Waters, ‘human rights can encompass only those claims and entitlements that a political community recognises’.

To paraphrase this quote: human rights cannot and should not be imposed on groups of people by individuals sitting thousands of miles away in comfort. Instead, human rights are concepts to be discovered, formulated and implemented by local people.

The 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should under no circumstances be abolished, they represent some of the fundamental rights which individuals all over the world are entitled to. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that they are immaculate and without fault. They are too rigid, they embody a top-down, value-laden, and bias approach. These flaws, fortunately, can be easily overcome through a local, democratic adaptation.

In the age of democracy and in times when large swaths of non-democratic regimes are facing extinction, it is only right that a rights based framework is adopted which emphatically and accurately represents the views of the people rights are supposed to protect. One can surely not hope that a document conceived 70 years ago is relevant and applicable to everyone’s life.

In the age of democracy and in times when large swaths of non-democratic regimes are facing extinction, it is only right that a rights based framework is adopted which emphatically and accurately represents the views of the people rights are supposed to protect. One can surely not hope that a document conceived 70 years ago is relevant and applicable to everyone’s life.

For instance, it would be utterly unacceptable to be governed by a political party that was elected 70 years ago, simply because people at that time deemed it to be the right decision. Similarly, it is irrational for today’s generation to adhere to a document that was published seven decades ago, a time when the majority of the world’s current population wasn’t even born back then; it shatters every principle of democracy and rational

Humanity is not one singular pot of similarities. Instead, it is a mixture of differences, opposing views and contradictory life-styles. Amidst accelerating globalisation, people are still divided into groups based on their sense of belonging to ethnicity, race, nationality and religion. These groups entail values that are sometimes exclusive. Human rights declarations and conventions thus need local touches, it must reflect people’s norms and value for it to be accepted.

A flexible, relativist and constructionist approach may therefore be the answer to today’s human rights’ issues, but it’s not an answer that everyone is looking for.

Daily Mail

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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