POLSCI 1G06 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Cultural Relativism, Female Genital Mutilation, Human Security

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Political Science 1G06 2013 II Lecture 9b Human rights
What is a human right?
-Are human rights universal?
-Supporters of a universal definition of human rights will point
towards the existence of a complex network of international
agreements
-Since states have signed accords that acknowledge human rights,
universal human rights can be said to exist
-However, even where states are signatories to human rights
declarations, treaties, and conventions, there are some fundamental
contradictions apparent
-1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
o48 states for, 0 against, 8 abstentions
oThe abstentions, arguably, were for 3 different reasons
-A) South Africa abstained largely because of its disagreement with the
proviso that “all are born free and equal in dignity and rights”
-Apartheid and the protection of non-interference
-B) The Soviet Union and its allies abstained over what they regarded
as an undue focus on the bourgeois rights of the individual and private
property, and the lack of focus on social and economic rights
-An argument that political rights may have to be compromised if the
right to development or economic equality is to be achieved
-C) Saudi Arabia’s abstention arguably reveals a third critique of the
self-evidence of human rights – one associated with cultural
relativism
-Critics to a universal approach have argued that “the prevalent
approach to human rights is an imposed Western idea, and that
civilizations and societies have different conceptions of the term”
-What is regarded as humane and just is a product of a specific time
and place:
-Female genital mutilation
-Child Labour
-Liberal Democracy
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