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McGill University
International Development
INTD 200
Warren Allmand

1 The History of Human Rights: from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era Ishay, Micheline R. I. Cultural Relativism versus Universalism  One of the most intense debates within the human rights community is the one pitting universalities of liberal or socialist persuasions against cultural relativists  3 historical misconceptions have confused this debate: o 1. The tendency to lump together second- and third- generation rights o 2. The effort to collapse first- and second- generation rights into a single Western perspective o 3. The third is rooted in ignorance of the Western roots of third-generation rights  Fusing socialist and cultural rights views into one philosophical tradition overlooks important differences that exist between these two traditions. For instance, second- generation socialists have long criticized the third-generation conception of group rights or rights to self-determination  Efforts to fuse liberal and socialist perspectives on rights into one Western philosophical tradition echo the current Third World litany against Western cultural values  After centuries of colonialism and an accelerating globalization process dominated by Western media, Western technology, Western values, and Western products, arguments employed to defend the alleged uniqueness of non-Western cultural traditions against Western values (or vice versa) may seem almost farcical  It is worth noting that a universal human rights agenda insensitive to existing power relations may serve as a tool with which to mask the particular national interests of powerful countries  More specifically, antagonism between liberal (first-generation) and developing world (third-generation) rights discourses currently plagues the human rights community  That division is based on the assumption that Western values are associated largely with individual civil and political rights, whereas people in developing countries emphasize rights related to the welfare of groups consistent with their cultural and religious traditions  Key point: cultural relativism is a recurrent product of a historical failure to promote universal rights discourse in practice, rather than a legitimate alternative to the comprehensive vision offered by a universal stand on justice II. The Tension between Security and Human Rights  Those human rights themes that survive the tests and contradictions of history provide in the long run a corpus of shared perceptions of universal human rights that transcends class, ethnic, and gender distinctions  Human rights must be seen at best as a subordinate to security objectives, at worst as antithetical to security  The vulnerability of national borders in our era of globalization calls now more than ever for the development of a broader strategy of security founded on human rights and global economic welfare 2 III. Defining Rights in the Era of Globalization  Globalization is now widely viewed as an amalgamation of a host of international processes characterized by a growing market economy, new forms of production, and impressive developments in information technology  Each of these dimensions of globalization has undergone substantial change since the beginning of the cold war, change that has had impacts across countries, groups, and classes. The human rights agenda of this era is being shaped in the context of these global developments  Weakened by the expansion of a globalized free market economy, trade unions and labor rights activists, for instance, have been reenergized in recent years as they seek to make labor rights central to human rights debate  Poor countries, less attractive to investment, continue to challenge IMF austerity policies and to press for a right to sustainable development  Cultural differences have continued to divide the human rights community, as evidenced by specific labor, environmental, and immigration rights debates and treaties. There are signs, however, that human rights activism is overcoming its cultural and economic differences while broadening and internationalizing its agenda ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION AND THE QUESTION OF LABOUR AND DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS  Created in 1944 to restore a stable world economy following the impending defeat of Japan and Germany, Bretton Woods developed new international financial mechanisms, establishing the Bank for Reconstruction and Development to make long- term capital available to states in urgent need of foreign aid and an International Monetary Fund aimed at financing short-term imbalances in international payments in order to stabilize exchange rates  Countries could adjust their balance of payment deficits or surpluses incrementally, remaining responsive to social and domestic concerns  Bretton Woods thus embodied a “compromise between free traders, who desire open global markets,
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