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Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

Hasan Yousefi Ashkevari

One important question often associated with human rights and especially the 1948 ‎Universal Declaration of Human Rights involves the relationship between human rights ‎and cultural diversity among nations and races around the world. ‎

This question arises out of the fact that the declaration was issued following the Second ‎World War by Europeans and Western governments at the United Nations and quickly ‎ratified by almost all nations, which committed to comply with its principles. ‎Afterwards, the declaration became enforceable as an international document adopted by ‎all nations and governments and it seems as if everyone is committed to its principles. ‎However, with the passage of time, certain governments began to look for ways to bypass ‎its principles, among others, and have raised excuses to renege on their commitments. ‎One such way was to introduce the idea that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‎was different from or contrary to cultures and beliefs and traditions of the world’s diverse ‎nations and races. ‎

The question, simply put, is this: while nations held different beliefs and traditions and ‎while some of those beliefs and traditions are inconsistent with some of the declaration’s ‎principles, are these governments, which are born out of their nations, committed to ‎conform to the declaration’s principles that are contrary to local traditions and beliefs? ‎

The reality is that, if we want to have a philosophical discussion about human rights, we ‎will never reach a clear answer to the above-mentioned question. But let us ask a ‎question from those who refuse to fully commit to the declaration’s principles on excuse ‎of cultural relativism: Does abiding by this declaration, regardless of its logical or ‎potential actual shortcomings, aid in institution peace and security and equality and ‎justice in the world or not? If the answer yes, does breaking down the declaration and ‎more clearly replacing international human rights with religious or ethnic or racial or ‎local ideas and religions beliefs pave the way for the defeat of the declaration’s goals and ‎ultimately rendering it irrelevant or does it not? The answers to these questions are ‎obvious. ‎

It is clear that imposing cultural or national or ethnic beliefs and traditions is opposed to ‎the spirit of human right. If every individual or government or person in power in some ‎corner of the world disregard the equal rights of human beings on the real or pretentious ‎excuse of cultural relativism or religious difference or any other excuse, then the ‎‎“Universal Declaration of Human Rights” would be irrelevant. That view justifies, for ‎instance, that those who believe in racial hierarchy (racists) can continue their racism or ‎that women still can be deprived of equal rights with men or that religious apartheid can ‎be instituted forever or, any case violence and discrimination or war or insecurity on local ‎or regional or global level. Given these considerations, shouldn’t advocates of cultural ‎relativism accept the consequences of their ideas and their logical and actual ‎implications. ‎

Experience shows that reverting to the weak defense of cultural relativism and diversity ‎has roots in political calculations, meaning that those who do not believe in human rights ‎principles or regard their full implementation to be opposed to traditions or personal and ‎class gains, try to find any way to refuse from committing to the declaration. This is ‎especially true about the rulers and influential classes in Islamic nations.‎

In reality, only dictators (whether of the traditional or modern kind) are opposed to with ‎the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and full commitment ‎to the principle of human equality and even world peace, because the full institution of ‎human rights is opposed to their hidden and apparent interests. In return, full ‎implementation of human rights benefits the downtrodden and victims of discrimination ‎and inequality and war and violence. At the same time, the essence of human experience ‎has proven that full commitment to human rights even strengthens cultural rights and ‎traditions of nations and ethnicities. ‎


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Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran-Austria