Available in Russian
Author: Nataliya Varlamova
Keywords: human rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; universality of human rights; international human rights standards; cultural relativism; anthropology
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first attempt to establish universal human rights standards. In order to identify common philosophical and ethical principles that could underpin them, a special UNESCO Committee of Experts sought the views of representatives of various governments, political parties, trade unions, as well as renowned scientists, artists, and theologians. Recent studies of archival data have shown that the survey’s methodology did not ensure the accuracy of its results, but these still demonstrated serious philosophical and cultural differences. The drafters of the Declaration quite deliberately rejected any philosophical justifications for human rights in order to secure the support of as many states as possible. One of the organizations that responded to the UNESCO Committee of Experts was the American Anthropological Association. Its 1947 Statement strongly criticized the UN project as reflecting exclusively European and American concepts. The Statement proposed not just taking into account existing cultural diversity when defining human rights, but went on to reject them altogether in favor of recognition of the unconditional right of various communities to live by their own rules and principles. The article traces the further evolution of the Association’s position on human rights, which reflects in concentrated form the problem of the incompatibility of universal human rights standards with the culture and the social practices of non-Western countries and their perception in these societies. The author concludes that the cultural uniqueness of different nations does not imply a rejection of the possibility of formulating universal human rights standards but just necessitates taking account of the broad historical, social, political, and economic context in order to find more comprehensive foundations. Contemporary international law accomplishes this primarily through the development of regional systems of human rights protection, these being currently the most effective.
About the author: Nataliya Varlamova – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Associate Professor, Leading Research Fellow of the Human Rights Department, Institute of State and Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.
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