Cultural Relativity and the International Bill of Rights

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1. Critically assess the case that values are relative to culture or religion and that therefore the International Bill of Rights has no applicability in some countries. The International Bill of Rights (IBR) composes the core of contemporary human rights doctrine, and, as an expression of the rights owed to every human by the fact of their humanity, its applicability should be universal. In this essay, I will explore the relationship, if one exists, between human rights and cultural relativism, to the end of substantiating the idea that the applicability of human rights doctrine is not limited by cultural relativism. In doing this, I hope to provide an evaluation of the weaknesses in the relativist argument, in addition to an exploration of an alternative account of why the IBR has failed to integrate into certain non-Western societies that does not depend on an assertion (radical or non-radical) of relative cultural values. Cultural relativism is the view which advocates for ethical relativism on grounds of cultural differences. Kajit John Bagu defines it as “[t]he notion that a practice, value, norm and law of a society should be understood and appraised by people outside of that society only in that society's terms and standards”1. Human rights, in contrast, are defined within the articles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states in its preamble that it is a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations (...) secur[ing] their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction”. These two notions, at their respective extremes (extremes herein referred to as radical cultural relativism and radical universalism2), are at odds with one another. Human rights takes a view towards universal standards of

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