23 Nordisk Tidsskrift for Menneskerettigheter 1 (2005)

handle is hein.journals/norjhur23 and id is 1 raw text is: 





                       CULTURE, WESTERN ORIGIN
             AND THE UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS



                                   By JARI PIRJOLA*



Abstract: The goal of universal human rights is to create a common set of rulesfor all thepeo-
ple in the world community. The task is exceptionally challenging in view ofthe diversity that
exists in the world. In human rights debate, the universality of rights has often been contested
on the grounds that they are aproduct of western culture, and cannot therefore be applied uni-
versally. My argument in this paper is that the culture concept and western origin of human
rights are both in many ways problematic notions in challenging the universality of human
rights. In the context of human rights the very notion of culture can be called into question.
Human rights may have their roots in the European political andphilosophical tradition but
they are the result of a process with very different underlying ideas and tensions.
Keywords: human rights, universality, culture, relativism, western origin, Islam.


                                A. INTRODUCTION

                         1. UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Universality of human rights is clearly established in international human rights law. The
Charter of the United Nations commits the United Nations and all Member States to action
promoting «universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental free-
doms.> The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations was also proclai-
med «as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.>>1 Setting up a
standard for all members of the world community is, at least at first sight, an exceptionally
challenging task, especially in view of the diversity of cultures, religions, lifestyles and valu-
es in the world, and the conflicts engendered by them.
    In human rights debate, the universality of rights has often been contested on the grounds
that they are a product of western culture, and cannot therefore be applied universally. It is
argued that a person's deepest, most profound identity stems from the surrounding culture
that, in the last analysis, governs all their behaviour. Some parts of humanity believe in man-
made laws, for others the supreme law is God given. Are universal human rights merely the

    * Jani Pirjola, LL Lic. (Helsinki), IA (Helsinki), Legal Adviser, Office for the Parliamentary
Ombudsman of Finland. E-mail: jari.pirjola@eduskunta.fi. The opinions expressed in this essay are
solely those of the author.
    1 Adopted by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948.


NORDISKTIDSSKRIFT FOR MENNESKERETTIGHETER- VOL. 23, NR 1, S. 1 15. ISSN 1503-6480
(C) UNIVERSITETSFORLAGET 2005

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