The American Anthropological Association in its 1947 “statement on human rights” situated its advice on the principle of the social context of the individual and the significance of including the sociocultural values of his/her society into consideration when drafting an inclusive non Western-Euro/American-centric “UN declaration of human rights”. It holds that each group of people would perceive its culture as the most benevolent and thus the inherent goodness of their values should be sufficient in regulating their affairs and protecting their rights. It disregards the historical fact that the “white man burden” was not limited to the Europeans and North Americans, but many nations have engaged in imperial expansionism around the world before the arrival of the white man.
There is a disjuncture between respect for cultural differences and acceptance of the misuse of relativism in subjugating individuals based on their group membership. The argument that since cultural evaluation is out of reach, one cannot deny the affect of certain cultures on the well-being of its members psychologically since it goes against their human testable nature. Human rights are context bounded by their culture and thus universally inapplicable is yet another assertion that rights are subject to the group’s meaning system rather than the individual’s sovereignty.
Barnett (1948) resented the AAA’s position as a scientific organization, and claimed that its statement has the reverse effect it intended on human rights due to its contradictory nature. He limits the role of the anthropologist to studying the “value systems” of different societies, not to adopt them, thus not to advocate them in any sense as they are subjective. In another words, th...
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Merry, Sally Engle. 2003. Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (And Anthropology Along the
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American Anthropologist 108(1):52:65.
Shelton, Dinah. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law. OUP Oxford.
Steward, Julian. 1948. Comments on the Statement on Human Rights. American Anthropologist 50: 351-2.
Turner, Terence. 1997. Human Rights, Human Difference: Anthropology’s Contribution to an Emancipatory
Cultural Politics. Journal of Anthropological Research 53(3): 273-291.
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