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Universalism And Universality

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Various approaches have been taken to respond to questions of human rights’ universality, that they are ‘by definition universal and everyone has exactly the same rights, no exceptions.’ While not a single answer has been agreed upon, this essay will argue that human rights are universal in principle, yet relativist interpretations may affect the perception and adoption of human rights in different contexts. There will be three main sections. The first section addresses the concept of human rights exploring the process of ideas’ formulation and development. The next part mainly draws on Jack Donnelly’s article on relative universality, and observes Asian values, taking into account both strengths and weaknesses of the idea. As a concluding…show more content…
A study by Jack Donnelly (2007) provides through and extensive descriptions about different approaches to interpreting universalities and the importance of relating relativism into the discourse. There is a certain coherence between the points aroused above and Donnelly’s findings, largely since his rejection of anthropological and ontological universality indicates that human rights as analytical framework has been alien to anthropological interpretations (Donnelly, 2007: 284-286) and that there is no single objective or fixed criterion for understanding human rights (292-293). In addressing the relativism more specifically, he uses the three-tiered schema to illustrate that the basic concept of human rights is universal, whereas particular rights concepts need to consider relativity to enable multiple conceptions and implementation, or practices (Donnelly, 2007: 298-301; Goodhart, 2008: 185). This suggests, without making legal positivist or reductionist assumptions, that universality is a fundamental tenet of human rights, yet its materialisation may yield different results depending on relevant…show more content…
Firstly, while the term implies the existence somewhat uniform features of Asian socio-political contexts that affects human rights in a certain way, arguments using Asian values tend to appeal substantially to contextual particularities when there is “such a marked diversity among Asian nations”, thereby rejecting the principle of universality at extreme (Chan, 1995: 31-32; Ghai, 1995: 64). Secondly, there is a criticism against the Asian relativist perspective that it reflects mostly official, or national, views, which marginalised voices remain unheard (Ghai, 1995: 63). Ghai (1995: 56) notes that the formulation of ‘official’ Asian positions in human rights discourses has largely been a response to the Western ideas, hence universalist in nature. Therefore, the claim that “it is … the violators of human rights principles and their advocates who invoke the relativist argument against the principle of universality” is plausible and needs to be addressed (Ramcharan et al., 1998: