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5. Human Rights and Cultural Relativism: the False Dichotomy

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Chapter Summary

This chapter argues that human rights are not expressions of Western values but, as a discipline, is inclusive of diverse cultural elements. In order to challenge the notion of the dichotomy between two ideas, it is necessary to perform three tasks. The first is to examine some of the philosophical, cultural and spiritual ideas that are part of the fabric of human rights. The second is to examine the content of major human rights instruments. The third is to argue that there are specific political regimes that might choose to ignore their own cultural traditions and systematically violate not only human rights but their own traditional values. Three interrelated strands that influenced the development of human rights are philosophy, religion and culture. However, as An-Na'im has argued cultural relativism can stand for 'the equal validity of diverse patterns of life'.

Keywords: cultural relativism; false dichotomy; human rights; western liberal philosophy



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