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Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives

A Quest for Consensus

Edited by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im

Publication Year: 1995

Human rights violations are perpetrated in all parts of the world, and the universal reaction to such atrocities is overwhelmingly one of horror and sadness. Yet, as Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im and his contributors attest, our viewpoint is clouded and biased by the expectations native to our own culture. How do other cultures view human rights issues? Can an analysis of these issues through multiple viewpoints, both cross-cultural and indigenous, help us reinterpret and reconstruct prevailing theories of human rights?

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights


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pp. v-vii

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p. viii-viii

The conference (Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives) at which the first drafts of almost all the essays contained in this book were presented and discussed was organized under the auspices of the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, in October 1989. I was able to organize the conference and undertake the revision and editing of these...

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pp. 1-15

More than forty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, persistent and gross violations of fundamental human rights continue to occur in most parts of the world. It would therefore be appropriate to celebrate the achievements of the past four decades by reaffirming genuine global commitment to the ideal of the universality...

Section I. General Issues of a Cross-Cultural Approach to Human Rights

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1. Toward a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights: The Meaning of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

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pp. 19-43

An intelligent strategy to protect and promote human rights must address the underlying causes of violations of these rights. These violations are caused by a wide and complex variety of factors and forces, including economic conditions, structural social factors, and political expediency. For the most part, however, human rights violations are due to human action...

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2. Cultural Foundations for the International Protection of Human Rights

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pp. 44-64

It may be helpful to overgeneralize at the outset in approaching this difficult, yet challenging and vital, topic. Until recently, most human rights specialists have taken an all-or-nothing view of the relevance of culture; some ignore culture in favor of some sort of universalism, while others regard cultural specificity as the supreme guide to moral behavior. Those...

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3. Making a Goddess of Democracy from Loose Sand: Thoughts on Human Rights in the People's Republic of China

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pp. 65-80

The Beijing Spring1 of 1989 poses all too sharply the issue that lies at the core of this volume of essays and of the work of many of its contributors: To what extent are conceptions of human rights universal? Advocates of universality can point to those Chinese students, workers, ...

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4. Dignity, Community, and Human Rights

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pp. 81-102

In this chapter I argue that most known human societies did not and do not have conceptions of human rights. Human rights are a moral good that one can accept - on an ethical basis - and that everyone ought to have in the modern state-centric world. To seek an anthropologically based consensus on rights by surveying all known human cultures, however, is to...

Section II. Problems and Prospects of Alternative Cultural Interpretation

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5. Postliberal Strands in Western Human Rights Theory: Personalist-Communitarian Perspectives

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pp. 105-132

We do not have to become perfectionists when we stop being fatalists. Liberalism has been the predominant philosophical foundation for the concept of human rights in the West. Marxism has provided the main theoretical challenge to the liberal conception of rights. This essay examines a different and less well known discourse on rights within the Western...

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6. Should Communities Have Rights? Reflections on Liberal Individualism

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pp. 133-161

The central question in this chapter is whether communities should have rights. This is a question that I will consider in a certain ideological or normative context, namely, that of liberalism. There are other contexts in which the question could be asked for, in nonliberal ideological settings; there have sometimes been clear positive answers to the question of...

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7. A Marxian Approach to Human Rights

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pp. 162-187

Marx often scorned "rights talk" and other "nonsensical" normative chatter about fairness, freedom, justice, duty, and so forth. Such remarks should not be taken to mean that Marx was opposed in principle to normative evaluation, including the conception of universal human rights. In fact, concern for human rights underlies Marx's whole project, his criticisms...

Section III. Regional and Indigenous Cultural Perspectives on Human Rights

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8. North American Indian Perspectives on Human Rights

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pp. 191-220

Human rights law is an excellent vehicle for a reassessment of relations among Indian and neo-European groups. Following World War II the themes of decolonialization and individual human rights emerged as fundamental concepts, and this is the moment to extend those concepts to Indian groups. The year 1992 marks a half millennium of discovery and...

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9. Aboriginal Communities, Aboriginal Rights, and the Human Rights System in Canada

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pp. 221-252

The peoples who first inhabited the northern part of the North American continent were more concerned with mutual responsibility for the survival and well-being of the group than with concepts akin to individual human rights. After five centuries of pressure from Europeans and their social philosophies, communitarian views are still widely held by descendants of...

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10. Political Culture and Gross Human Rights Violations in Latin America

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pp. 253-275

Human rights violations were on the increase during the 1970s and part of the 1980s in Latin America. Government violence intensified in Latin America, where military regimes ruled Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. During the 1980s Central America took center stage as the focus of Political violence has always played a key role in the evolution of Latin...

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11. Custom Is Not a Thing, It Is a Path: Reflections on the Brazilian Indian Case

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pp. 276-294

For five hundred years, from the very beginning, Indian rights have been considered in Hispanic and Portuguese legal thought both as collective rights and as individual human rights. Two broad questions were considered: the first was whether Indians had any collective titles to their lands; the second was whether or under what conditions Indians would be subject to ...

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12. Cultural Legitimacy in the Formulation and Implementation of Human Rights Law and Policy in Australia

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pp. 295-338

In a unitary and essentially monocultural society, the problem of cultural legitimacy in the formulation and implementation of human rights law and policies (whether these take the form of constitutional provisions, legislation, administrative or executive action) is relatively simple. If the human rights law and policies are generated from within the society, they...

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13. Considering Gender: Are Human Rights for Women, Too? An Australian Case

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pp. 340-362

In commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is cause for celebration, but there is also a pressing need for critique. How are we to understand the discrepancies between the theory and practice of human rights? By what means may the credibility of national and international standards be enhanced? What strategies...

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14. Right to Self-Determination: A Basic Human Right Concerning Cultural Survival. The Case of the Sami and the Scandinavian State

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pp. 364-384

The question of cultural survival has become a growing concern for encapsulated minorities in ethnically plural situations. In the relationship between relatively powerless indigenous minorities and the nation-state, cultural survival is not only a matter of culture per se. It can also be regarded as a human rights issue based on political rights and land rights, ...

Section IV. Prospects for a Cross-Cultural Approach to Human Rights

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15. Prospects for Research on the Cultural Legitimacy of Human Rights: The Cases of Liberalism and Marxism

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pp. 387-426

Constructive and critical concern with the cross-cultural foundations and legitimacy of universal human rights standards is no novelty. When in 1946 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was first prepared by the United Nations Division of Human Rights, serious efforts were made by its director, John Humphrey, and his staff to provide the United...

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pp. 427-436

In this brief conclusion, I do not propose to offer a systematic summary of the conclusions of the various contributors to this book, or engage in a substantive discussion of their views. Instead, I wish to present somewhat personal reflections and tentatively suggest some issues for further examination. I believe that this approach to a concluding chapter is advisable to...


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pp. 437-461


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pp. 463-467


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pp. 469-479

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200195
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812215687

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 1995

Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights