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Universal Human Rights and Cultural Values

The universality of human rights is a question for debate because of the impact of cultures on people’s acceptation and interpretation of these rights (Donnelly 54). This idea and the problem of making human rights culturally relative is discussed by Jieh-Yung Lo, who focused on explaining the issue while referring to the example of differences in Western and Asian values in his article. Human rights should be universal in their nature, but it is necessary to focus on the cultural component and accept the idea that cultural values can influence the acceptance of these rights in different regions of the world.

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The development of the debate regarding certain sets of values which can be imposed on nations over the globe in association with the idea of human rights is a result of the progress of two Asian countries. According to Lo, these countries are China and India (31). It is important to note that the reason for increasing their impact in the world is their active economic and social development. As a result, such two sets of values as Asian and Western ones became influential in the world, but these values are different in terms of supporting individualist and collective visions, and this aspect affects the discussion of human rights.

It is possible to speak about a challenge to the universal adoption of human rights that can be explained in certain terms. Lo pays attention to cultural, economic, and political aspects as important to describe the impact of the Asian values on formulating the rights (32). Thus, the Asian cultural norms seem to be ignored while referring to the Western vision of human rights. Furthermore, in economic terms, the progress of Asian societies can be associated with eliminating poverty in them. Moreover, in political terms, to survive, cultures need to demonstrate their stability and effective governance.

As a result of differences in values and cultural norms, Westerners’ and Asians’ visions of some processes are also different. For instance, according to Lo, Asians discuss Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership in Singapore as a guarantee of the further progress of this city-state in the context of the Asian culture and its aspects (33). On the contrary, the Westerners’ vision of this process can be opposite because of differences in their values.

From this perspective, human rights are discussed as formulated in accordance with the norms of the Western society. Therefore, the statements from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be applied to all diverse societies over the globe (Lo 34; United Nations). As a result, it is possible to agree with Lo that it is necessary to refer to the cultural aspect while formulating human rights (34). In this context, human rights will be culturally relative if they will reflect basic norms which are typical for almost all societies with the accentuation of possibilities to interpret the rights according to certain cultural values.

In his article, Lo has supported the idea that Western societies need to pay attention to cultural norms and values of non-Western societies. From this point, those human rights which seem to be widely accepted can be non-correlated with the visions of different cultures. Therefore, the focus should be on making human rights more related to cultures in order to reflect societies’ diversity. As a result, it will be possible to develop effective statements based on the ideas of justice and equality.

Works Cited

Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Cornell University Press, 2013.

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Lo, Jieh-Yung. “Human Rights Must Be Culturally Relative.” Human Rights, edited by Jacqueline Langwith, Greenhaven Press, 2008, pp. 31-35.

United Nations. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”, 2017.

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