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Are International Human Rights Universal?

This is a burning ongoing debate whether international human rights are universal or not. International Human rights are the universal declaration of human right (UDHR) which has been adopted by UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948. It includes 30 articles to protect primarily civil/political rights as well as socio-economic and cultural rights. However, the questions rises whether these 30 rights are really universal or not?

Some especially Asian and people from patriarchal societies argue that UDHR is just a way to impose western culture. In another word, UDHR is a Western concept of liberal individualism. For instance look at the cartoon below. It’s not just a cartoon but the real picture of patriarchal society.

In a male dominated society, women are expected to be “loyal”, “silent”, “caring” and “soft” and follow what their husband asked them, thus they hesitate to revealed their identity to the public when they are raped or sexually abused or became the victims of domestic violence. Although the woman has gone through extremely awful experiences which also show the deprived from basic rights but when her husband says that ratifying international women’s rights treaty will undermine traditional families, she supports her husband and says I hope so. Therefore, UDHR standards ought to be interpreted differently in different cultural contexts. How can UDHR be universal if it not accepted by traditional family or patriarchal society or interpreted differently?

On the other hand, some argues that UDHR is a way to balance the power. But again the question that pop up in my mind is whether is really balancing the power or not? There are the huge differences between universalism versus realism.

Human rights for all and we know that human rights are the rights we have simply because we are human. This is how institively human expect and deserve to be treated as a person but in reality see the right side image. Its just for certain powerful people and certain country. I don’t think that I need to explain more about this, we all are aware about it. When Nelson Mandela stood up for social justices in 1990, his country has already agreed to abolish such discrimination for almost 40 years but still he fought. Does Universalism means for some people?

If human rights are for all, then why 35,615 people die from starvation every day? Why more than 800 million people in the world aremalnourished? Why almost 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation? Why 925 million people are still hungry? Why billions of adults are unable to read? Why are 27 million people still in slave today?

According to the UDHR, Article 1, All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…. If this is the case than why should North Korea refugees and activists have to request US president Barack Obama to help them. Article 3, Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of prson. How has North Korean people have life, liberty and security, given the facts that thousands of people in North Korean Jail are killed. The situation of North Korean whether in Jail or as an refugees also violate the UDHR article 5 No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Here North Korea is just an example of many countries who has violated the UDHR. This is also example of how state power neglects human rights in the name of providing security or protecting citizens. How come it became universal?

Human cruelty, the power of state, misunderstanding and frailty undermines human rights and make hopeless task of securing Human rights universally. If these are the case than can we really say that International Human Rights are universal?

Please also follow my blog, there are pictures and it make more sense... I will be waiting for your feedback.. Thank you


"Dignity and Justices for all of us." United Nations Development Programme. UN, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2011. .

"The Three Top Sin of the Universe." Starvation.Net. N.p., 11 Sept. 2001. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .

Cassidy, Daniel J. SUNLIT UPLANDS., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
Freeman, Michael. Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary approach. 2ndnd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011. 1-235. Print.


Farona's picture

Thank you for sharing this

Thank you for sharing this here, sunita ! these are questions I have been pondering for year now, it’s an issue we need to address and address at the local level. There are layers after layers that seem so complex!

Nation states only secure ‘national’ interest, using universal human rights or rejecting universal human rights is one of the ways it does. ‘National interest’ is dictated by people in power within each state, and we all know power is not equally distributed anywhere in the world. Overtly or covertly, a minor group of entities influence quite lot of things.

I understand why the woman you mentioned in your piece wouldn’t like to change anything. ‘It undermines traditional families’ – it’s a fear. So the question is it possible to acknowledge universal rights and be able to preserve tradition at the same time? It is possible, if only we address the fear factor here. All traditional values around the world value the same thing – right to live in dignity, right to be free. But what does it mean to be free? Or live in dignity? This is where we need to work hard!

People have the right to information, people have the right to be educated and see a practical example implemented before anything new is introduced to them or otherwise they feel ideas are imposed on them. Be it new or very old.

Who would bother about freedom of expression if they can’t have three meals a day? Is violating freedom of expression is more outrageous than a child dying out of hunger every minute?

sunita.basnet's picture

You are wel-come

Thanks for you as well for your time and efforts. Yes, these seem so complex... I totally agree with you regarding on national interest.. Yes, I think its possible but very challenging at the same time. It much more complex to implement UDHR than we have ever think.

I would also encourage you to visit the blog and leave your comment their as well.


With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

olutosin's picture


Thanks for throwing this our way....Did you see the unanswered questioons, what about the rhetorical ones adn the ones everyone has refused to give an answer.
May God help us as we help ourselves.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


sunita.basnet's picture


Hello dear,

Yes, I agree with you.. there are many unanswered and rhetorical questions which we need to find the answers. I think we need to start from our side so that other people can follow us.. what do you think dear?

Last but not the least, how are you dear?
With love

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

woolworm's picture

Thanks for posting this! I

Thanks for posting this! I would love to think that international human rights are universal....I mean they are in my eyes. But there are a lot of unjust people in the world who think otherwise. Rhetorical questions are sometimes important to understanding.

robinhuber's picture


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a nice idea that promotes idealism rather than realism


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