Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Excerpt

Most of the essays in this volume were presented at a workshop on cross-cultural perspectives on human rights in Africa which we organized at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., on June 23-24, 1988. Participants included sociologists, philosophers, historians, political scientists, human rights lawyers, and other informed observers, who engaged in two days of intensive discussions on the bases of prepared papers. Authors were then invited to revise their papers in light of those discussions.

Our primary objective in conceiving and organizing the workshop was to reinforce and promote universal respect for and protection of human rights. We sought to do so by countervailing the conventional view that the concept of human rights is peculiar to the West and therefore inherently alien to the non-Western traditions of third world countries to which it is now being extended. Our policy concern was that this conventional approach to human rights not only denies universality to the concept but also deprives it of the substantive enrichment from the variety of cultural values underlying the diverse notions of human rights around the world. Furthermore, the conventional view is likely to have the adverse effect of justifying the rejection of international human rights standards on the ground of cultural relativism.

Even though the philosophical characterization of human rights as Western is questionable on both empirical and normative grounds, the cultural justification this idea gives the rejectionists must be a matter of grave concern to human rights advocates. Some governments and elites from developing countries maintain that the current international human rights standards are not binding on them not only because the standards were conceived and formulated largely by Westerners, but also because they reflect cultural values and mores that are foreign to non-Western traditions and therefore antithetic to third world priorities.

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