Magazine article UNESCO Courier

All Human Rights for All

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

All Human Rights for All

Article excerpt

The end of the millennium has seen some remarkable advances in political democracy. Oppressed peoples everywhere are at last, or once again, tasting freedom. They owe these victories largely to themselves, to the intelligence, determination, and even the genius of their citizens.

But this freedom will be fragile as long as it is cast in a single mold, the vehicle of a uniform globalization which speaks with a single voice, primarily that of commerce. Principles may be universal; the mechanisms that infuse life into them are shaped by a host of features that are specific to each society.

No vision of democracy - which transcends politics and includes economic, social and cultural life - can really take root if it is a sterile copy that fails to take account of the history and myths, the values and traditions of each people. While these roots are necessary, however, they provide no justification for citing "cultural relativism" as an excuse for violating the basic principles on which the rights of human beings are founded. Respect for "cultural identity" cannot legitimize anti-democratic practices.

A second danger arises from the fact that the field in which these rights are elaborated and exercised is all too often limited. The recent commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a reminder that human rights comprise not only political and civil rights but also, on exactly the same basis, economic and social rights, such as the right to a job, housing, health and education.

One and a half billion people live in dire poverty. Their most fundamental right, the right to life, the bedrock of all other rights, is constantly threatened. So the still unfinished struggle to extend and strengthen human rights includes the duty to promote development. …

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