Conflicting interpretations of universal human rights

Other Names:
Lack of universal agreement on human rights
Unwillingness to submit to world human rights standards

In some cultures it is denied that human rights are universal. It is held that they must be considered in the context of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds.


Like other countries, the USA claims the right to select which rights it chooses to defend and which international human rights treaties it wishes to uphold. The USA has long resisted ratification of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and that on Civil and Political Rights. It has refused to ratify those international agreements permitting international review of allegations of human rights abuses or those governing treatment of political refugees and their right to apply for political asylum.


Human rights is a Western invention and cultural variations justify different interpretations of fundamental human rights. Basic guarantees of due process in democracy are Western concepts that are imposed on other cultures without their consent. Non-Westerners have their own definitions of human rights. Human rights can be considered of two kinds: civil and political rights (free speech, worship, etc.) emphasized by the West, and economic rights (social and economic security guaranteed by the state) emphasized by non-Western cultures. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes both categories, with the second designed to please those countries that deny their subjects the first. Efforts to expand the range of human rights beyond the first category are questionable because this process intentionally undermines and dilutes the very idea of political rights. Economic rights are not claims against the state, rather they are demands for things to be granted by the state to the individual. As such, they guarantee the individual's dependence on the state for the necessities of life. Such economic rights are therefore instruments for increasing state power over the individual. It is for this reason that the USA has long resisted ratification of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. On the other hand, for some non-Western countries, the political rights are perceived as inhibiting the ability of government to guarantee the economic rights.

Counter Claim:

Universality is the crux of the human rights system. It means global accession to, and ratification of, the principal international human rights treaties. Contemporary human rights are heir to demands for human dignity throughout history and across cultures. The express the enduring elements of the world's great philosophies, religions and cultures. Today they build upon modern science and advanced technologies, while enabling all people to participate in the shaping and sharing of the world in which they live.



Narrower Problems:
Conflicting human rights claims
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Date of last update
31.10.2017 – 17:50 CET