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Are Human Rights A Culturally Universal Phenomenon International Law Essay

Phenomenon International Law Essay

Are all human rights universal, or are there some human rights that countries should be allowed to divert from for cultural reasons. Discuss the question referring to the relevant legal provisions and use evidence from the Armenian and other countries context to argue your point.

Are Human Rights Universal?

One can find a good definition provided 60 years ago by the United Nations on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The problem with definitions and concepts in this area is that, although the Declaration was adopted by many countries not only on the Western part of the globe, it is far from being consensual or universal as it states on the title.

The biggest issue is the inclusion of principles that contrasts with some cultures and beliefs. Countries where the State is still tied to religion are highly likely to disagree with parts of the declaration as their laws were based on religious creeds that have been followed for years by their ancestors. Other countries do not consider their laws disrespectful to human rights as they are based on cultural habits and customs. The examples are countless on child labor, minorities exclusion or the many laws that discriminate against women. Some countries advocate that the Declaration ignores historical and cultural issues that are very specific from each country, so they provided their own charter (e.g. African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam).

A fundamental point on the discussion is that it does not matter how the countries declare their versions of human rights, the most important is what they actually do to keep their obligations to protect their citizens from human rights violations and the policies they adopt in this subject. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action can be seen as an update on the willingness of States to act, but in practice there are everyday violations of human rights from governments, organizations and people everywhere: from developed to developing countries, from big corporations to small organizations, to families and relationships the list goes on and on.

What are human rights?

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Universal and inalienable

The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.

All States have ratified at least one, and 80% of States have ratified four or more, of the core human rights treaties, reflecting consent of States which creates legal obligations for them and giving concrete expression to universality. Some fundamental human rights norms enjoy universal protection by customary international law across all boundaries and civilizations.

Human rights are inalienable. They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.

Interdependent and indivisible

All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.

Equal and non-discriminatory

Non-discrimination is a cross-cutting principle in international human rights law. The principle is present in all the major human rights treaties and provides the central theme of some of international human rights conventions such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The principle applies to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedoms and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of a list of non-exhaustive categories such as sex, race, color and so on. The principle of non-discrimination is complemented by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Both Rights and Obligations

Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The Declaration has been translated into at least 375 languages and dialects. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. It consists of 30 articles which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws. The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols. In 1966 the General Assembly adopted the two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and contains 30 Articles.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. It entered into force in 1953. All Council of Europe member states are party to the Convention and new members are expected to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity.

It comprises 18 Articles and 13 Convention protocols.

There are two articles that are significant for victims:

Article 6 provides a detailed right to a fair trial, including the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other minimum rights for those charged with a criminal offence

Article 13 provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention.

Wikipedia writes: a fair and just trial might be impeded by:

Corruption or incompetence (judicial or otherwise)

Contempt of court (typically by the media or jurors)

Witness intimidation

A lack of legal counsel, or inequality of arms

Undue delay in procedure

Non-disclosure of evidence, through malice or through abuse of State Secrets Privilege (in the USA) or Public Interest Immunity (in the UK).

In the UK, the Public Interest Immunity is generally granted through Royal Charters. The Human Rights Act 1998 is virtually a copy of the European version, with the following notable exemptions:

Article 1 – binds the signatory parties to secure the rights under the other Articles of the Convention “within their jurisdiction“.

Article 13 – provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention.

Furthermore, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union lists all of the economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the civil and political rights of the citizens and residents of the European Union. Chapter 6 on Justice contains Article 47 that combines the right to an effective remedy with the right to a fair trial.

Additionally, Armenian Constitution deprives its citizens from being tried before jurors, there is no such a practice, a single judge accuses the defendant for alleged indictment. Thus, it apposes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Source: Human Rights Watch Report

Armenian Constitution

WIKIPEDIA, The Free Encyclopedia

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a remarkable document, as it summarizes the 30 most basic rights to which every member of the human family is entitled.

Every person is entitled to certain rights – simply by the fact that they are a human being. They are “rights” because they are things we are allowed to be, to do or to have. These rights are there for our protection against people who might want to harm or hurt us. They are also there to help us get along with each other and live in peace.

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