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The Concept of Human Rights

Author(s): Alison Dundes Renteln


Source: Anthropos, Bd. 83, H. 4./6. (1988), pp. 343-364
Published by: Anthropos Institut
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Anthropos83.1988: 343-364

The Conceptof HumanRights


AlisonDundesRenteln

Abstract.- This article examines some traditionalWestern ofhumanrights.


classicdefinitions I thendiscuss
viewsof rightsand offersa critiqueof them.In particularit is some of the traditional Westernsourcesfrom
shownthatthecase againstthe doctrineof logicalcorrelativity
is flawed. It is argued that rightsand duties are always
whichhumanrights arethought to be derivedand
correlative,and thatthereforeduty-basedmoral systemscan findthemlacking. Theunderlying reasonsfortheir
accommodatehumanrights.By expandingthestandardviewof inadequacy are traced back to a deeplyrooted
theauthortriesto providea moresolid foundationfora
rights, beliefin the presumeduniversality of Western
broader range of human rights.In addition, the presumed moralnotions.Thesesameassumptions manifest
universalityof humanrightsis called intoquestion.The factof
culturaldiversityrevealstheinadequacyof traditionalWestern themselves in some of the international human
sources for human rights. [Human Rights, Western and rightsdocuments. It is clearfromeventhemost
Non-WesternConception,CulturalDiversity] cursorystudyof otherculturesthattheirvalue
systems differfromthoseoftheWestinsignificant
Alison Dundes Renteln, studies in History and Literature as can be seen in the cases of female
ways,
(Radcliffe College, Harvard Univ., B. A. 1981), Jurispru- circumcision and childlabor.
dence (London School of Economics), and Jurisprudence
and Social Policy(Univ. of California,Berkeley,Ph. D.). Her
law, international
fieldsofspecializationincludeconstitutional
law,and legaltheory.1986-1987actingdirectorofthe Law and 1. The Nature of Rights
Societyprogramat the Univ. of California,Santa Barbara;
since1987Asst. Prof,in thePoliticalScienceDept. oftheUniv.
of S. California. There are almostas manytheoriesof rightsas
therearerights theorists. It is sometimes saidthat
theonlytruerightsare legalrights(Benthamin
Thereis considerable disagreement amongtheo- Bowring[ed.] 1843/11:501; 111:221;Hart 1973:
ristsaboutboththenatureandlegitimacy ofrights. 171-201).Other scholars arguefora broaderview
Some of the theoretical of
issues raisedby rights rights which would encompassmoralrights as
theoristsare importantforelucidating thenotion well. For the of the
purposes explaining general
of a humanright.I willfocuson theconceptual characterof rights,it will not be necessaryto
analysisofrights onlyinsofaras it is relevantfor distinguish betweenthem.
understanding human rights.1 I willshow thatthe As is typicalinthehistory ofphilosophy, what
case againstthe doctrineof logicalcorrelativity,2was once a simple notion is often tranformed into a
whichassociatesrightsof one personwiththe muchmorecomplicated structure. Whilethisis
dutiesofanotherand viceversa,is flawed.If,as sometimes useful(and indeednecessary) forcer-
will be argued,rightsand duties are always tainconcepts,it can obfuscatetheessentialfea-
correlative,thendutybasedmoralsystems could turesof an idea. Rightstheoriesexemplify this
accommodate humanrights, theassertions ofsome tendencyof rejectingmore simpleaccountsin
commentators notwithstanding (e.g., Donnelly favorofmorecomplexnormative structures (Mar-
1982).NextI willargueagainstsometraditional tinand Nickel 1980: 165). Some of theso-called
categorizationsof rights.I offerseveralobserva- simplecharacterizations of rights,however,do
tions motivatedby the desire to expand the capture the essence of a right.
standard viewof rights.By anticipating possible
objections thatrightstheorists mightraiseto the
of universal humanrights,I 1 For a more detailed exposition of rightstheories see
assertion particular Dworkin 1977, Feinberg 1973, Flathman1976, and Well-
hopetomakepossiblea moresolidfoundation for man 1978.
a broaderrangeofhumanrights. 2 As opposed to the doctrineof moral correlativity;see
InthesecondpartofthearticleI present some below.

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344 Alison Dundes Renteln

For manyphilosophicalwriters,a rightis 2. Rightsand Duties


treatedsynonymously witha claim(Feinberg1973:
64-66). The "Oxford EnglishDictionary" defines Theviewthatrights anddutiesarecorrelative used
a rightas a "justifiable claim,on legal or moral to be the dominantone among philosophers
grounds, tohaveorobtainsomething, ortoactina (Lyons 1970:45; Martinand Nickel1980:165).
certainway." leadingproponent thisviewis Theprincipal
A of ideaisthattosaythatA hasa right to
JoelFeinberg: "To havea right istohavea claimto X, istosaythatB hasa dutytoinsurethatA can,in
something andagainstsomeone,therecognition of fact,obtainX. Butfurther, tosaythatC hasa duty
whichis calledforbylegalrulesor,inthecase of toD withrespect toE, istosaythatD hasa right to
moralrights, bytheprinciples of an enlightened E vis-a-visC. Many rightstheorists, including
conscience"(1980: 159-160). Feinberg, Lyons,MartinandNickel,andMcClos-
Whatdistinguishes a rightfroma demandis key, take varyingstancesagainstthisposition.
thatitis justified,eitherbyappealto pre-existingMost of the arguments are based on the four
to
legalrulesor morality. Thus a rightis a valid Hohfeldian categories.
claim.McCloskey(1976)prefers to definea right Lyons,forinstance, contendsthatone setof
as an entitlement ratherthana claim.The view rights, ''activerights" (rightsto do things), do not
that rightscan be explainedas legitimateor fitthe patternof correlativity (Lyons 1970: 48).
reasonableclaims is mistaken,accordingto The firstexamplehe offersinvolvestherightof
McCloskey, becauseitisbasedonthepremise that freespeech.4Alvinspeaksto a crowdfroma soap
rights"... are and must be
always rights against box,decrying UnitedStatesmilitary involvement
someotherpersonor persons"(1976:100). He inVietnam.Duringthecourseofpontificating, he
rejects the duty definition as well: "What is is assaulted by private citizens and removed from
commonto all rights is notsomedutyor dutyre- hisplatform. For Lyons,thequestionis whether
lationship but an entitlement" (1976: 104).Where- Alvin's right to freespeech(orthespecific right to
as thepreviouscharacterizations attemptto iso- addressthe crowd) is "... equivalentto the
late a singleconceptunderlying the notionof a assertionof correlative obligations incumbent on
right,a competingschool of thoughtseeks to others"(1970:50).
encompassall rights withina complexnormative Lyonswantsto saythatAlvin'srightto free
apparatus.WesleyHohfeld's classic work, "Fun- speechdoes not correspond to any duty:"The
damentalLegal Conceptions"(1964), laid the constitutional right of free speechis independent
foundation for much for
subsequentphilosophical of, example, obligation the notto assaultthat
exegesis. He asserted that rights could be under- was breached by those who silenced Alvin"
stoodas belonging tooneoffourcategories: claim, (1970:51). According to Lyons,thelisteners may
liberty,power,andimmunity.3 Hohfeld'sanalysis be undera dutynotto attackAlvin,butnotunder
hadbeenused,amongotherthings, to refutethe a dutytorespecthisfreespeech.Buthe goesonto
logicalcorrelativity doctrine. His framework has concludethatAlvin'sright doesnotcorrespond to
been adopted and extendedby a numberof anydutyon thepartof Congresseither:"These
philosophers (e.g., Wellman1985and Flathman Constitutional rights exemplify whatsomejurists
1976). call 'immunities' for to assertthem is to saythat
In contrastto thesenormative theoriesare protected areasof speechcannotbe takenaway.
functionalist accounts ofrights, themostfamousof Alvin'sconstitutional righthas a conceptualcor-
whichis thatof RonaldDworkin(1977; see also relative: butitis notanobligation; itisa legislative
Scheingold 1974).According to thisview,whatis 'disability,' theassertion of whichsaysthatCon-
distinctive about rightsis thattheyfunction as gressis not empoweredto enact certainlaws"
trumps overcollectivegoals. This would seem to (1970:51).
requirethatrightsbe individuated in orderto The secondexampleoffered byLyonsis the
distinguish them from what one might call "collec- right of a California motorist to turn right on a red
tiverights"(see Dinstein1976,Garet1983,Van light.Lyonstriestoshowthatthereisnoclearduty
Dyke1980). associatedwiththisright.But in facthe under-
mineshisargument: "... itseemsmoreplausible
to say thatthisrightimposesobligations on law
enforcement officials not to interfere withone's
3 For cross-cultural research, Hohfeld's intricate typology
may have limited applicability. S. F. Moore advises legal
anthropologists to read Hohfeld and then "... cheerfully 4 This particularexample was introducedat least as earlyas
do without him" [!] (Moore 1969: 343). 1956 by GlanvilleWilliams.

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TheConceptofHumanRights 345

makinga rightturn(whenallowedbythecondi- Philosophers havealso challenged thelogical


tionsoftheright)"(1970:55). He refuses, though, correlativity doctrine byasserting theexistence of
toconcedethepoint:"A policeman mayadmitted- dutieswithout corresponding rights. Feinberg, for
lybe underan obligation notto stopor disturb a instance,saysthatdutiesof charity which". . .
privatecitizen without cause - but can we say that requireustocontribute tooneoranother ofa large
thatobligationis 'correlative' withmy rightto number ofeligiblerecipients, no one ofwhichcan
makea rightturnon a red lightin California?" claim our contribution fromus as his due"
(1970:55). (1970:244), shows the absence of a correlative
The cruxoftheargument the
against logical right. Hart (1979) and others contend thatwhile
correlativity doctrineseems to derivefromthe we havedutiesnottomistreat animalsandbabies,
Hohfeldian interpretation of an immunity right, nevertheless, theyhavenorights againstus (inpart
thecorrelative ofwhichis a disability. According becausetheyare notmoralagents- see Lamont
to Hohfeldian scholars,disabilities are associated 1950:93). Stillothershaveclaimedthatthedutyto
withtheabsenceofobligations. I wouldarguethat rescuehas no correlative right(Bedau 1968).It is
thisdistinction is merely semantic. It is notsimply evensometimes suggested thatthemanin André
thatCongressis notempowered to enactlegisla- Malraux'snovel,"La Condition Humaine"(1946),
tionwhichrestricts freedom ofspeech,but,also, felthehada dutytogivehissupplyofpoisontohis
thatCongressis underan obligation notto enact fellowprisoners, thoughtheyhad no rightto it
suchlegislation, forto do so wouldviolatethe (Acton1950:108).
Furthermore,
right. onecouldarguethatthereis a Thereareatleasttwoobjections whichcanbe
duty which "stands to" the right of freedom of raised to arguments of the kind advanced bythe
speech ". . . just as Bernard's to
obligation pay above philosophers. The firstis that, in the cases
AlvincorrelateswithAlvin's right"in Lyons' wherewe wouldagreethatthereare suchduties,
paradigmatic example(1970:50). The dutyis that thereis also a corresponding right.If society
ofthejudiciary to protecttherightto freedom of recognizes dutiestobe kindtoanimalsandbabies,
speech.I maintainthatin everycase in which forinstance, then,indeed,thoseentities couldbe
Hohfeldian languageis used, a correlative duty said to haverights.7 The secondis that,in those
mayalwaysbe found.5 cases in whichwe are hesitantto assertthe
McCloskey proposes another type of counter- existence ofa right, itis becausetheattribution of
example to the rights implies duties thesis,namely the duty seems dubious. Unfortunately, many
thatoftheconscientious objector(1976:104). He personsdo not recognizedutiesof charity, for
assertsthattheright tobe a conscientious objector example,perhaps because such duties give rise to
corresponds to no duty on the part of others. His something resembling economic rights.The reluc-
argument revolvesarounda reformulation ofthe tanceoftheorists to acknowledge theexistence of
conflict betweenthe individualand the statein rights corresponding to duties held by others, may
terms ofrights languagerather thandutylanguage: stemfromthefearthatto do so wouldcheapen
'Thus to assertthathe has a righthereis distinct rights languagebya proliferation oflesssignificant
from claiming thatothershavea dutyto leavehim rights (Hart1979).Buttheproblemdoesnotliein
freefrominterference. One can, withverygood the correlation; it restsin the absenceof some
sense,assertthatthestatehasa right topunishhim mechanism forjustifying theassertion ofparticular
fordoingthatto whichhe has a moralright" rights/duties.
(1976:104). I taketheviewthatrights and dutiesare flip
Butifa right be to a conscientious objector is sides of the same coin.8 Brandt has said thatthe
actually recognized as a valid moral right, then it
standsto reasonthatthestatehas a dutynotto 7 Hart'sargument againstbabiesas right-holdersfollowsa
interfere. The argument is partofa largerattempt discussionof third-party rights.He observesthatsimply
byMcCloskey toeliminate claimlanguageinfavor becausesomeonestandstobenefit from thecarryingoutofa
but this is duty by anotherdoes notmeanthatthebeneficiary has a
of entitlement language, program claimagainstthatperson.But imaginethecase in which
unpersuasive.6 Hartstumbles acrossa starving
baby(assumetherewasno
pre-existing agreement betweenHartand thebaby'spar-
ents). IfHartisundera moraldutytoassistthebaby,thenthe
5 See alsoBrandt1959:434; Braybrooke1972;Singer1972; babycouldbe saidto havea moralrightagainstHart.
HudsonandHusak1980;andWaldron(ed.) 1984:11. 8 Western theorists
sometimes assertthata rightis priortoa
6 McCloskey's has beencriticized
formulation as
elsewhere duty(Lamont1950:94). Others,however, havedefended
being". . . notparticularly or informative" the "... logicalpriority
illuminating of dutiesover rights"(Pappu
(MartinandNickel1980:170). 1982:24).

83.1988
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346 Alison Dundes Renteln

difference betweena rightanda dutyis similarto 61-62). It is sometimes assertedthata right,in


thedifference between theactiveandpassivevoice ordertobe a right, mustbe unconditional. Butthis
(1959:434). While this observation is not a new is demonstrably false. Consider the case of the
of
theory rights, Waldron regards the simple prisoner, some of whose rights are suspended
associationof a dutyto a rightas capable of becausehe has notfulfilled his duties(Feinberg
forming thebasisfora "moresatisfactory" account 1973:62).9 Here we wouldagreethatitis appro-
thansomeofthemoreelaborateones: "Thusthe priateto makerightscontingent on duties.One
rightoffreespeech,forexample,is understood in couldgo so faras to arguethat,foradultsat least,
terms ofrecognition thatan individual's interestin all rights are contingent on duties.Eventheright
self-expression is a sufficient for to
ground holding life, example, for could be saidtobe contingent
and
otherindividuals agencies to be under duties on the to
duty respect other lives.On theother
ofvarioussortsrather thanintermsofthedetailof hand,ifbabiesandanimalshaverights, thenthey
thedutiesthemselves" (1984:11). have them irrespective of their to
capacity perform
The importance of demonstrating thelogical duties.So thedoctrine of moralcorrelativity ap-
correlativity of rightsand dutiesdoes not lie so pearstobe contingent. As a consequence, societies
muchinanyexplanatory powerithasforWestern in whichrightsdependon the performance of
rights theories, but rather in the flexibilityit duties can still
be said to have rights.
affords the formulation of international human
rightsstandards. Correlativity is crucialbecauseit
meansthattheframing of moralclaimsin terms b) PositiveversusNegative
otherthanrightsis not necessarily problematic.
The recognition ofan obligation maywellsignify Philosophers havetraditionally dividedrights into
thepresence of an implicit right. two categories: and
positive negative. If a citizen
The misleadingseparationof rightsfrom hasa right tofreedom ofspeech,forexample,then
dutieshas led philosophers to makedistinctionsthe state has a dutyof non-interference. This
betweenright-based, and
duty-based, goal-based so-called negativerightallegedly imposes bur-
no
theories(Dworkin1977:169-173).It is notewor- densomeor costlydutyupon the state. The
thythatKant'sfamousduty-based theory hasbeen standardview of the positiverightholds that
employed as a basis fortheories of rights (Waldron welfarerightsrequireextensivegovernmental
1984:13). Thissuggests thatjustbecausea moral action.Itisworth pointing outthattheviewsabove
theory is couchedinthelanguageofdutydoesnot arethoseofWestern philosophers whoaresympa-
implythatitcannotbe a vehiclefortheadvance- theticto civil and politicalrightsbut not to
mentof rights.Mackie (1978) goes so faras to economicrights. Therefore, thepositive/negative
arguethatanymoraltheoryis necessarily right- rights classificationsimply reflectsthevaluesofthe
based, even if rights can only be identifiedas political culture in which the philosophers live.
implicit. The allegation that positiverights demand
elaboratestateactionhas been criticized byphi-
losopherssuchas SidneyHook (1970) and Hen-
3. Observationson Rights ryShue(1980).In "BasicRights"Shuechallenges
thepremisethatonlypositiverights requirea vast
In thissectionI seek to enlargethescopeof the expenditure offunds.Opponents ofpositiverights
notionofa right.Traditional rights theorists have mightargue,forexample,thatproviding a food
constructed a framework whichis undulyrestric- stampprogram wouldinvolvea costlyandunwiel-
tive. An examination of some of the common dy bureaucratic network. The rightto foodthus
classifications revealsseveralartificial distinctions.appearsto be an expensiveright.
The removaloftheseconceptual obstaclesshould Butsomeofthe'negative' rights,forinstance,
facilitatetheformulation of a broaderand more theright toa trialbyjury,certainly necessitate the
accurateconceptofhumanrights. existence ofan elaborate(andexpensive) criminal
justiceapparatus.The maintenance of civiland
politicalrights depends on the existence ofpolice,
a) The Doctrineof Moral Correlativity

onemustbe capableof
Theideathattoholdrights 9 Some mightarguethattheprisoneris notdeprivedofrights
duties,is knownas the
and willingto perform butonlyprivileges.But amongthemostfundamental rights
(Feinberg1973:
doctrineof moralcorrelativity is (supposedly)the rightto liberty(Hart 1979).

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The Concept of Human Rights 347

courts,and a plethoraof other institutions. This recognizedcommunityrights,the rightsof peo-


reappraisalsuggeststhat the emphasisplaced on ples, and the rightsof groups,in additionto the
particularrightsis a matterof politicalpreference rightsof individuals(Ramcharan 1983: 278). The
ratherthansimpleeconomiccalculations. advantage of admittinggroup rightsis thatthere
maybe certainrightswhichpeople oughtto be able
to claim, which cannot be easily expressed in
c) LegalversusMoral individualistic
terms.One could make thecase, for
example, thatsome of the rightsarticulatedin the
A second distinctionthat is often drawn is that "AfricanCharteron Human and Peoples' Rights,"
betweenmoral and legal rights.Legal positivists specificallyArticles19-24, whichpertainto colo-
claim that a rightexistsonly if it is enforceable. nialism,requirethelanguageofgrouprightsrather
Legal rightswhich exist by virtue of legislative than individualrights(Anonymous1983).
enactment,common law, and so on, are, there-
fore, the only type of rightspossible.10 Other
theorists,suchas naturallaw/rights theorists,hold 4. Human Rightsand the Presumptionof
thatmoralrightsare priorto and independentof Universality
legal rights.
The distinction can be quite crucialwhen,for The emergence of rightsin political thoughtis
example, legal systemmakes no provisionfora
a generallyregardedas a new development.There
particularright.The argumentthat the system are thosewho maintainthatrightsdid not existin
shouldbe modifiedto incorporatetherightwillbe ancient civilizationsand those who argue that
fortifiedbythe demonstratedexistenceof a moral rightsare not to be foundin non-Westernmoral
right. Without moral rightsit would be consider- systems.Anyhistoricalstudyof rightsrevealshow
ably more to bringabout changesin law.
difficult hazythephilosophicalchartingof theevolutionof
The validityof legal rightscan be based partlyon rightshas been. Based on what littleevidence is
the extent to which they correspond to moral presented, it is astonishingthat anyone should
rights.11 offerdecisiveconclusionsabout the role of rights
in otherepochs and cultures.The absence of any
considerationof moral notions comparable to
versusGroup
d) Individual rightsmakes the presumeduniversality of human
rightsdubious at best. If we are to save human
In the Westernpoliticaltradition,onlyindividual rightsfrom the charge of cultural imperialism,
adultmoralagentshave been accorded the privi- whichI believe is possible, thenit is necessaryto
legeofholdingrights.But thereis nothinginherent reinforcetheirunderpinnings. In theremainderof
inthenotionof a rightwhichlogicallyrequiresthis some oftheweaknessesin the
thisarticleI identify
restriction.Nonetheless, some Westernersdeny foundationsof human rights,as put forwardby
theexistenceof grouprights,and theirreluctance (mostlyWestern)philosophers.
to grantsuchrightsmaystemfroma fearthatsuch
rightsare merelyexpressionsof utilitariangoals.
Since one of the mainpurposesof rightsis to limit a) Definitions
the arbitraryexercise of governmentalpower,
utilitariangoals masquerading as group rights The classic definitionof a human rightis a right
would perhapsseriouslyunderminethe power of which is universaland held by all persons: "A
rightsas trumps. human rightby definitionis a universal moral
Not all group rights,however, need be op- right,somethingwhichall men,everywhere,at all
posed to individuals'rights,e.g., the rightto self- timesoughtto have, somethingof whichno one
determination.The United Nations has, in fact, maybe deprivedwithouta graveaffront to justice,
something which is to
owing every human being
simplybecause he is human" (Cranston1973: 36).
a legal righteven ifit
10 Of course,itis stillpossibleto identify One of the definitionscited most oftenis thatof
is not enforced. Wasserstrom(1979). Any true human right,it is
11 Of course,otherfactorsare relevant,suchas whetheror not said, must satisfy at least four requirements:
the legal right was promulgated according to correct
"First,itmustbe possessedbyall humanbeings,as
procedure.Ultimately,however,the contentof the right
shouldresonatewithpriormoralrightsifitis to be regarded well as onlybyhumanbeings.Second, because itis
as legitimatewithinthe societyin question. the same rightthat all human beings possess, it

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348 AlisonDundesRenteln

mustbe possessedequallyby all humanbeings. surprisingly, philosophers havenotwelcomeddis-


Third,becausehumanrights are possessedbyall cussionsofcompeting moralities, largelybecause
humanbeings,we can ruleout as possiblecandi- theytaketheirownvaluestobe obviously correct.
datesanyofthoserights whichone mighthavein Strangelyenough,Waldronnotes that natural
virtueof occupying anyparticular statusor rela- rights ". . . seemedpeculiarly vulnerable toethical
tionship,such as thatof parent,president,or skepticism" butconcludesthat"... it wouldbe
promisee.And fourth,if thereare any human wrongto suggestthatthe discussionof human
rights,theyhave the additionalcharacteristic of rights hasbeenseriously impededbythesedifficul-
beingassertable, ina manner ofspeaking, 'against ties"(1984:3).
thewholeworld'"(1979:50). Thoughthe contemporary notionof human
As one can see fromthedefinitions, human rights may be theoffspring of natural rights,there
are
rights presumed to be universalin character. are, nonetheless, differences between them. The
Thiswouldnotinitself be problematic (indeed itis most important ofthese is the extent of the moral
desirable),exceptthatthephilosophical founda- universe towhichtheylayclaim.Whereasnatural
tionsare neveradequatelydemonstrated. The rights werenotwidelycontested becausetheywere
toground
failure humanrights, as willbe discussed assertedin a universeof sharedvalues,human
below, has much to do with theirhistorical rightshave been highlycontroversial. Consider
antecedents, in particular naturallaw and natural Locke'sassertion ofthenaturalrightto property,
rights,withwhichhumanrightsare assumedby the validityof whichwas takenforgrantedin
manyphilosophers to be synonymous (Donnelly England,butwhichmightrequireargumentation
1985:10; Pappu1969:44; Wasserstrom 1979). in somesocialistcountries (to saytheleast).The
presumption ofuniversality no longerserves"uni-
versal"rights well.13
Western
b) Traditional Sources In thepast,attempts to groundhumanrights
were not successful. The best knownand most
Formanycenturies naturallawplayeda dominant celebrated efforts
employed thevagueconcepts of
rolein Western politicaltheory.Natural law was human nature and rationality to establish particu-
considered to be the standardagainstwhichall larrights. It couldbe arguedthatitis nonsensical
otherlaws were to be judged. To contestthe toseparatethetwoinsofar as rationality is,insome
ofa man-made
injustice law,one couldappealto regions,regardedas integralto humannature.
thehigherauthority of God or naturallaw (So- Otherconceptualdeviceswhichhave provided
phocles1974).Eventually naturallawevolvedinto tentative basesforhumanrights include:theability
naturalrights,whichare consideredto be the to use language,reciprocity, thecapacityto con-
modern manifestations ofnaturallaw.Thechange formtomoralrequirements, self-motivated activi-
reflecteda shiftin emphasisfromsocietyto the ty,self-consciousness, andpurposive agency(Hu-
individual.Whereasnaturallaw provideda basis sak 1984:128).
forcurbingexcessivestatepower,naturalrights Increasingly, justification forhumanrights is
offereda meansbywhichan individual couldpress comingto depend less on humannatureand
claimsagainstthegovernment.12 rationality and more on the conceptsof basic
Naturallaw/rights theorists
haveassertedthe humanneedsandhumandignity. Thesestrategies,
existenceof specificrightssuch as the rightto however,are subjectto thesame weaknessesas
liberty(Hart 1979),therightto life(McCloskey theirpredecessors. How theorists derivespecific
1975),theright to self-preservation(Hobbes),the human rightsfromneeds or dignityremains
rightto property (Locke), the rightto freedom entirely obscure.Justas somephilosophers began
fromtorture(Nickel 1982), and the rightto to challengethe assumption thathumannature
participate(Stackhouse1984).Because theytake couldgiverisetospecific humanrights (Blackstone
the validityof the rightsto be a self-evident1968:624), others(e.g., Donnelly1985: 28-30)
proposition, therehas traditionally been little questionthe abilityof basic needs theorists to
roomfordebate.One mightexpectto encounter delineateintheabstract thoseneedswhichshould
difficulties
whenvariousproponents defenddiffer-
entand sometimes conflictingrightsbased solely
on theclaimthattherightsare self-evident. Not 13 Anothermajor differencebetweennaturallaw and human
isrights that, according to internationalhuman rights
lawyers and the United Nations communityin general,
12 For detailedaccounts,see L. Strauss(1953), M. Roshwald humanrightsaccommodateothertypesof rightsin addition
(1959), R. Tuck (1981), and J. Donnelly (1985). to civil and political.

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The Concept of Human Rights 349

givecontentto the idea of humanrights.Pre- The deviceoftheoriginal positiondeveloped


sumably,adherents to thisapproachwouldnot byJohnRawls(1971)provides another illustration
advocatetheestablishment of rights basedon all of the universalistic premise.The idea is that
needs.Someonemustdecidewhatneedsaretruly individuals behindthe"veilof ignorance," strip-
basic, and inasmuch as different judges will per- ped of their identity, willselectprinciples ofjustice
ceivedifferent needs as takinghighestpriority,bywhichsocietyshouldoperate.One couldmake
thisapproachdoes notcircumvent thechallenge a strong casethatthecontractarian scenariowhich
ofdiversity. Rawlshas devisedis rigged.For example,Rawls
The problemwithall of these approaches requiresthatpersonsin the originalpositionbe
whichaimat anchoring humanrights by another risk-averse and not be envious.14By imposing
conceptis thattheycannotdemonstrate their constraints such as these, Rawls insuresthat
necessary connection to humanrights. The inter- individuals intheoriginal position willagreetothe
pretation ofbasicneeds,forexample,fallspreyto principles he advocates.Thus,thedeviceprovides
thesamehermeneutical weaknessof naturallaw/ an ex postfactojustification forhisownpersonal
rights.There is no way provethevalidity
to ofany moralconvictions.
particular interpretation becauseno procedureis It is plausiblethatindividuals fromthesame
established by which the of
legitimacy particular culture might agree to the same principles. Amer-
humanrights canbe judged.Indeed,thereis some icansconceivably woulddesignateRawls'princi-
consensusamongphilosophers thatup untilthe plesas theirown.Butifonetransposes thescenar-
all to
present, attempts provide solid philosophical io of the originalposition to an international set-
foundations forhumanrightshave failed(e.g., ting(Beitz 1979),itbecomesdoubtful whether all
Feinberg 1973: 90). the participants will acquiesce. The presupposition
In theabsenceofa satisfactory grounding for is thatindividuals strippedof theirculturaland
humanrights, theorists are compelledto fallback politicalheritagewouldbe pure rationalbeings
uponmereassertions as to theself-evident nature and wouldthusdutifully selectliberaldemocratic
ofparticular humanrights. In viewofthediversity principles ofjustice.The premisethatindividuals
of moralsystemsin the world,it is difficult to couldnegotiate forfundamental principles in the
understand why the of
presumption universality absence of culture is quite fantastic. And this is
could endure so long without being seriously precisely the root of the problem:underlying the
questioned.The answerlies in thepsychologicalpresumption of universality is the beliefthatall
predisposition of human to
beings generalize from peoples think in a similar fashion.
theirown perspective. Westernphilosophers in The mostremarkable exampleof a scholar
particular seem to be to
prone projecting their assuming that there is a single correctpatternof
moralcategories on others.As a consequence, the moralreasoningcan be foundin the workof
presumption ofuniversality is deeplyingrained in LawrenceKohlberg.His stagetheoryof moral
Western moralphilosophy. development is perhapsthemostblatantly univer-
salisticmoraltheoryone could imagine.Those
surveyed whodidnotreasonaccording to precon-
c) "EveryoneThinksthe Same" ceivedstyleswere consideredto have retarded
powersofmoralreasoning. Amongotherthings,
Twoofthebestknownexamples of these tenden- his work has been challenged as failing totakeinto
ciesare Immanuel Kant and John Rawls (1971). account gender differences (Gilligan1982). Its
Theirconceptual the
devices, categorical impera- cross-cultural validity is still
hotlydebated.Butthe
tiveandtheoriginal position, respectively, presup- astounding nature of Kohlberg'spresumption of
pose the existence of a set of universal moral is
universality typified by his conclusions in an
principles.Many philosophers employKantian articleabout capitalpunishment (Kohlbergand
notionsas a vehicleto advancehumanrights. As
Feinberghas observed,however,theclaimsthat 14 The reasonfortherisk-averserequirementis thatotherwise
humanbeingsare "ends in themselves" or "sa-
people mightpreferless egalitariandistributive principles.
cred"or"ofinfinite value"arethemselves inneed Because theyare risk-averse,theyworrythatwithoutsuch
(1973:92). Kantianmoraltheory principlestheymightend up as thepoor. The explanation
ofa foundation -
assumestheexistence ofa singlepattern ofmoral for the non-envy requirement has to do withthe avoidance
of socialism. Since Rawls allows for some inequalities
reasoning.The abstractrationalprocess pre- is
throughthedifference principle,theexistenceofenvymight
sumedto beara singleand universal result,irre- lead theparticipants in theoriginalpositionto prefera more
spective ofcultural differences. strictly egalitariansystem.

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350 Alison Dundes Renteln

Elfenbein 1975).On hisview,reaching thehighest Some of the articlesconcerningelections


stageof moral development entailsrejection ofthe reflecta preference fora particular kindofpolitical
deathpenalty.Even thoughKohlbergneverre- system. Articles 18,19, and 20 provideforrights to
vealshisownconvictions, itseemsclearthatthese freedomof thought,religion,and association.
conclusions mayreflect hisownvalues.Kohlberg's Article21 guaranteesthe rightto participate in
moraltheoryrepresents a classicexampleof the government, equal accessto publicservice,and
fallacieswhichaccompanythe presumption of freeelections.In Article21 (3) the ideological
universality. Needlessto say, in the eventone basisof thehumanrightstandardis mademani-
disagreeswithKohlberg, e.g., on thedefensibilityfest:"The willofthepeopleshallbe thebasisof
of the death penalty,one's abilitiesin moral the authority of government: thiswill shall be
reasoning are called intoquestion. This kind of expressed periodic genuineelections
in and which
thinkingtypifies theuniversalist position,namely shallbe by universal and equal suffrage shall
and
thatalternative of
patterns thought are dismissed be held by secret vote or byequivalent freevoting
fromtheoutset. procedures." While these articlesclearlyembody
thepreferred set of politicaldevicesof Western
liberaldemocratic regimes, theprovisions maynot
d) Problems with International Human Rights be universally accepted. From the Third World
Documents perspective,Article21 seeks to "universalize
Western-style elections"(Zvobgo1979:95),which
Insteadoffacing thereality ofmoraldiversity from are obviouslynotuniversal:"Monarchies, dicta-
thebeginning, thosewhoparticipated in drafting torships,single-party rules,or single-candidate
international humanrights standards avoidedthe electionsare not non-existent in today'sworld"
issue.To circumvent fundamental disagreement,(Sinha 1978: 144). Of course,one cannotinfer
theindividuals involved tookthetackofincluding fromtheexistenceof thesepoliticalregimesthat
a widerangeofrights intheUniversal Declaration the people themselves preferthemto Western-
ofHumanRights.To havesomeunderstanding of styledemocracies. Butitis ethnocentric toassume
the natureof the problemswhichinternationalthatWestern electoralprocedures areunanimous-
humanrights haveencountered, itis necessary to lyfavored.
review brieflytheuniversal rights setforth insome It is notonlyinthepoliticalrealmthathuman
of the main international humanrightsinstru- rightsseem not to be expressionsof universal
ments. values.Some of therightsconcernedwithsocial
As shouldbe clearbynow,itis onlywithin a lifemay also be unrepresentative of the entire
universe ofsharedvaluesthatthepresumption of world.For instance,Article16 providesforthe
universality encountersno difficulties. Various right tomarry andtofounda family. Article16(2)
international humanrightsinstruments have re- stipulates thatmarriages shallbe enteredintoonly
mainedcontroversial, however, precisely because withthe freeand fullconsentof the intending
they contain values which are not shared on a spouses.And finally, Article16 (3) specifies that
worldwidebasis. Several provisionsfromthe thefamily is thenaturaland fundamental unitof
UniversalDeclarationof Human Rightsshould society, andis entitled toprotection bysocietyand
demonstrate the extentto whichthe presumed thestate.It is notclearifthefundamental unitis
universality of some humanrightsprovisionsis the nuclearfamilyor whethertheArticlemight
calledintoquestion. allowforthekinship groupinstead.Thephraseolo-
Article17 providesthat"Everyonehas the gysuggests thatonlytheimmediate familycan be
righttoownproperty aloneas wellas inassociation understoodto be the basic unit,whichwould
withothers"and that"no one shallbe arbitrarilyappear to be insensitive to the manysocieties
deprivedof hisproperty." The value underlyingwhichhave different patterns of socialorganiza-
thisstandard is hardlyuniversal. One commenta- tion.The provision guaranteeing voluntary choice
torrefers to theproblemwithArticle17as one of ofmarriage partners runscounter tothepractice of
culturalimperialism because it "... seeks to arrangedmarriages, whichis an integralpartof
imposefreeenterprise andcapitalism ontherestof manyvalue systems of theworld.Even thefirst
the world"(Zvobgo 1979:95). Anotherhuman clauseholdingthatthereis a rightto marryand
rightsanalystrejectsthe universality of Article founda familymay be problematic whenone
17(1): "The community ideologydoes notadmit considersthattherehave been manyrestrictions
of privateproperty, exceptin consumergoods" on theright tomarry andprocreate, whichwereat
(Sinhá1978:144). one timeregardedas moralby Americans, e.g.,
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The Concept of Human Rights 351

compulsory sterilization,prohibition ofhomosex- culture based.Bymaking a distinction between the


ual marriages, and anti-miscegenation laws. catalogueand the conceptof humanrights,he
Somebelievethatthereasonwhymanyofthe wantsto allowforthedevelopment of particular
valuesin the UniversalDeclarationof Human rightsstandardsfordifferent social systems.In-
Rightsappearto be Westernis thatthe Third steadof "thecatalogueof one particular society
Worlddidnotparticipate ingreatnumbers whenit beingrammeddownthethroatof anotherunder
was drafted.Zvobgo (1979:95) maintainsthat, the crusadic[sic] disguiseof human rights"
weretheDeclarationto be debatedagainin the (1978:159), Sinhaprefersto let societiesdevise
GeneralAssembly,the finaldraftwould differ theirownmeansofpaying homagetohumanrights
significantly from what was adopted in 1948. standards. But while histheory is culturally sensi-
Others,while acknowledging that the United tive,it cannotprovideanyuniversais. Henceit is
Nationshumanrights debatetookplaceat a time no longera theoryof humanrights butrathera
whenthegreatmajority of ThirdWorldnations theory of cultural rights.
werestillundercolonialrule,stillmaintain thatthe
contribution oftheThirdWorldwas"bynomeans
negligible" (Alston1983:61; 1987:59-60).Among 5. Non-WesternConceptionsof Human Rights
the most active participants were Chile, China,
Cuba, India, Lebanon, and Panama. At the The international documents are notsufficient, in
GeneralAssembly in1948,Egypt,Ethiopia,Libe- and of themselves, to resolvethe questionof
ria,Afghanistan, thePhilippines, Thailand,India, whether thehumanrights whichtheyenumerate
andPakistan, as wellas alloftheCentralandLatin areWesternor universal. Of course,itis possible
American Stateswereamongthe48voting infavor thattheycould containsome rightswhichare
of theDeclaration.Saudi Arabia,SouthAfrica, universal andsomewhicharenot.To decidewhich
andtheEasternEuropeannationsweretheeight rightsare trulyuniversal,some have soughtto
abstentions;no one voted against (Alston characterize theconceptofhumanrights according
1983:61). to variousgeographical, cultural,religious,and
Since thereis still considerablereason to ideological perspectives. It is important, however,
believethat the Declarationbears a Western to be aware of the limitations ofthisliterature.
imprint, thissuggests thattheroleofgovernment First,theredo notevenexistarticleson the
elitesat international settings may not be indica- conceptofhumanrights in all societies.Whether
tiveof the traditional value systems which they are or not those about which nothing is written have
to
supposed represent. The problem with the well-defined concepts of human rights we do not
particular of
configuration rights found in the know. Second, the articles that do exist tend to
UniversalDeclarationis thatsome of the rights focusonwhatisdistinctive abouttheconceptinthe
maynot be compatiblewiththe diversevalue country or religion in question.So theresultmay
systems of the world. Consequently, the promul- be to afford insight intothedistinctive features of
gation of the Universal Declaration appears to the concept rather than to provide any indication
manycountries as theimposition ofan alienvalue aboutwhataspectsmightbe consistent withthe
system: "Thus, to the extent these kinds of rights values embodied in the international documents.
are concerned,we have the scenarioof one The pointis that the emphasisis on what is
particular culture,or one particular ideology,or distinctive rather thanwhatis common.Third,we
one particularpoliticalsystemclaiming to be cannot whether
tell ornottorelyonthecharacter-
imposedupon the entire world ... . It is self- izations provided.Analysts, evenwhenspeaking
defeating forthehuman-rights movement to take of the same culture, sometimes give radically
thelatterapproachandsay,forceprivate property different interpretations to theconceptandoften-
upon the Soviet Union or China, or abolish timesformulate conclusions on thebasisof mis-
in
arrangedmarriages India, or force general leading evidence. Discussions of humanrights in
elections in SaudiArabia,and then- and hereis China,forexample,tendto focuson whatrights
the greatestdangerof all - retirein the smug Chineseofficials havegranted rather thanonwhat
delusionthathavingdonethat,justicehasthereby thetraditional valuesare. Fourth,no systematic
beenachievedfortheindividual" (Sinha1978:144, comparative analysesof humanrightshave ever
159). beenundertaken.
Sinhaattacksthe singlecatalogueapproach In the processof evaluatingnon-Western
because it does not take into account cultural perspectives, one is struckby thelack of appro-
variability. He advocatesan approach which is priatedocumentation. Whatthereisisgenerally not

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352 Alison Dundes Renteln

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Baxi,U.
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358 Alison Dundes Renteln

(Western) 6. The Realityof CulturalDiversity

Claude, R. P. Sinceitis notpossibleto concludethatall cultures


1977 The WesternTraditionof Human Rightsin Compara- do sharethesameconceptofhumanrights
tive Perspective. Comparative JuridicalReview 14:
on the
4-66. basisof evidencecurrently available,thismeans
that culturaldifferences may raise significant
Cranston,M . The presumption ofuniversality
1973 What Are Human Rights?(2nd ed.) London: Bodley problems. begins
Head. to totterwhenit confronts divergent interpreta-
tionsofhumanitarian standards.
Raphael, D. D.
1966 The Liberal Western Tradition of Human Rights.
InternationalSocial Science Journal18: 22-30.
1967 Human Rights.Old and New. In: D. D. Raphael (ed.), a) The Case of Female Circumcision
PoliticalTheoryand the Rightsof Man; pp. 101-118.
Bloomington:Indiana UniversityPress. Thereare twotypesoffemalecircumcision. F. P.
Hosken, one of the leadingopponentsof the
(Regional) practice, offers thetypology:
1. SunnaCircumcision: removalof the prepuce
Hannum,H. and/or
1984 Guide to InternationalHuman RightsPractice. Phila- tipoftheclitoris.
delphia: Universityof PennsylvaniaPress.
2. Excisionor Clitoridectomy: excisionof the
entireclitoris withthelabia minoraand someor
(Attempted
Comparisons) mostoftheexternal genitalia.
3. ExcisionandInfibulation (Pharaonic Circumci-
Bozeman, A. B. sion): This means excision of the entire clitoris,
1971 The Futureof Law in a Multicultural
World. Princeton: labia minora,and partsofthelabia majora.The
PrincetonUniversityPress. twosidesofthevulvaarethenfastened in
together
Donnelly,J. somewayeitherbythethorns... or sewingwith
1982 Human Rights and Human Dignity: An Analytic catgut.Alternatively thevulvaarescrapedrawand
Critique of Non-Western Conceptions of Human thechild'slimbsaretiedtogether forseveralweeks
Rights. American Political Science Review 76: untilthewoundheals(orshedies).Thepurposeis
303-316.
1985 The Conceptof Human Rights.New York: St. Martin's toclosethevaginalorifice. Onlya smallopeningis
Press. left(usuallybyinserting a slither[sic]ofwood)so
the urineor laterthe menstrual blood can be
Khushalani,Y.
1983 Human Rightsin Asia and Africa.Human RightsLaw passed (Hosken 1976:30; see also Huelsman
Journal4: 403-442. 1976).
Womenwholiveinsocietieswherethepractice of
Okere, B. O.
1984 The Protectionof Human Rights in Africa and the circumcision continuesmust undergosurgery
AfricanCharter on Human and Peoples' Rights: A throughout life.Womenwhoareinfibulated have
ComparativeAnalysiswiththeEuropean and American to be openedto permitintercourse and to be cut
Systems.Human RightsQuarterly6: 141-159. open further for the deliveryof a child(Daly
Pollis, A., and P. Schwab 1978:157). Sometimes womenare sewnup again
1979 Human Rights: A Western Constructwith Limited afterdeliverydependingon the wishesof their
Applicability.In: A. Pollis and P. Schwab (eds.), husbands.
Human Rights:Culturaland Ideological Perspectives;
Female genitalmutilation occursin certain
pp. 1-18. New York: Praeger.
tribesinthefollowing countries: Kenya,Tanzania,
Sinha, S. P.
1978 Human RightsPhilosophically.Indian JournalofInter-
Ethiopia,southern Egypt,Sudan,Uganda,north-
nationalLaw 18: 139-159.
ern Zaïre, Chad, northern Cameroun,Nigeria,
Dahomey,Togo, northern Ghana,UpperVolta,
Tomuschat,C. Mali,northern IvoryCoast,Liberia,SierraLeone,
1981 Is Universality
ofHuman RightsStandardsan Outdated
and Utopian Concept? In: R. Bieber und D. Nickel Guinea,GuineaBissau,theGambia,Senegal,and
(Hrsg.), Das Europa derzweitenGeneration:Gedächt-
Mauritania(Hosken1976:22). Excisionin small
nisschriftfürChristophSasse; vol. 2: 585-609. Strass- girlsstilltakesplaceinYemen,SaudiArabia,Iraq,
burg:Engel Verlag, Kehl am Rhein. Jordan, andSyria.Theoperation isalsoperformed
in Europe when membersof tribesemigrate
(Anonymous 1984a).It is difficultto pinpoint the
precisenumberof girlswhoundergothesurgery
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TheConceptofHumanRights 359

because the operationis usuallyperformed in child,(2) theright to sexualandcorporealidenti-


secret.The Minority RightsGroupreportstates: ty,and (3) therightto health.Her conclusion is
"Thetotalnumber ofwomenaffected isinanycase that:"Although theright to healthargument may
unknown, butwithout anydoubtinvolvesseveral notbringimmediate results, itis likelytohavethe
tensofmillions ofwomen"(McLeanandGraham mostsuccessbecauseitconsiders thepractice from
1983:3). A morescholarly articlecitesfigures of theperspective oftheAfricans. . . [it]integrates
between thirty andseventy-four million womenas theissuesofphysical, mental, andsexualhealthas
beingcurrently circumcised in at least twenty well as child development" (1985: 176-177).
African countries (Boulware-Miller 1985:156). Unfortunately, thehealthargument is subject
There are variousjustifications offeredfor to at leasttwotelling criticisms. First,thepeoples
femalecircumcision. The mainone is thepreser- whosewayoflifeiscriticized, whether onhealthor
vationofthemoralpurity ofwomen.The opera- moralgrounds, maynotsee a difference between
tionsupposedly insuresthe fidelity of wives.In the twotypesof argument. That is, even if the
1938Dr. AllanWorsley analyzedthereasonsgiven argument based on healthis on its face more
forthepractice:"Although itis oftendenied,the sensitiveto culturaldifferences, thosepracticing
of
preservation virginity lies at the root of this the custom maysuspect that the real argument is
custom"(Worsley 1938:686-691).Dalynotesthat thatWesterners object to it on moral grounds.
"A basicbeliefthatjustifies all,erasingallrespon- Moreover,the argument is renderedeven less
is of coursethattheseriteskeep women effective
sibility bythefactthatoperations ofthistypeare
faithful"(Daly 1978: It
160). complicates theissue now carried out in hospitals under thoroughly
furtherthattheoperation isperformed bywomen, antiseptic conditions.
whichmightmake it appear thatmen bear no The factthatmanywomenin the society
for
responsibility perpetuating the practice. In perpetuate the customis one whichmustbe
fact,bothmenandwomeninsurethecontinuationsquarelyfaced.The presumption of universality
ofthepractice. cannotalterthereality thatthepractice isaccepted
In thepast,international organizations have as moralbymembers oftheculture.
beenunwilling to getinvolvedbecauseofprofess-
edrespect forthecultural traditions ofothers.And
perhapstheirreluctance reasonable,sincethe b) The Case of Child Labor
is
customis acceptedas moraland legitimate in the
societiesin whichit occurs.Those who do not The spectreofrelativism also rearsitsheadinthe
the
undergo surgery are ostracized. Apparently, case of childlabor. Todayanywhere from 52to 150
no one will marryuncircumcised girls. In one million children (underage 15) work throughout
study, conducted bymeansofa detailedquestion- theworld.The conditions are oftenexploitative
naireadministered to3210femalesand1545males and unhealthy. As a consequence,manyin the
intheSudan,itwas shownthattheratioofthose international community havefocussed theirener-
whofavored continuing thepracticeto thosewho giestowardsthecompleteeradication ofall forms
didnotwas5 to 1 forwomenand7 to 1 formen, ofchildlabor.Thisgoalofabolitionis justified in
thoughthemajority was againstthemostsevere absolutist terms:"a necessaryevil" (Dogramaci
Pharaonic type(El Dareer1983). 1985:11; Mendelievich [ed.] 1979:55; Blanchard
Thereis a tendency amongcurrent to
writers 1983:23; Rodgers Standing and [ed.]1981:v; Bou-
speak of female circumcision not as morally dhiba 1982: 11), "an affront to our conscience"
abhorrent or acceptablebut rather in terms of the (Blanchard 1983: 6), "a scourge"(Valcarenghi
healthproblemsthat it causes. Warningthat 1981: 12, 23), "unnatural"(Mendelievich[ed.]
femalecircumcision maywellbe hazardousto the 1979:48), "tragic"(Dogramaci1985:10), and "a
healthof younggirlsinitially seemsto avoidthe moralindictment on oursociety"(Chan1980:78).
of
pitfalls the moral dilemma. For this reason this is Francis Blanchard, the Director-General of the
increasinglythe sort ofposition that international International Labor Organization, has said that
organizations such as WHO and UNICEF are the goal ofthe international community should be
taking.Perhaps the best discussion of female "... ultimately, the elimination of child labor"
circumcision alongtheselines,withintheframe- (1983:6), whichisjustified onthebasisof"univer-
work of humanrights,is an articleby Kay sal values"(1983:20). In its1984reporton child
Boulware-Miller (1985). Here she discussesthree labor,theAnti-Slavery SocietyfortheProtection
majorhumanrights arguments challenging female of Human Rightsacknowledged theWestern bias
circumcision as (1) a violationoftherights of the in international legislation but,nonetheless, con-

83.1988
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360 AlisonDundesRenteln

eludedthat UNICEF shouldmake "a specific presumethatall moralcodescontainthesameor


commitment to theeradication ofchildlabourin similarvalues. Women's rightsand children's
allitsforms" (Anonymous 1984b: 46,57). Another rights areproblematic becausesocietiesdo notall
glaringexample of the universalist presumption is believe that these groupsdeservespecialstatus.
foundintheinternational editionofNewsweekin So, to asserttheexistenceof universal standards
itsspecialreport entitled "All WorkandNo Play- forthemis ethnocentric. Therecognition ofmoral
The World'sYoungestLaborersSacrificetheir diversity calls intoquestionthe presumption of
Childhoodin Days of Endless Toil" (Smolowe universality andleaveshumanrights vulnerable to
etal. 1983;emphasisadded). The languageand theapparentdangersofrelativism.
melodramatic tone reflectthe deeplyingrained
Westernwayof thinking aboutchildhood.They
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