Issue 1 (15) 2012



M.Yu. Izhikov

Moscow State Law Academy
9, Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya st., Moscow, 123995
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article highlights cultural relativism as a legal phenomenon of modern international human rights law. Cultural relativism is considered as a theoretical concept challenging universality of international human rights, claiming human rights (including their list, content, admissible limitations and ways of implementation) to be dependent on particular historical, economic, cultural, religious and other conditions of a specific society. This concept is aimed at justification of States’ non-compliance with international obligations regarding human rights protection. The author analyzes various arguments of cultural relativism proponents and distinguishes two forms of cultural relativism: 1) narrative and 2) robust. Both seem to undermine universal system of human rights. Relativists’ views are partially revealed in 1993 Bangkok Declaration, which sets forth a bunch of so-called «Asian values», opposed to European concept of individual rights and freedoms. China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and other eastern countries support this approach. Afterwards the author proceeds to analyzing arguments of scientists, who uphold universal nature of human rights. They state that human rights are of the same character all over the world, because human beings have the same nature and needs despite of country or culture they are related to. Human dignity and need for good life appear to be a universal basis of human rights. Various facts testify to universality of human rights. Modern human rights regime shows no signs of washing out, but proves to be strong and actually evolving. Those countries which support cultural relativism have nevertheless joined universal human rights agreements. The author attempts to classify cultural relativism through two criteria: level of establishing and object pursued. Hence, the author distinguishes international and domestic relativism, on the one hand, and destructive and constructive relativism, on the other hand. Destructive cultural relativism contradicts jus cogens norms, therefore is illegal irrespective of level of establishing. Constructive relativism seems to be a useful concept, as it does not reject universal human rights, but merely offers to take cultural factors into consideration when looking for better ways of human rights’ implementation in a particular society.

Keywords: international law; domestic law; human rights; problems of interplay; cultural relativism

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