Human Rights, Southern Voices, and ‘Traditional Values’ at the United Nations
44 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2014 Last revised: 6 Nov 2014
Date Written: May 28, 2014
The ‘traditional values’ resolutions, passed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2009, 2011, and 2012, were the result of a highly controversial initiative spearheaded by Russia aiming to identify a set of traditional values that underpin international human rights law. This paper considers several critical questions that arise from these Resolutions. Do these ‘traditional values’ indeed underpin human rights? Why are traditional values valuable from the point of view of adherents to that tradition? Should the larger society take into account the fact that a practice is based on tradition in deciding whether or not to override it in the name of human rights? Put more technically, in what does the normativity of tradition lie, for adherents and non-adherents of that tradition? These are the questions that this essay explores, in the context of the recent debates over the scope and meaning of human rights stimulated by the Human Rights Council Resolutions. Much of the support for the Resolutions comes from what can broadly be called the global South. In several books, particularly “Human Rights, Southern Voices”, and “General Jurisprudence: Understanding Law from a Global Perspective” William Twining has explored the question of how to reconcile human rights norms and belief systems embedded in the global South (including ‘traditional values’), and in doing so has drawn particular attention to intellectuals from that part of the world, in particular Francis Deng, Yash Ghai, Abdullahi An-Na’im, and Upendra Baxi. I suggest that those concerned to recognize the legitimate concerns that significant sections of the global South have about the human rights project, concerns reflected in the ‘traditional values’ Resolutions would do well to pay more attention to the ‘Southern voices’ on whom Twining rightly focuses attention.
Keywords: Traditional values, international human rights, Russia, Global South, Religion and human rights
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