The Concept Cultural Relativism of Human Rights

21 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2022 Last revised: 28 Jun 2023

Date Written: November 9, 2022


The core idea behind human rights that government is limited by a need to respect minimum entitlements of individuals has a long history. Its root can be traced to natural law. The ancient concept of natural law concerns an evaluation of the validity of human law against some higher sources of authority, whether theological or secular, which is both eternal and universal. The natural law challenged the law of human rulers and demanded that human laws should conform to it and if not, the human law was deemed to be perverse. The Stoics propounded that by law of nature all men are equal and are created by a common creator with the ability to think and know what is right. Since all men are created equal, they should be treated the same no reason for distinction between them. The concept of universalism of human rights was based on the theory of natural law. It simply implied that human rights belonged to all human beings wherever they lived on earth. It should be enjoyed by all without any discrimination or qualification, and it should be the same everywhere on earth. However, on the other hand, the proponents of the concept of cultural relativism of human rights argued that human rights are not universal but specific and relative based on culture and the environment in question. They disagreed on the thought that generalized human rights were the same everywhere. The paper aimed at critical examination of the concept of cultural relativism. The objectives were to understand cultural relativism and its relationship with the concept of universalism and the challenges of cultural relativism. The paper adopted the doctrinal research approach whereby some primary sources were consulted which included the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, some decided cases among others. The paper found that even though those fundamental human rights are universal, it should be pointed out that there are some cultural issues that may not be universal based on experiences and environment. The paper recommended that application of human rights should be based on economic, socio-political, environmental and cultural dispositions. The paper concluded that imposition of ideological imperialism should be rejected rather than all should ensure that human rights are respected.

Keywords: Cultural, relativism, human rights

Suggested Citation

Igwenagu, Uchenna Rodney, The Concept Cultural Relativism of Human Rights (November 9, 2022). Available at SSRN:

Uchenna Rodney Igwenagu (Contact Author)


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