There are differing opinions regarding human rights. Universalists believe that human rights apply to everyone because they are human (“Are Rights Universal?” 3). Cultural Relativists uphold the belief that human rights are meant to reflect cultural values (Basnet and Albalooshi). Human rights must reflect an attachment to communities as in part evidenced by British colonialism of Africa and the superposition of Western ideas upon African values.
Like many areas of the world, Africa was once under colonial rule. During this period, West Africa was under British control within which “political and legal systems of the colonial masters were superimposed upon the traditional and customary political and legal processes of African peoples” (Cobbah 315). This also resulted in the imposition of English common law as the authoritative source from which African peoples received due process of their rights. The end of British colonialism saw their inheritance of liberal states that still bore “all the paraphernalia of western individual rights and constitutional law” (Cobbah 316).

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This suggests that the rights they exercised were of Western influence and may not accurately reflect what they believed culturally, and not necessarily the ones they would have wanted for themselves. This is a small example how a universal set of human rights may not be feasible, for perhaps the best way to understand human dignity and behavior is understanding them through an individual and cultural lens.

  • “ARE RIGHTS UNIVERSAL? Theories of International Human Rights: Universalism, Relativism, and the Dangers of Cultural Imperialism.” (n.d.): 1-20. Web.
  • Basnet, Dr Gyan, and Mansoor Hassan Albalooshi. “Human Rights Debate: Universalism Versus Relativism – OpEd.” Eurasia Review. N.p., 2012. Web. 5 June 2016.
  • Cobbah, Josiah A. M. “African Values and the Human Rights Debate: An African Perspective.” Human Rights Quarterly 9.3 (1987): 309. JSTOR. Web. 5 June 2016.