Table of Contents
Cultural Relativism versus International Human Rights
Albinism: The persecution of Albinism
The Argument for Cultural Relativism and Tolerance
The limits of tolerance
There are several possible solutions
“We need to respect other cultures’ different values, including if it means they reject the human rights.”
In the opening section of this article, I will examine the long-running dispute between cultural relativism and universality of human right by examining the treatment of albinos in United Republic of Tanzania. Then, I will describe how the Tanzanian Government attempted to resolve this dilemma between human rights and cultural relativism in the above case. I will then analyze the cultural relativist approach to non-derogable, human rights in particular, such as the right to life. I will conclude that it is absurd to use cultural differences as a reason for violating human rights. This justification must be rejected. I will conclude by saying that the international human-rights system must make sure that countries take strong measures to protect those most vulnerable, and that those responsible for abuses tied to cultural beliefs are prosecuted. Albino persecution is a prime example of this. A second role of the international system is to suggest a moral guideline to be followed by all societies. It could include the protection of people with disabilities from being beaten, expelled from the society, tortured and murdered, for example. These new ideas can change attitudes within societies, if and when they are accepted and ingrained in the cultures.
Cultural Relativism, International Human Rights, and the Past Three DecadesRelativism, which is a collection of different disciplines, has been at the forefront of establishing various theories, moral judgements, and ideologies over the past three decades. Cultural relativism has been derived from a wide range of disciplines.
Radical universalism is one extreme of cultural relativism, while radical cultural relativism is the other. Radical culture relativism says that a right only exists when it is actively perceived by the culture. Radical universalism holds that the culture is irrelevant to a right’s legitimacy. Other views exist between these seemingly opposite viewpoints. Strong cultural relativism accepts only a few rights internationally, but allows major variations. Weak cultural relativism accepts many universally applicable human right. They claim that cultural relativity cannot prevail over absolute rights like the right to live and freedom from torture.
I accept that there are some differences in culture. The reservations that we submit in the case where they are made to articles of conventions should be such that they do not alter the intention and purpose. When I say variations, what I really mean is differences. Not violations. Malta, for example, has made a request to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to allow universal education. This is because of fiscal restrictions and the fact that Malta’s majority population is Roman Catholic. Delivering education to a certain religious belief, and in particular to the rare minority in Malta, can be challenging. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) can tolerate reservations made by Malta, for example, because the majority of its population is Roman Catholic, and due to fiscal limitations, delivering education in line with a particular religious belief, particularly when it comes to rare minorities, will be difficult. The convention will be strengthened and its purposes furthered. This will also help to bring more parties into the treaty. Reservations made about core rights are unacceptable. They can cause violence and unrest. They can also lead to uprisings.
Aside from this, my position is not to ignore rights of second generation or those that are derogable. As I will show in the following case, I am fully aware that an infringement of one right may lead to another. For example, certain relativists accept culture as not being able to annul non derogable rights. However, they believe it can be used override some rights, like the right for physical integrity, to a free trial or the ban on discrimination.
The right to bodily health is a human right. It is important to be able to control your own body. This includes protection against medical experimentation, sterilization and other cruel or degrading punishments or treatments. Relativists may disregard the right for bodily integrity, believing that it violates what they consider to be derogable legal rights. But this can lead to the violation of a fundamental right as important as life itself. In a disturbing but related incident, albinos had their autonomy taken away by being decapitated to make money from their limbs. This resulted in many deaths.
Albinism Persecution is commonly called hunting of Albinos. As the word “hunting” implies that these people are prey or victims, I’ll refrain from using this dehumanizing term and instead call it the persecution of Albinos.
In order to understand the phenomenon of albinism and other paranormal phenomena, it is important to recognize that certain ancient ideologies were prevalent. As shown in the following examples, superstitions or witchcraft are a belief system that violates the fundamental human right of albinos.
Witchdoctors are the greatest threat to albinos, because they use superstitions and fear to instill fear into their followers. Witchdoctors infiltrate their followers’ minds and profit from the belief systems they have created. The claim is that the albino limbs and body organs are more potent. A senior Dar es Salaam police officer reported that a whole albino carcass, which included all four limbs plus genitals as well facial parts, was sold for $75,000 US. This staggering figure proves that dismembering albinos will continue as long as 12 million Tanzanians live in poverty. Albinos are deprived of the right to physical integrity and self-determination by selling their organs in exchange for money. This results in their death, violating their right.
As a result of the increase in HIV/AIDS cases in the African continent, many bizarre beliefs were developed. Most alarmingly, sexual contact with people who have albinism can cure sexually transmitted disease. Albino women are more likely to be affected by this than men. These diseases are transmitted to their children and husbands. In Tanzania, 33,000 people were killed by an AIDS-related disease in 2016. Albino women are not the majority of sex workers, but they are still affected by AIDS because their belief in the medicinal properties of their skin condition fuels this type of violence. AIDS may not kill these women instantly, but the limited availability of antiretroviral treatments will reduce their life expectancy. Albino women may not be stripped of their rights to life by the rape cultures associated with them, but the denial of years of life due to AIDS infection is a violation of this right. Forced sexual activity is still a bodily violation whether done directly or through indirect means.
Albinos are also persecuted based on their gender. Women who have albino children are more likely to be raped, and they are also shunned for bringing shame to their families. These women are accused of adultery and infidelity, which leads to their divorce or abandonment. Albinism is stigmatized, and this burden forces single mothers to make difficult decisions, such as abandoning their children, aborting them, or even killing them. The practice is a clear manifestation of discrimination against women, based on their gender. In turn, discrimination against women can lead them to commit infanticide. This in turn leads to more serious violations, such as the violation of a child’s fundamental right to live.
The Tolerance Argument for Cultural RelativismThe name of this paper calls on tolerance and the respect of other cultures, even when they reject rights. My argument states that we should tolerate differences in cultures, but they shouldn’t be regarded. The argument of tolerance is a cultural relativist one.
Tolerance is the argument that we can be tolerant of others if we accept their differences. Relativism suggests that we are not able to impose morality onto different cultures. Tolerance is a result of not doing this. By accepting relativism we commit to a policy based on tolerance. I think the argument of toleration works so long as there are no direct violations of core rights. This is not always possible, however, because in some instances, the perceived minor violations can result in the violation of fundamental rights.
Tolerance and respect are not interchangeable. Tolerance can be defined as “the willingness or ability to tolerate views or behaviors one does not agree with or dislike”. Respect is “a deep feeling of admiration or admiration for something or someone elicited through their qualities, abilities or achievements”.
To confirm my position, imagine you are from a country that has a strong belief in witchcraft. As a human, I would have to accept your belief even if it seemed absurd. It does not mean I respect or admire your belief or you. Respect is often demanded and expected from those who hold a particular belief. I accept cultural differences but I cannot respect them or admire them. This would be a violation of other human right. Tolerance has limits in this context. In this sense, even tolerance has limits.
The Limits of TolerationRelativists believe that matters which are morally acceptable to certain cultures do not necessarily have to be morally correct for another. Tolerance does not mean that we can impose what we perceive as ‘right’ on other cultures. Relativism doesn’t guarantee tolerance. A relativist is not obligated in any way to be tolerant. For example, if an entire culture rejects the concept of tolerance, its members have no duty to be tolerant. I can’t guarantee that if I decide to impose my morality on other cultures or refrain from doing so, the people of those other cultures will accept my beliefs. Tolerance is a virtue for me, but I do not tolerate differences that cause harm. This argument follows when Tilley builds his premises on the albinos case:
If relativism is true, you cannot impose your morality to other cultures. You can’t say that the persecution and exclusion of albinos are immoral.
It is important to refrain from the idea that albinos are treated unfairly in comparison with others.
Tolerance is shown by refusing to impose morality upon others, or in contrast, by allowing albinos to be persecuted.
In the end, relativism forces us to accept other cultures and tolerating albinos.
The premises above confirm that it is impossible to be both tolerant and fulfill human rights obligations. This is true in particular if victims are victimized by crimes committed out of cultural prejudice. The rights of victims can be interpreted culturally, threatened, and subjected as a result to moral absolutism.
If the cultural interpretations of right and wrong are used to categorize actions, then it can be inferred that there is no universal morality, which would allow actions to be judged. Tolerance, therefore, prevents relativists to disapprove of atrocious acts as this would be intolerance. It is discriminatory to condemn acts outside of one’s culture, even if they are based on reasonable reasons. What is being said here is that the practice of killing albinos in Sub-Saharan Africa is morally valid, just like the opposite.
Possible Solutions Attempting to influence culture will be vital as the law set forth by the Tanzanian Government has not been able to stop the albinos. Witchcraft Acts are remnants of colonial law, which shows that witchcraft’s effects have been present throughout history. Tanzania’s recent amendment of the Witchcraft Act, in 2009, reiterates the fact that witchcraft is punishable according to the laws. This shows the colonial-era law is no longer valid, and that even today’s government won’t tolerate it. Tanzania has implemented strong legislation, but the practice persists due to its deep-rooted cultural roots. The state does not violate the rights of the people, but the members of the community do. Therefore, engagement and intervention must be done on a culture level. In order to deal with the problem of witchcraft that existed in pre-colonial Africa, legal measures are inadequate. This is because perpetrators have continued to practice it, justifying the act through cultural reasons, all the while hoping not to be caught. Tanzanian authorities should therefore adopt a strategy that uses both legal and educative means.
I certainly do not say that despite all of these events, the international human-rights system hasn’t put in enough effort. The OHCHR, among other programs, has created the World Programme for Human Rights Education in order to solve such problems. The OHCHR has already established many programs including the World Programme for Human Rights Education to resolve such issues. Discussions on radio and television about the causes of albinos’ physical appearance will help educate society members on this genetic disorder. It is important that it not be treated as a discriminatory practice. This exposure can be used to reduce the hostility of society towards albinos. It will also help shift dehumanization from albinos. It is also important that albinos are educated about their disease. Constant resentment towards them from others can lead to self hatred and a desire to isolate themselves.
In the event that educational exposure is not effective, it may be necessary to consider aggressive measures. Second, I propose that sanctions be imposed until the governments make progress in dealing with abuse cases. The states have a duty to protect the rights of albinos even if they are not the ones directly violating them. The sanctions are widely criticised for their impact on the ordinary citizens of those countries. Sanctions can be useful in cases where human rights are being violated by individuals and not governments.
ConclusionConcluding, relativists’ claims threaten international human rights implementation. Murdock believes that cultures are “illusory abstract concepts.” While I agree that eradicating cultures is a viable solution to the debate over cultural relativism, I don’t think it would be the best option. I believe cultures should be anchored and positively influenced. If cultures and nations are exposed more to positive cultural norms and a stronger outlook, then the entire personality of a group will be changed. In many ways, this is an educational journey. It is a way of guiding people in different ways. If you use any other method, such as promoting education and guidance in order to raise standards, relativists may accuse you of colonialism. The fact that culture can be changed and, in many cases, is constantly changing is another important point. In order to avoid the spread of harmful and immoral practices, education about cultural mediocrity is necessary.