A New Understanding of the Universality of Human Rights

  • Štěpánka Zemanová
Keywords: International human rights protection, universality of human rights, cultural relativism, political and legal instruments of human rights protection


For more than a half a century the world community has been developing a universal human rights standard. At the same time there has been a strong tendency towards relativism, and hence regionalism, in the field of human rights. There is a degree of tension between regionalism and the struggle to find a common human rights standard but, thanks to several changes in the concept of universality over the last 15 years, this tension can now abate. This article focuses on the essence of these changes, with special emphasis on the new elements, which may reduce the tension between universalism and relativism. It progresses in two steps. First, it analyses the universality of human rights from a historical perspective. It identifies the basic arguments of the adherents and adversaries of universal human rights between the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the end of 1980s. Second, it turns to the new elements in understanding the universality of human rights that have been emerging since the 1990s. It draws particular attention to the new points of contact that help bring the struggle for universality and relativist tendencies closer together.

Author Biography

Štěpánka Zemanová