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Practice of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Reconciliation of Cultural Diversity with Universal Respect for Human Rights

Harvard Human Rights Journal. August 2010;32(3):601-664.
Practice of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Reconciliation of Cultural Diversity with Universal Respect for Human Rights

Addo MK.

Abstract: The traditional scholarly narrative on the relationship between cultural diversity and universal respect for human rights suggests a tension which must, at best, be managed. There is, however, no consensus among scholars as to the best way to reconcile or manage this tension and so creating an intellectual gap between universalist and cultural relativist schools of thought which has come to inform important aspects of diplomatic practice. This article analyses an alternative approach to the management of this tension based on the practice of the United Nations human rights treaty bodies. The working methods of these supervisory bodies, especially the constructive dialogue on national periodic reports, suggest that they adopt a legal approach in which cultural diversity and universal respect for human rights complement and reinforce each other. At the same time, focusing on effective protection, the treaty bodies challenge specific cultural practices that they consider to be harmful or contrary to human rights guarantees. Although the treaty bodies’ approach to this subject is still evolving, it reveals interesting doctrinal lessons concerning the universality of human rights norms.

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