Human Rights As a Western Concept

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Item Code: NAV975
Author: Raimundo Panikkar, Arvind Sharma
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 824604290
Pages: 103
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 140 gm
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Book Description
About the Book
Whether the discourse on Human Rights constitutes an authentically universal discourse, or merely Western discourse masquerading as such, is an issue which has persisted ever since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and shows no signs of letting up. This book presents an in-depth exploration of this issue in a novel format, by presenting a celebrated piece on this issue by Raimundo Panikkar, with a detailed response to it by Arvind Sharma, thereby laying bare several key dimensions of the debate which may otherwise escape notice.

About the Authors
Raimundo (now Raimon) Panikkar, who holds three doctorates, is the son of a Catalan mother and a Hindu Nair father. He has been a prominent advocate of interreligious dialogue throughout his distinguished life, in the course of which he taught at the Universities of Madrid and Rome in Europe and then at Harvard University (1967-1971) and the University of California-Santa Barbara (1971-78). He has published more than 40 books and 900 articles and currently lives in the mountain resort of Tavertet, near Barcelona.

Arvind Sharma, formerly of the I A.S is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has published extensively in the fields of Indology and Comparative Religion, and is currently engaged in promoting the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions.

THE question of the universality of human rights has two major dimensions to it. These are the theoretical and the political. The theoretical dimension was the first to emerge and was already an issue, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was in the process of being drafted.' It has also remained an issue since then right down to this day, not only in relation to the Declaration in general but also in relation to its particular provisions.2

The political dimension took more time to emerge but was clearly discernible at the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna in 1993. As Charles Norchi observed: "For the first time since the Universal Declaration was adopted in 1948, countries not thoroughly steeped in the Judeo-Christian and natural law traditions are in the first rank. That unprecedented situation will define the new international politics of human rights. It will also multiply the occasions for conflict."' It was not long before this prediction was fulfilled in a rather dramatic manner. The then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohammad Mahathir proclaimed in 1996 that "Asian values are universal values. European values are European values."4 The confrontation could not be more stark.

It is the political dimension which highlights the seriousness of the issue but the resolution of the issue is more likely to be promoted by a detailed and evenhanded discussion of the theoretical dimension of the issue. This book is designed to promote such a discussion.

THE famous declaration of human rights, adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, is known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The putative universality of human rights, however, became an issue as soon as it was adopted and has remained one ever since.

This book which you are about to read is one attempt to engage this multifaceted issue. It consists of two contributions. The first one is by Professor Raimundo (now Raimon) Panikkar. The second piece is a response to it by Arvind Sharma. The contribution of Professor R. Panikkar originally appeared as an article in the journal Diogenes, in the winter of 1982. A response to it was prepared by Arvind Sharma and shared with Professor Panikkar. Both agreed that this exchange might further the discussion of the vexed issue of the universality of human rights. Hence this book.

II The rest of this Introduction offers some general remarks on the issue of the universality of human rights, as a way of leading into the exchange. One may like to begin by recognizing that, in an earlier stage of its formulation by the Third Committee,' the declaration had been slated as an International Declaration of Human Rights.2 Mary Ann Glendon notes:

As soon as the committee wound up its review of the draft declaration, a subcommittee on style chaired by Cassin began to put everything into final form. At this stage a few changes were made in the sequence of articles, and the title was officially changed from "International Declaration of Human Rights" to the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". The new title had been in casual use for some time, but Cassin, who proposed the official change, rightly considered the name to be of utmost significance. The title "Universal", he later wrote, meant that the declaration was morally binding on everyone, and not only on the governments that voted for its adoption. The universal declaration, in other words, was not an "international" or "intergovernmental" document; it was addressed to all humanity and founded on a unified conception of the human being.'

Thus, the naming of the declaration as a universal rather than an international document was not a mere lexical accident but marked a conceptual shift. It was of course possible to use the word international in this context, but the word universal included and also transcended it. That the two could be used virtually interchangeably at times is attested to by the fact that, when Charles Malik introduced the Universal Declaration on 9 December, 1948 he could still state that the declaration rested on a "firm international basis wherein no regional philosophy or way of life was permitted to prevail."

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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