Avatar for kei 17 апреля 2006

How is the concept of group human rights different from the concept of individual human rights? Think of an example where the two concepts are in conflict and make an argument about which concept should prevail in that case.

Group human rights vs. individual human rights

The Western liberal conception considers the human rights essential and universal [Universal Declaration of Human Rights]. The first to bring about the human rights were post-war human rights movements, and since then the liberal approach strengthens and finds more support throughout the world. In 1990's has emerged the question of rights of minorities; however its solution is linked to another problem – the problem of correlation between individual and group rights. In this essay we will attempt to analyze the contradictory cases that reveal the problem.

It is axiomatic that collective rights protect a particular group of people while the individual rights protect a single person apart from the group. The Human Rights movement and the globalization process have led to the acknowledgment of rights of the minorities i.e. national, religious, sexual etc. The multicultural principle as one of the main premises of liberalism gives the minorities an unalienable right to conform to the rules and regulations of its own unique culture. The most widely-accepted legally-binding provision on minorities is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 27. It clearly confirms that persons belonging to minorities have a right to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity or a combination thereof, and to preserve the characteristic which they wish to maintain or to develop [ICCPR, Article 27] Thus, multi-cultural and multi-national societies always have some cultural or religious or whatsoever minorities that stand for preservation of their particular cultural identity and for admitting their special place in the society. However, as it is often the case, complying with the rights of a certain entity eo ipso contradicts to complying with the right of an individual as a member of that particular unity. This happens in any multicultural society, would it be Russian or American or European.

Concerning the rights of the minorities, there is a certain legal pluralism upon how to regard them in the states. In most cases, the governments try to take into account the rights of the minorities and to allow them to adhere to their customary law. However, in the terms of human rights the problem is that members of a minority can have a fewer range of freedoms than non-members due to the fact that the common laws and the customary laws are often overlapped. Moreover, it's difficult to opt out from certain minority groups – members are locked within their social frameworks. Since customary law is not recognised as a formal source of law, following the customary rules can be a breach of human rights as well as of a state law. The conflict between human rights and customary law is most evident in the area of discrimination. For instance, we see no women leaders among the Moslem communities in Russia as long as, according to Islam, woman’s prerogative is not to go beyond her household duties. By this token women in some Moslem communities are obliged to wear the veil. This can be considered a sheer example of discrimination against women which “violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of the society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of women in the service of their countries and their humanity”. [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Preamble]

Hence, a girl grown up in the Islamic community – for instance, in France – as a member of a particular minority will keep her unique culture and have her right to religious freedom on the one hand, but on the other hand, if she decides to take her veil off and become, say, a President of France, she would be bound by her own community as long as her aspirations deviate from this community’s conception of a woman.

Another example is the Mormon case in Utah. Since the Mormon communities are admitted as a religious and cultural particular minority, the community can withdraw a kid from school to keep it live in the commune and the government turns the blind eye to it. http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/09/12/polygamists.schools.ap/

Nevertheless, depriving a child of education would be a violation of his/her human rights. As long as the USA have ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government is obliged to ensure that all individuals under their jurisdictions enjoy their rights. «In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language». [General Comment of the Human Rights Committee 18 (37)]

Thus, the kid’s right to education and free self-determination has conflicted with the customary fosterage and the traditional Mormon approach to the children upbringing. In our opinion, the individual human rights of that child should have prevailed over the rights of the minority group but the problem – how to determine what would be more preferable for that child – still remains an open question.

To sum up, we would state that there is a need to balance group rights with individual rights. It is important to recognize that customary law may be applied indirectly, regardless of whether there is any express authorization to apply it. We think, it is apparent from the aforenamed cases that the values encapsulated in international human rights are often diametrically opposed to customary values in the particular communities, including the ones liable to group human rights. The failure of constitutions to address this conflict efficiently is perhaps due to the fact that these laws were premised on the liberal assumption that international human rights norms are universal. After all, it's up to the person whether to accept the minority's customary values or to prefer the alleged “universal” liberal approach to human rights.


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27. Available at http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html
Stacy, Helen. IDL 105 Lecture 16. «The United Nations, Human Rights, and the Reconciliation of Conflict Ridden Societies» Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA.
Stacy, Helen. “Western Triumphalism: The Crisis of Human Rights in the Global Era” Macquarie University Law Review Vol 2, 193 (2002)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Availiable at http://www.hrweb.org/legal/udhr.html

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