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The relationship between human rights and cultural diversity has been much debated with a doctrinal divide among some of the most influential scholarly works into so-called relativists for whom culture is the key determinant of human rights policy and universalists for whom culture distorts the universal ideals of international human rights.
This book offers an innovative and original approach to the theoretical debate between universalists and relativists. The book proposes a different evidence-based approach as an alternative to the existing abstract theorization concerning cultural diversity and the universal respect for human rights. Michael Addo argues that the debate has ignored or marginalized the crucial factor of the legal character of modern human rights. He demonstrates how today a distinct legal standard of human rights exists, alongside the long-established political or philosophical perspectives and this legal approach, far more than the political, religious or philosophical approaches to human rights, recognizes the complementarity between modern human rights norms and cultural diversity. The inspiration for this approach to human rights and cultural diversity, referred to as the compatibility approach, is drawn from over half a century of practice in the international human rights institutions that are mandated to oversee national implementation of international human rights obligations. Particular attention is paid to the practice of the United Nations treaty bodies, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court and Commission of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights as well as the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The book shows how these institutions have developed standards and principles for reconciling cultural diversity with universal human rights ideals set out in international human rights law. The compatibility approach is an evolving one which continues to respond to the changing emphasis in national and international best practice. This means that the oversight institutions continue to explore interpretations that are sensitive to cultural diversity and practices that support the realization of human rights guarantees. The institutions are similarly firm in their rejection of harmful cultural practices. The central importance of the concept of harm in the determination of which cultural practices are compatible with the universal respect for human rights is explored.