Human rights (HR) as agreed under Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are often projected as universal. However we live in a uniquely diverse world, with varied traditions, cultures and religions. Culture and religion play an integral role in human life, create a collective identity; upheld by states in the international arena alongside other states. So, when the question of universal rights comes into question, this creates an unsettling picture as some states are opposed to certain rights and others are not.
Pakistan has a variety of races and cultures living within it plus with different religions, but predominantly Islam. This diversity within a state at times creates problems making it harder for the state to maintain control and power. In this case states are less likely to adopt universal rights that challenge the prevalent norms in that region. For example, certain rulings of Pakistan Penal Law are against universal HR agenda, but it is practiced since the culture and religion demand. Capital punishment for instance is the only ruling in certain Hudood crimes which are the crimes against Allah, including apostasy and adultery. ‘Qisas’ is another category of such sentencing where Sharia permits capital punishment, for intentional or unintentional murder. Although many states have put moratorium on capital punishment but this is still in practice in Iran and Saudi Arabia because the religion demands. It is legal in Pakistan but was suspended in 2008, however in the wake of Peshawar terrorist attack in 2014, the government has lifted the moratorium. In fact we have seen popular demand by the masses to execute the prisoners convicted of terrorism. Reinstatement of Capital punishment and implementation of National Action Plan has resulted in decline of terrorism incidents in the country. Recent Human Rights Commission report 2015 records 31% decline in suicide attacks. Thus to reiterate the point, it is the culture and religion that define HR.
Constructivism, an IR theory defines world politics as socially constructed. It highlights the influence of culture including religious values on states and shows that no universal law can determine what a state can do. Moreover it reiterates that we need to understand others through Cultural relativism. Proponents of cultural relativism discard the idea that HR have played a role in third world countries. The HR violations of scheduled classes in India can be traced back to their culture. People are categorized as untouchables; wives are either burnt along their husbands after their death or are denied remarrying. These are all in practice despite being in violation of HR as they are sacred to Hindu’s. So cultural relativism helps understand why a state does things it does.
Pakistan’s access to GSP+ trade preferences by European Union is conditional to implementation of 27 international conventions, out of which 7 are HR conventions. The objections on capital punishment are the most vocal contrasting the law of the land. This scheme has significantly contributed to the revival of country’s economy thus should not be curtailed on basis of its HR records. The West which criticizes Islam for its harsh punishments made use of them during the Raymond Davis incident. He escaped death punishment by giving blood money to the family of murdered victim. This shows duplicity in their policy.
Huntington’s theory of ‘clash of civilizations’ also emphasizes the significance of culture including the religious values in the world. He argued that the identity of civilization will be increasingly important and the important conflicts in future will be along the cultural fault lines. Thus there is a need to acknowledge the different cultures prevalent in the world in order to avoid clash of civilizations. Different cultures should be represented at all forums with a pluralistic mindset. Moreover they need not be stereotyped and the diversity within them should also be acknowledged. Continued insistence by West for their version of HR will instigate retaliation as we witness the resurgence of cultural fundamentalism among the youth worldwide. They see this as an intrusion in their cultures, thus become militant guardians of their religion and culture. If this cultural aspect is not taken into account, nothing can stop the inevitable clash of civilizations.
Carried by: Pakistan Observer on April 14, 2016.
The writer is an intern at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.