Lesson 7 of 11

Universal Rights

From the Unit:

Learning Objectives

Students will analyze the articles of the UDHR and reflect on whether the natures of the rights laid out in those articles. 

Overview

What role does culture play in the way people think about rights and responsibilities?What is a universal right? The activities below will help students think critically about those questions through a discussion of criticism of the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights. Students will analyze the articles of the UDHR and reflect on whether the natures of the rights laid out in those articles. 

This lesson is part of Facing History and Ourselves' Universal Deceleration of Human Rights collection and part of a series of lessons about the declaration. Use this lesson at the end of a study of the UDHR to engage students in a conversation about the universality of human rights.

Context

In 1947, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote a "Statement on Human Rights" in response to the drafting of the UDHR. The statement asks, "How can the proposed Declaration be applicable to all human beings, and not be a statement of rights conceived only in terms of the values prevalent in countries of Western Europe and America?" The AAA questions whether any document can be universal, since individuals, it explains, cannot exist outside of their own culture; an individual could not have an identity separate from their cultural identity.   In this document, the AAA asks, in this case, whether the document can be universal if it reflects values of Western Europe and America? The UDHR is based on the belief that there is something basic and universal (across time, geography, language, and culture) that connects all human beings. Human Rights scholar Mary Ann Glendon explains:

[The idea of universality of human rights] is an idea that comes out of Western traditions, but even though that idea and the form and style can be said to be Western, it is impressive that in 1947 and 1948 representatives of Asian cultures, nine countries with predominantly Muslim populations, along with Latin America, Europe and the United States - all those representatives were able to sign on to those principles as universals.1

Citations

Materials

Activities

Are the Rights in the UDHR Universal? Always, Usually, Never?

Is there such a thing as a "universal" right or are all rights inherently culturally relative? Philosophers have long debated whether any rights are universal, across time, geography, language, and culture.

Read each of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider whether they are: "always," "usually," or "never" considered universal for all people. In small groups, cut a paper copy of the UDHR into strips with one article on each strip. Then, on chart paper, sketch large concentric circles and label them "always," "usually," "never". Read each article, clarify its meaning and discuss where that right belongs on the chart. At the end of the exercise, groups might debrief their choices and rationales and consider: Were there any rights that a group decided would "sometimes" or "never" be universal? What were the reasons for this? What do these decisions say about the universality of the UDHR?

Unit

Lesson 1 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Examining the Immediate Historical Context

Through a timeline activity, students learn how World War II and the Holocaust shaped the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lesson 2 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Universe of Obligation

To prepare for a deep study of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students explore the idea of the “the universe of obligation.”

Lesson 3 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

A Negotiated Document

By comparing multiple versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students gain insight into the motives of those who crafted it.

Lesson 4 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

What is a Right?

Through a close reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students analyze the rights and responsibilities the document lays out for people around the world.

Lesson 5 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Fulfilling the Dream

Students explore the challenges and logistics of enforcing the articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lesson 6 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Legacy, Judgment, and Memory

Students consider the legacies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the world today and discuss how they think its success should be measured.

Lesson 7 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Universal Rights

Students question whether the rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are truly universal, and how time, geography, language, and culture impact this.

Lesson 8 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Human Rights and Educating Global Citizens

Students question how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights impacts the way they see themselves as citizens of the global community.

Lesson 9 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Teaching Youth the Values of the UDHR

Students challenge their comprehension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by rewriting the document for a younger audience.

Lesson 10 of 11
Justice & Human Rights

Creating a Better World

Students devise a creative way to present their plan for pursuing the dream of universal human rights today.

Lesson 11 of 11
Holocaust

A World Made New: Human Rights After the Holocaust

Students explore the historical basis for the modern human rights movement by examining the codes of ancient societies.

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