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Role of Culture, Tradition, Religion

Info: 2842 words (11 pages) Law Essay
Published: 7th Jan 2021

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Jurisdiction(s): International Law


The dilemma which arises in the concept of the role of culture, tradition, religion in universality of human rights have been a major concern right from day one, as the meaning of universality of human rights and the principles on religion, culture, and tradition are said to be intertwined. A group of nations claimed that the universal human rights should either be redefined or re-structured as many countries such as China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and others claim that the universality of human rights and the influences by the west have interfered with their internal affaires.

The United Nation adopted the Deceleration of Human Rights (UDHR) on the 10 December 1984 by consensus.

Article 1 of the UDHR stated that all human beings are born free equal in dignity and rights they are endured in reasons and concern and should act with one another in sprit of brotherhood.

The human rights came into force after the atrocities that had happen during and after the World War 2 by the united nations in 1945 which was to referred to as ‘Natural law” and the declaration came into force in 1948.

The path which was taken in relation to the evaluation of the role of culture/tradition/religion in universal human rights are the universal deceleration of human rights, the cultural relativism, the western influences as to the positive and negative rights of individuals (human rights) if they are actually universally acknowledged. The recognition of human rights as being universal, finally the morality and the legal rights of the individuals under the human rights.

The united nation’s ideology behind the body (human rights) as to universal theory is to ensure that the convention must be applied uniformly across the world. Before going into detailed analysis, as to how culture, tradition, and religion plays an important role in the universal human right, one might asked the question is the human rights it self actually universally applied?


Thus it is important to note the following points when referring to the term ‘’Culture” surrounded by or when applying them to the universal human rights, it is also imperative to state that not all stated above can play a role (major) within the universal human rights meaning every country, have the ways in which the human rights is said to be implied i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, China and even the US and the UK. The ways, in which the rights said to be applied, can be either based on the individual’s political views, the tradition, religious rights or cultural rules.

Therefore such rights can either is within the national law or jurisdiction of the country or based on their religious views i.e. culture and religion, as to where the individual’s right comes before the national law. The inspiration is that indeed human rights is said to be recognized but yet it is applied differently as the understanding of the HR have been cast in different ways but yet related ways for example the absolute rights which are said to be universal.

Even though one can say that universality of human rights are said to driven by reference to the articles as to rights to equality, protection of the individual’s rights, physical and security, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and association article 4.

For instance Islamic law known as shari’a law especially in the Islamic countries with Islamic faith have taken a position by setting aside the universality of human rights, Islamic rights are said to be applied within their constitutional system it can be seen as a violation of human rights by others countries. According to the Islamic law (Shari’a) is based on the preaching and the teaching of Islam which has to be obligatory upon every Muslims and not a violation of human rights, this is distinctive circumstances of which religion overrides’ the human rights universally. Though international human rights put forward the idea that there is an international paradigm that must be applied uniformly.

The term Cultural Relativism relates to Culture, ‘culture’ itself relates to the indigenous tradition and customary practices that include political and religious views, ideologies and institutional structures. There had been counter-arguments on cultural relativism that human rights may be desirable but not essential uniformly applied based on the individuals political rights as they vary across the world, and others can be according to their countries economic and social variations and societies.

‘Cultural relativism’ often have this approach of which some political ruling elite in a country or state protect a particular interest where the general population are unable freely to protect their views, under the universal human rights this can be seen as a weakness where some individuals under the nation’s culture cannot express their views and that can be against the rights to freedom of expression article 19 the rights of individuals are not sometimes universally respected as culture plays its role.

Under the universality of human rights, ‘tradition and religion’ are normally creative rights although the religion itself is based upon faith; In United Kingdom and the US are practically influenced by the west considering culture is not static yet its normative values are forever evolving. It can be argued that the universal human rights are collective rights, which their aims are to protect group of people or a complete society.

However in Africa for example is different because within the modern civilization and the influences by the west, the rights of the individual are rather according to the positive human rights as its universally recognized, even ‘Cuba’ under the Cuban law also limits the recognition of human rights such as freedom of expression. In Africa (Nigeria) there are still some villages and states that still exercise and put their culture before the national law. With morality, looking at religion within the concept of universality of human rights, the Bible says ‘’that shall not kill’ within the context of human rights it’s also recognized as ‘right to life liberty and security of person’ article 3 of the UDHR, therefore it can be said that religion is also an ingredient to the human rights.

According to some religions, tradition or culture, is part of the law of their lands which is exercised as an I for an I, a life for a life where if someone kills your child you will have the rights to also kill their child (Albania) or death penalties in china and America, but in some countries such as UK death penalties is not recognized therefore one can pinpoint that religion also plays a role in the universality of human rights even though it has been criticized.

The Islamic law commonly known as ‘Shari’a law’ adopted a universal system of law and ethics purport to regulates every aspect of public and private lives of individuals, The purpose of shari’a law is to examine the ways in which Muslims practice and behave as it is derived from the moral and religious authority, It is also said that the morality are mostly imposed by legal machinery reasons because the legal terms are rather imposed based upon the jurisdiction of the land.

Shari’s law, and its influences are being implemented within shari’a countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, and Nigeria, in Nigeria after the implementation which came into force 10 years ago, there had been conflict of religion and national law where the country had been less than willing to sort the problems within Islamic law despite the fact that some state such as Zamfara State is the first to actually instigate shari’a law and set aside the national law especially human rights..

Zamfara state which is predominantly Muslims inhabitants state and practice shari’a law the state and Nigeria as a whole is undergoing an Islamic resurgence where more and more Muslims are demanding their rights and privileges in education, public matters as well as the human rights. The whole concept of shari’a law is to punish for wrongdoing. Its can argued that religion can sometimes can be seen as obligatory, but with regards to the UDHR it seen that third world countries are not obliged to accept the human rights or apply them as direct as its stated by the UN based on their economic background, traditions, or religious beliefs and culture where for example in Saudi Arabia women are not permitted to unveil themselves or go on the public transport together with the opposite sex. In Nigeria in some states they have also adopted the same Islamic law based on the religious believes that amputation of hands when one commits theft is not against the individual’s HR but in other countries such as UK and US which rather recognize the universality of human rights will see that vindictive as the rights of that individuals is abused.

The most recent incident that happened in some states in Nigeria where human rights conflict with the religion as to Islamic law is a case of a woman who was alleged to have committed adultery and was sentenced to face a death penalty (stoned to death), the crime alleged took place in zamfara state, the verdict was passed against her on the basis that shari’a law forbids adultery and anyone who is found or committed adultery will have to face the death penalty as she should be stoned to death what about her rights as to person and rights to life. The human rights states that the interpretation of the law needs to be progressive so that women’s rights are not dined.

Other punishments such as amputation of hands when one commits theft and forty lashes when one consume alcohol had all been implemented and applied with the Islamic law in some states in Nigeria and more criminal and civil punishments are yet to be implemented.

The supreme court council for shari’a law a non- governmental group set up and launched a champagne to stop ratification of several rights of conventions of the UN on the grounds that they are all contrary to Muslim values but the UN have passed on a legislation on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) which has been ratified by 168 countries, including every industrialized nation except the US.

In Nigeria in some states only women had been charged with adultery, they have used Islamic law for family matters, such as marriage and family laws, but it was only in 2000 as decades of military ruling yielded to civilian regime that the state began introducing religious panel codes.

Adultery in the western views is not a crime but in Christianity and especially Islamic faith it is recognized as the most serious offence within the Islamic faith, it usually carries a high standard of proof and in the absence of confession which may be retracted until the time of execution as to where four reliable witness have to come before the law and testify that indeed they witness the crime at the time of penetration of a woman, under the universal human right can be a violation of human right if one is prosecuted on that basis so how far can one believe that the human right are applied universally or the religion as to ways of correction does play a role in the universality of human rights.

Shari’a law in some part of Nigeria had become sovereign where the teachings and the practices of the religion had been a major factor and conflict with the national law where the faith, culture and traditional background of the states comes first, individuals especially in the northern region claim that the adoption or introduction of the western influences will bring nothing but bad example to their children but rather practice the religion and culture as the way of life.

Hisba and Boko Haram is a group of Islamic activist who had refused to recognize the universal human right in the northern region of the country, hisba have been created by the Islamic shari’a court they are employed to act as a watch dog or even some times take the law in their hands as that sometimes amount to the violation of the human rights an non recognitions of the national law, individuals don’t have the opportunity for trails before prosecution. In the recent decision in the case of Safiay Husani and Bariya Ibrahim Magazu where report of violence and discrimination against women rise the issue here is Islamic shari’a law acting in the ways of faith or violation of their rights so how far does the human rights universally applied that’s for once conscious to decide. Safiya Hussani whose case went to the supreme court of Nigeria at first instance the judge dismissed the testimony of the three policemen who claimed to have heard the confession and under shari’a law four witnesses are required in a case of this nature, the case was indeed a major one as it has conflict with the national law and violation of human rights article 3 right to life. A sokoto state Anthorney in the shari’a court stated that ‘’ it is the law of Allah by executing anybody that is convicted under Islamic law we are just complying with the laws of Allah so we don’t have anything to worry about and on the day of execution she will be buried to her whist or neck tight against a tree or a pillar and stoned to death that is purely based on Islamic jurisprudence. This might sound harsh as there had been controversy on this case by the UN where the federal minister for justice condemned the stoning verdict as harsh and cruel and asked to consider her human rights and that the stoning must not happen. The decision was quashed by the supreme court of Nigeria on the basis that it is the for national law to prosecute and that the evidence presented was insufficient to warrant a conviction.

Its has been an overlapping of Sharia law and national law which posses serious political and legal problems in countries with Muslim faith, where the legislative powers are legally based on the national law Islamic law Saudi Arabia with common interest one will agree but in Africa for example are yet to develop and considering the facts that they where not present at the time when the rights are drafted and that amount to article 12 and 27 of the human rights therefore their tradition, culture and religion is still a major factor, what should prevails the human rights or the rights which are said to be respected by the individuals and been practiced by their forefathers.

The fact was that the idea of universality of human rights had been a major confusion that is why the united nation have employ some philosophers to try and give a direct meaning of the word universality. But they had to look into religions such Hindu, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism and other cultural backgrounds to try and express the term universality of human rights, Taking back to the example as mentioned above in the bible ‘’that shall not kill”with reference to that it seem the ideology of human rights as to right to life even though one of the basic aims of the United Nation’s is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinctive as to race, sex, language or religion

Therefore in an essence it is easy to see that indeed culture, religion and tradition plays a major role in the universality of human rights considering the lacuna as to when culture, tradition and religion are practiced even way before the UDHR was implimented.



Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national of ethic, religion and linguistic minorities (1992)

Convention Against Torture and others Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishments (1987)

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrmination Against women 1981 (CEDWA)

The Universal Convention of Human Rights UDHR African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples Rights adopted in june 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev.5,21.ILL 58(1982), entered into force Oct.21, 1986


International Human Rights in Context Law Politics Morals Second Edition by Heney J. Steiner and Philip Alston

Black Stones Guide International Human Rights Documents 1st Edition P.R. Ghandhi

Black stones Guides to The Human Rights Act 1998 Fourth Edition

Culture and Customs of Nigeria By Toyin Folola




http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/z1afchar.htm accessed 20/02/10



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