Reconciliation on the Cultural Dimensions of Human Rights
December 22,2017   By:Peter J. Peverelli

This paper builds on my contribution to the Fifth Cross-Cultural Seminar on Human Rights, Nankai University – Tianjin, December 2, 2016. There, I made a first attempt to adapt the 7-dimension model of national culture developed by Trompenaars for the business environment to human rights. Partly inspired by my lectures at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Sept. 2017, in this paper, I will take that one step further towards ways to reconcile diverse local practice with the monoculturally formulated UDHR.  The title of that official document contains the term ‘universal’, implying that it is valid in all corners of the world, regardless the differences between cultures and regional social practice. However, the basic values of nations can differ in various ways, leading to different behaviour in similar circumstances. Several such differences are so fundamental, that they are bound to lead to different appreciations of rights and obligations. This paper will use the 7-dimension model to show that any human right can materialize in various cultural appearances.

Culture often seems to be a topic of which everyone is a self-acclaimed expert, in particular people whose job involves commercial interaction with people from various nationalities. They have stories of ‘cultural differences’ as a source of interesting differences of opinion to serious conflicts. Many international business professionals are very keen to explain the salient features of the culture of Ecuadorians, Ugandans, Laotians, or whoever they regular deal with in the execution of their profession, and claim that their accumulated intercultural experience helps them avoid such conflicts, building strong intercultural relationships.

However, I often observe that the very same people can turn remarkably harsh in their opinions about social practices in those nations that are perceived as related to (human) rights. They refer to a nation that lacks a parliament that is renewed through general elections every few years as ‘undemocratic’. When people are penalised for expression certain ideas, they see it as a violation of human rights. They believe those practices should change and be aligned more with ‘generally accepted international practices’.

Inspired by this striking difference in approaching cultural differences in business dealings and social practice, in this paper I would like to take a well-known model of cultural differences in business practices and see if, and if so how, this model can help understand cultural differences in other aspects of society, in particular (human) rights.