Human-Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture

   Human-Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture

For a long time, the concept of culture has been a cause of the sharp disagreement between the human rights activists and anthropologists with the anthropologists taking the blame for not supporting human rights. When a tribal council in Pakistan gave an order for a young lady to be assaulted there was a radio presenter who sought the opinion of a person that was involved works related to violence against women and human rights (Merry, 2003). When the interviewee responded by condemning the actions of the tribal council and not the culture in Pakistan, the journalist was not pleased by the response. The journalist wanted to speak to a different anthropologist showing that most people have a perception that an anthropologist will support any action done in the name of culture, irrespective of whether it limits the rights of others. The journalist also appeared to hold the belief that anthropologists are unaware of the factors in the society that cause cultural change capitalism being among them. The incidence also shows that many people believe that anthropologists are likely not condemning inhumane acts in a certain community because it would translate into not respecting the cultural beliefs in that community.

Karen Engle, however, depicts anthropology and its views with regards to culture in an unorthodox manner. The professor states that most anthropologists have been living in shame since a statement was produced by EAA Executive Board in 1947 (Merry, 2003). The statement appears to conflict the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The major cause of criticism to the statement made by AAA Executive Board arises because it appears not to place any limit on when it comes to culture (Merry, 2003). Many anthropologists today support human rights but within the confines of protecting culture.

Although anthropologists have developed a unique way of understanding culture through incorporating the history and other influences that affect it, human activists still consider it as a major threat to making sure that people enjoy their full human rights. Most members of the elite society continue to believe that culture is to blame for violation of the rights of women a perfect example being female circumcision.  Most journalists wrongly believe because anthropologists strongly support the preservation of culture especially for small communities and do not support its colonization by big communities, they pose a barrier to promoting human rights (Merry, 2003). Instead of the journalists condemning individuals that perpetuate discrimination and cause harm to others, they usually blame the culture of the community that the individuals come from. Anthropologists, therefore, are criticized using the wrong perceptions about their job.


Merry, S. E. (2003). Commentary. Anthropology News, 44(2), 4-5. doi:10.1111/an.2003.44.2.4


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