ulf dahrea on human rights and indigenous peoples


Ulf Johansson Dahrea, ‘There are no such things as universal human rights – on the predicament of indigenous peoples, for example’, International Journal of Human Rights 14, 5 2010


There is a gap between the normative ideas of universal human rights and social practice. This discrepancy in the human rights field is analysed in relation to the contemporary social and political marginalisation of indigenous peoples. The problem is analysed from the theoretical approach known as ‘communitarian pragmatism’. Discrimination and oppression of indigenous peoples is still widespread, despite the global democratisation initiatives and the political and legal adoption of human rights principles. Based on several years of fieldwork on indigenous peoples and human rights, this paper argues that there are no such things as ‘universal human rights’.

The reason why human rights is not an adequate instrument is that the universalism of human rights focuses on a cosmopolitan individual, who is detached from his/her cultural and social context. However, indigenous peoples, like most other persons, live their lives in local social circumstances. The solution to this problem, it is argued, is that human rights have to be locally grounded to be a relevant instrument for social change.

Keywords: indigenous peoples; social practice; pragmatism; equality

One Response to “ulf dahrea on human rights and indigenous peoples”

  1. 1 Magid Shihade

    Very important research and more of that is needed.

    In my view, there are two/double meanings and purposes of Western declarations of universal human rights:
    1. Rhetoric deployed to expand influence through colonial and neo colonial structures.

    2. These terminologies at their core did not include non-Western individuals and peoples. The “human” was and continue to be the “Westerner.”

    Non-Westerners continue to be the object of Western theories and practices, frameworks of thought that even shape the thought and practices of non-Westerners. This is the trap of modernity, and your proposal to ground terms or concepts such as human rights in local organic sitting is a step towards getting out of this trap.

%d bloggers like this: