The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a Western-biased document that is challenged in its universal applicability due to cultural difference and competing ideas of society and community. This essay will look briefly at the history of the document including articulating a clash of 'Western' and non- 'Western' ideas and a conceptualisation of 'human'. The essay will also present examples in practice of how non- 'Western' states have questioned the applicability of the UDHR and where some of the limits lie.
Egon Schwelb (1946) argued that the basis for the UDHR is in the legal and political thinking between the seventeenth and twentieth century, from France, England and the United States. Modern human rights discourse and language, as well as its implementation and applicability within international law was borne out of the 'Western' response to the atrocity and trauma experienced within humanity not only by the Nazi and other Fascist, totalitarian regimes during World War II but within the wider 'West' too. The emergence of human rights debate can be seen as a 'Western' response to 'Western' conflict, which sought to see an end to such violations and acts of violence toward human beings, at the hands of their governments but also at an individual, civil level. As such there are persuasive arguments that in reality the UDHR only protects and expresses the interests of the 'West' whilst inflicting 'Western' moral and cultural imperialism on non- 'Western' states.
To question the universality of human rights questions the validity of cross-cultural frameworks for rights and also the legitimacy of human rights norms (Ignatieff, 2001). In their book Human Rights: Cultural and Ideological Perspectives, Adamantia Pollis and Peter Schwab (1979) present a view of the UDHR which asserts that it is based upon only one interpretation of human rights, and that interpretation is 'Western'.