Universal human rights

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Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration,
without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 2


There are three ways in which the human rights are universal:

  • 1. They are for everyone. (Universalism as idealism, Human Rights as equality for all.)
  • 2. They are widely accepted. (Universalism as legal positivism, Human Rights as legal rights.)
  • 3. They express universal morality. (Universalism as natural rights, Human Rights as natural rights.)

Despite the universality of Human Rights, their implementation is often based on categorization of human beings. Much of the development that has happened since the UDHR in 1948 has been based on specific categorizations of people, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and United Nations Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination. In itself, this is not a problem: Specific foci of discrimination do exist, such as discrimination based on categorization by race.

It becomes a problem when discourse is limited by categories, or locked into categories. While very much is based on categorization, we live in an increasingly globalized world where it becomes harder and harder to categorize people: As people form identities and relationships across boundaries such as race, culture and language, more and more people are not classifiable.

In the struggles for universal Human Rights, we need to highlight categories of people who often get their rights and dignity violated. Race is a common categorization to base prejudice, bigotry and discrimination on. We call this racism. Gender is another common such categorization, we call it sexism. Homosexuals and bisexuals are a often targeted category of people, we call it homophobia.

However, as we base our struggle on categories, face a threefold problem of categorization of human beings versus the universality of Human Rights: Non-inclusiveness, inviting discursive struggles, and reinforcing monolithization. According to the thesis, this threefold problem is resolved through the conceptual framework of categorism: Conceptualizing categorism as one unified concept which include related concepts rather than replacing them.