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The Practical Implementation of Human Rights – Universal or Contextual?
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This thesis aims to explore how human rights practitioners interpret human rights (as either universal or contextual), and if their interpretation influence the way in which human rights are implemented in development assistance. In order to answer this question, I have conducted field studies in Stockholm, Sweden and Kampala, Uganda. By viewing the outcomes of these field studies through a theoretical lens concerning the universality or contextuality of human rights, the study intends to cast light on human rights practitioners’ own personal notions of human rights and what implications these views have for development assistance.


The study shows that all of the respondents in the case studies share a common view concerning the universality of human rights, and that the rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are indeed universal and should be shared by all people everywhere. That being said, the result also demonstrate that there is a common notion among the respondents from Kampala that this universality does not exists in the practical implementation of human rights in development assistance. Furthermore, the results show that all respondents see that clear prioritizations are made in terms of which rights are focused on in the field of development assistance specifically. The respondents perceive these prioritizations to be set on the basis of the political agenda of the international community and major donors. Which priorities end up at the top of the agenda depends on any number of cultural, historical, ideological and economic factors that differ from situation to situation.


In light of these findings, I argue in this study that there exist weaknesses in the universal approach to human rights that are claimed by Jack Donnelly and the donor community when it comes to practical implementation in development assistance. The results of this study show that the universality of human rights is threatened by uneven power dynamics that exist between donors and partner countries. This has implications for the ability of both practitioners in the field of human rights and donors to instill confidence in a local context. Therefore, this thesis suggests that there is a need for a re-examination of how this universality is approached from the international community and the donors when it comes to the practical implementation in development assistance in order for the common goal to be fulfilled.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 75 p.
Keyword [en]
human Rights, universality, contextuality, development assistance, Sweden, Uganda
National Category
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267286OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-267286DiVA: diva2:872625
Educational program
Master Programme in Human Rights
Available from: 2015-11-30 Created: 2015-11-19 Last updated: 2015-11-30Bibliographically approved

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