E Pluribus Unum – Bhinneka Tunggal Ika? Universal Human Rights and the Fragmentation of International Law
The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948 has been presented as a global embrace of human rights, reflecting an international community united in a coherent statement of its aspiration to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of every individual and, to some extent, groups. The Universal Declaration is now commonly seen as having achieved customary status, and thus to be applicable to every state. To what extent does this signal the existence of a unified human rights regime under international law? Does a finding that the human rights regime is fragmented necessarily lead to the conclusion that it cannot be considered universal? We will argue that universality and unity represent distinct conceptual propositions. A pluralistic understanding of universality, far from an oxymoron, offers a model in which regime fragmentation actually sustains universal values in a manner more effective than a unified regime grounded in nowhere in particular, if not nowhere at all.