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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X


ASOMAH, Joseph Yaw. Cultural rights versus human rights: A critical analysis of the trokosi practice in Ghana and the role of civil society. Afr. hum. rights law j. [online]. 2015, vol.15, n.1, pp.129-149. ISSN 1996-2096.

In this article, I examine critically the culture versus human rights debate, and the crucial role and tactics of civil society organisations, drawing on insights from transnational advocacy networking, in the struggle to extend human rights to vulnerable people with reference to the trokosi practice in Ghana. This trokosi system turns virgin girls into slaves of the gods to atone for crimes committed by their family members. Theoretically, universal human rights must take precedence over any demand for cultural rights. In practice, however, the actual enforcement of human rights laws that conflict with other cultural values and practices can be more messy and complex than it is often conceptualised. Essentially, universal human rights accommodate, recognise and promote cultural rights; however, the latter ends at a point where its observance is likely to result in the violation of the fundamental human rights of others. I conclude that, although the call for cultural pluralism and the need to celebrate and respect the diversity of cultures sound legitimate, this demand cannot be allowed to trump the minimum package of the fundamental human rights that protect human dignity, wellbeing and integrity within the context of human rights protocols that state parties already have ratified. Yet, for this to materialise, stronger civil society organisations with a solid broad-based networking capacity and tenacity of purpose are crucial. This article helps to extend our current knowledge of human rights struggles and the implications these have for the furtherance of universal human rights.

Keywords : universal human rights; cultural relativism; trokosi; civil society; transnational advocacy networking; Ghana.

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