Vol. 16 No. 3 (March, 2006) pp.202-203


HUMAN RIGHTS LAW IN PERSPECTIVE: HUMAN RIGHTS, CULTURE AND THE RULE OF LAW, by Jessica Almqvist.  Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 2005.  256pp.  Hardcover.  £40.00/$80.00.  ISBN: 1-84113-506-2.


Reviewed by Kasturi Moodaliyar, School of Law, University of Witwatersrand.  Moodaliyark [at] law.wits.ac.za


HUMAN RIGHTS, CULTURE AND THE RULE OF LAW, an adaptation of a doctoral thesis by Jessica Almqvist, is welcomingly refreshing as it is not often that we come across a book that integrates the rights of culture and human rights.


The structural layout in the first few chapters is difficult to read, almost as though Almqvist is trying to impress her examiners.  However, as one reads further, it does become an easier read and the chapters flow more gently.  The book takes on the assumption that “culture is closely linked to ideas about community,” and it reveals that individuals possess culture that influences the ability “to enjoy the rights and freedoms recognised in international human rights law.”


Chapter 2 considers the notion that there is some recognition of culture in international human rights law.  Almqvist provides legislative examples of this but criticizes the fact that international human rights institutions that impact the culture on human rights remain largely unexplored.


Chapter 3 speaks of the inadequacy of human rights in providing a framework that addresses issues relating to culture.  Almqvist suggests that this is in all likelihood a mechanism of avoidance of advancing the understanding of the complexities and significance of culture from the human rights perspective.


Chapter 4 looks at the framework that is placed on the cultural dimension, like skills, norms and ideological outlook, and the ability to enjoy individual freedom at the heart of human rights research.  Chapter 5 spends more time viewing the individual’s cultural equipment – skills, tools and know-how – and how they affect enjoyment of human rights.


Chapter 6 addresses the concept of adiaphora to explain how cultural norms, such as dress, diet, or prayer, affect the moralities of law.  Chapter 7 deals with the conflicts on how to approach matters of adiaphora. Almqvist suggests that in order to resolve these conflicts, attention should be directed to the need for authority and democratic participation.  Chapter 8 discusses ways legislative authorities may respond to problems of culture.  Chapters 9 and 10 call for the international human rights authorities to place culture issues on their agenda.  Almqvist emphasises the seriousness of the right to cultural enjoyment and makes a number of recommendations as to how this issue can be addressed.


Almqvist offers an interesting analysis of the integration of human rights and culture.  However, she fails to explore the concept of the “rule of law,” which [*203] appears in the title of her book, as completely as she does with the other two concepts.  Overall, the research methodologies are appropriate, and the examples used to explain concepts serve the book well.  It is very clear from the inception that this book is purely an academic text.


This is an important book for our present times, where many people are trying to encourage human rights authorities to recognise the basic need to enjoy cultural rights and freedoms.


© Copyright 2006 by the author, Kasturi Moodaliyar.