Volume 23, 2007
International Law and Justice
Human Rights, Cultural Identity, and Democracy
The Case for Multicultural Citizenship
This paper traces the evolution of the international concept of a human right to culture from a general and individual right of participation in the public life of a state (1966, Article 27 of the IC of Civil and Political Rights), to a group right to a cultural identity (1992 Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities). I argue that the original generic formulation of the human right to culture reflected the nineteenth-century ideal of one-nation, one culture which had proved inadequate from the beginning even in Europe and wrecked havoc upon newly evolving nations in previously colonized territories. International Human Rights doctrine has had to evolve in response to the confl icts that have erupted within multi-ethnic states. In this paper I will consider and defend the argument of William Kymlicka that culture is a necessary context for the exercise of meaningful choices and therefore, within limits, deserves protection within liberal regimes. I argue that providing political support for cultural identities in the form of group rights need not imply a right of secession and can support a robust conception of multicultural citizenship. I analyze the philosophical significance of cultural identity for human dignity and democratic participation in multicultural contexts and conclude that group rights are neither “collectivist” nor “individualist” but a necessary and significant byproduct of the fundamental human right to free association.