Author(s): Elisabeth Reichert
The social work profession is only beginning to incorporate human rights into its policies and practices. To understand what is meant by human rights, social workers will need to understand underlying concepts. The two of the most important concepts in terms of understanding the application of human rights to policies and practices will be universalism and cultural relativism. Knowing how to analyze and critique these two concepts will be crucial to developing an acceptable standard of knowledge about human rights. We have good reason to be doubtful about the preventive impact of human rights codes. Yet, if human rights has not stopped the villains, it certainly has empowered bystanders and victims. Michael Ignatieff (2001a, p. 8) Basic concepts underlying human rights present little that is new to the social work profession. The profession has a history of advocating for education, equality, health care, housing, and fairness, all of which fit neatly under the umbrella of human rights (NASW, 2003; van Wormer, 2004; Wronka, 1998, Staub Bernasconi, 1998, Ife, 2001). However, what does present the social work profession with a novel challenge in respect to human rights concerns a truly analytical approach to the topic. Social work literature rarely addresses the actual topic of human rights and, when it does, usually only with cursory treatment (Reichert, 2003).