Human rights doctrine is founded on a notion of universality and inalienability. However, critics of the dominant formulation of “universal” human rights claim that it privileges Western epistemology and does not adequately reflect the histories and lived experiences of Indigenous communities. This has prompted calls for a more inclusive conceptualization and theorization of human rights that takes equal account of Indigenous histories and rights traditions. This article makes a case for reconceptualizing universal human rights to reflect the epistemologies of historically marginalized communities. Drawing on debates in African history, it calls for a counterhegemonic approach to human rights that goes beyond possessive individualism and the neoliberal, state-centered rights model. To be truly universal, international human rights must take equal account of the communal and collectivist ethos that underpins Indigenous notions of human dignity.

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