Brooklyn Journal of International Law


Kwanghyuk Yoo

First Page



Social justice does not exist in a vacuum. Social justice deters human rights policies from crossing the line. Thus, the principle of justice counterbalances the evils of the laissez-faire human rights philosophy when society lacks an appropriate form of legal or regulatory framework for legitimate restraints on human rights. Moreover, well-ordered just society does not allow human rights to be abused or curtailed beyond the level necessary to safeguard superior social norms or national interests. As such, human rights are subject to relative protection while they receive universal respect across the world. From a semantic standpoint, two ambivalent natures of human rights, universality and relativity, are neither mutually exclusive nor contradictory. They rather complement each other and serve to best characterize human rights in their entirety. The 2015 tragic terrorist attack against the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in France poses the crucial, but controversial question of whether, and to what extent, intolerance of disparate ideas, cultures, or religions of others should be tolerated in the name of freedom of expression in modern times resting on a firm basis of the spirit of tolerance. The Charlie Hebdo controversy provides an implication for creating a new paradigm to demarcate the legitimate purview of freedom of expression regarded as a touchstone of all human rights. This paradigm suggests a theoretical framework which highlights the functional significance of cultural relativism as the key threshold. Cultural relativism may circumscribe freedom of expression where the enjoyment and exercise of the freedom amount to prejudice to the cultural identity integral to society and give rise to the grave impairment of social integrity. An apparently elusive term of social integrity in part stands on the conceptual basis of so-called identity politics, which are defined as collective manifestations of political interests by the common identity group. Today, identity politics seem to be plausibly predicated upon the global climate to promote cultural pluralism. The scope of freedom of expression is scaled back under the cultural relativism approach to the level necessary to preserve internal cohesion and solidarity of society.