Augmenting Human Rights with Human Responsibilities
Mount Saint Vincent University (Canada), Faculty of Education. Her research interests include consumer studies, transdisciplinarity, integral thinking, moral leadership, and home economics philosophy. She is Principle Consultant for the McGregor Consulting Group
Abstract: The central premise of this paper is that human rights will be better protected or ensured when people assume their duties to the each other and to the local, regional, national and global community. There is a well-established human rights framework, celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. A responsibility framework would complement the current focus on rights. In fact, there is a global movement around the idea of a declaration of human responsibilities, providing strength for the argument that responsibilities complement rights. This paper profiles four of these initiatives: (a) the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions initiative, (b) 1997 InterAction Council initiative, (c) the 1998 UNESCO-sponsored Valencia initiative, and (d) the 2003 United Nations Human Rights Commission initiative. Although they were developed independently between 1993 and 2003, there was 65% agreement on what should constitute a declaration of human responsibilities. The paper concludes that this congruency lends hope to the enterprise of eventually developing a universal framework document to augment the longstanding Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Given the concurrent turmoil and potential of our current times, the time is ripe for a renewed global dialogue about a common declaration of human responsibilities.
Keywords: human rights, human responsibilities, human duties, declaration, charter, global ethic, InterAction Council, United Nations, UNESCO, Valencia.
This special issue of the Global Education Magazine commemorates Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10th to mark the adoption and proclamation of the UN Declaration in 1948. Each year, the celebration is shaped by a theme. For 2013, the theme is Working for Your Rights, with special “emphasis on the future and identifying challenges that lie ahead” (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2013, p. 1). One of the challenges that lie ahead is acceptance of or resistance to the idea of augmenting human rights with human responsibilities.
Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says all “human beings… should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” intimating responsibilities to each other (United Nations, 1948, p. 1). Article 29(1) recognizes the inherent link between rights and duties; that rights cannot exist without people acting responsibly towards each other. Article 29(1) says, “Everyone has duties [emphasis added] to the community in which alone the free and full development of his (sic) personality is possible” (United Nations, p.4). Suter (2010) maintains Article 29(1) was “overshadowed by the preceding rights and so very little attention was paid to [responsibilities] in comparison with the rights set out in the same document” (p. 201).
The central premise of this paper is that human rights will be better protected or ensured when people assume their duties to the each other and to the local, regional, national and global community. There is a well-established human rights framework, celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. A responsibility framework would complement the current focus on rights. In fact, there is a global movement around the idea of a declaration of human responsibilities, providing strength for the argument that responsibilities complement rights (Gladstone as cited in Clapham, 1999). Not all agree however, with Amnesty International (1998), Knox (2008) and Saul (2001) arguing that rights are threatened if responsibilities are codified at the global level.
Regardless of this push back to protect the enshrinement of human rights, evidence abounds for the need to foster a dialogue about the link between responsibilities and rights. McGregor (2013) identifies no less than 12 initiatives around the world related to creating and adopting some sort of declaration or charter of human duties or responsibilities. Those involved anticipated that declarations of human responsibilities will lead to responsible behaviour toward the different cultures of humankind (Club of Rome, 1996). Suter (2010) observes that the current human responsibility initiatives have evolved separately, with little coordination; however, he envisions a future time when more and more people will identify with the movement and encourage others to follow. This hope inspired this short paper on the concept of human responsibilities and related initiatives.
Overview of four prominent initiatives
McGregor (2013) profiles and compares four particular initiatives. She recognizes eight others as well but did not elaborate on them in her analysis. The latter include the 2000 Earth Charter Initiative, the International Council of Human Duties’ 1993 Carta of Human Duties, and the Commission on Global Governance’s 1995 document titled Our Global Neighbourhood. As well, she recognizes the Club of Rome’s 1991 Declaration of Human Responsibilities and Duties, and the UNESCO 1999 Common Framework for the Ethics of the 21st Century.
The four initiatives chosen by McGregor (2013) are repeatedly recognized as the major initiatives shaping this global movement (Goold et al., 2009; Saul, 2001). Virtually all of these initiatives clarify that their intent is to enumerate and extend the responsibilities mentioned in Article 29(1) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They include (a) the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions initiative, (b) 1997 InterAction Council initiative, (c) the 1998 UNESCO-sponsored Valencia initiative, and (d) the 2003 United Nations Human Rights Commission initiative. The remainder of this paper draws on McGregor’s chronological and thematic analysis of these four declarations.
In more detail, the 1993 Declaration Toward a Global Ethic was developed and adopted by faith leaders. It was coordinated by the Council of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR), led by Hans Küng (1993). The initiative has become known as the Global Ethic Project, and was signed by leaders from over 40 different faith and spiritual communities (Küng, 2005). It was never intended for submission to the United Nations; rather, the intent was to use the ethic document to keep the sense of human responsibility alive. Küng (2005) ardently believes that “the search for a global ethic will find its expression in both human rights and human responsibilities” (p. 6, emphasis added).
In a second initiative, a committee of former heads of states and governments, also headed by Hans Küng, prepared the 1997 InterAction Council declaration (The InterAction Council, 1997). The intent was to have the declaration adopted by the United Nations, thereby ensuring a balance between rights and responsibilities at the United Nations. It did not receive sufficient state support at the UN, so was never put to a formal vote (Saul, 2001). One of its founding authors clarified, “[o]ur first attempt failed largely due to oppositions voiced by human-rights advocates….In the meantime, however, the notion that rights and responsibilities are mutually complementary has found greater acceptance. It is broadly recognized today that human rights are not undermined by human responsibilities but rather they support one another” (Schmidt, 2009, p. 7). Saul reports that “a number of governments have indicated a willingness to sponsor [it] in the U.N. if a major Western government is involved, but this willingness has not been forthcoming” (p. 578, emphasis added).
In a third initiative, spearheaded by UNESCO, with interest from the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, more than 100 nations meet in Valencia, Spain to draft and adopt the 1998 Valencia Declaration. It was purposely released in 1998, the same year the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the UDHR. The architects of the Valencia document were a group of experts including Nobel laureates, scientists, artists and philosophers (Goldstone, 1998a,b). Goldstone, who lead the initiative, is quoted as saying the “document never went anywhere…but it might see international daylight yet” (Ireland, 2008, p.2). The ongoing intent is to submit the document to the United Nations to serve as a reference document (Helsinki-España Human Dimension, 2010).
The fourth initiative, commissioned by and prepared for the UN Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council), was developed by the recently deceased Miguel Alfonso Martinez. To prepare his report, he carried out two field missions, and analyzed the responses to a questionnaire to United Nations Member States and to a considerable number of NGOs (Martinez, 2002, 2003). While ultimately rejected by the United Nations, despite that it was commissioned by the United Nations, Knox (2008) reports that the declaration continues to receive support from several countries, and “it seems likely that its proponents will continue to pursue the adoption of its principles in one form or another” (p. 1). It is worth noting that, as with the InterAction Council initiative, many Western Nation states stood in firm opposition to Martinez’s (2003) declaration (United Nations, 2005).
Future Prospects for a Declaration of Human Responsibilities
At first glance, the prospects of ever seeing a common, agreed-to, universal declaration of human responsibilities seem daunting (as predicted by Suter, 2010). Three attempts to get something entrenched at the United Nations have not succeeded, despite that they were either sponsored by, commissioned by or intended for the United Nations. But all is not in vain. McGregor (2013) paints a much more optimistic picture of this scenario. Her analysis of the four initiatives showed there were 31 distinct duties or responsibilities across the four initiatives, and that 20 duties appeared in three or more declarations. This represents a very strong correlation, 65% in fact. This agreement is quite telling since there was no coordination amongst the initiatives, albeit Hans Küng was involved with two efforts and one of those was the inspiration for the declaration prepared by Martinez (2003) for UN Human Rights Commission. Still, they were developed in isolation of each other and such high agreement bodes well for future global movement toward a common declaration. As well, McGregor (2013) acknowledges that “it is normal to anticipate resistance to a longstanding institution – the 65-year old human rights framework” (p. 23). On the other hand, the world has changed profoundly since 1948, when the human rights declaration was signed. Humanity is facing the fallout of corporate-led, capitalistic globalization, the reverberations of climate change and ecological compromise, unprecedented population growth and changing demographics, worldwide health pandemics, and worrying escalation of violent reactions to conflict, including war, terrorism and structural violence (McGregor, 2012). Put simply, as Goldstone so aptly asserts, “managing globalisation requires equitable global and regional solutions based on the precepts of both joint and individual responsibility and solidarity” (1998a, p. 2).
In conclusion, the time is ripe for a renewed global dialogue about a common declaration of human responsibilities. The high congruency among current initiatives is very encouraging. People are not as far apart as it may seem at first glance. Fraser (1998) agrees, stating “[t]he goals of [similar initiatives] are quite converging, whether coming from scientific, religious, ethical, and philosophical. Time will come for the broad acceptance of the notion that a sense of responsibilities are (sic) essential” (p. 5). Suter (2010) observes “a development is slowly emerging that is also worth following” (p. 204).
“The congruency amongst initiatives and the longstanding commitment to adopt a collection of principles in some form or another, lends hope to the enterprise. Future initiatives to foster an intercultural dialogue around an eventual universal declaration of human responsibilities can (b) build on the international determination to adopt human responsibilities and (b) avail themselves of the well-reasoned critiques of existing initiatives to inform deliberations and dialogue” (McGregor, 2013, p. 23, emphasis added). Augmenting human rights with human responsibilities, through complementary formal frameworks, is a viable mantra for the 21st century.
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