Charter of Human Responsibilities
At present, international life is underpinned by two pillars: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses on the dignity of individuals and on the defence of their rights, and the Charter of the United Nations, which focuses on peace and development. These two pillars have been a framework for undeniable progress in the organisation of international relations. But the last fifty years have seen radical global changes.
To face up to the massive challenges of the 21st century, a new social compact among human beings is urgently needed, to found a partnership which could ensure the survival both of humankind and of the planet. Such a compact should take the form of a Charter to be endorsed by citizens from all over the world, and later by international institutions.
Presentation of a Proposal for a Charter of Human Responsibilities
"The Earth is our one and only, irreplaceable home. Humankind, in all its diversity, belongs to the living world and is part of its evolution. Their fates are indivisible."
These words prefaced the first proposal for a Charter, submitted in 1999 to several working groups of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World. That was a crucial milestone in the history of the Alliance’s Charter, which has been a process of wide-ranging, intensive dialogue among those who shared not only grave concerns about the many crises confronting humankind, but even more, a resolve to unite with others in meeting the challenges of our time.
Discussions focused on the need for a Charter, on its legitimacy, on its nature, on who would endorse it, on how it would work, and on its ultimate place in both civil society and within international institutions.
Throughout this process, the 'text' proved to be a 'pre-text' in both senses of the word: it stimulated intensive intercultural and interdisciplinary dialogue, and it was subject to proposals for change.
Why another Charter?
The Alliance was launched in 1993, when it published its founding document : "Platform" for a World of Responsibility and Solidarity. This text was a call for us to come together to overcome our feeling of powerlessness in the face of the major crises of today’s world : the gulfs between South and North, between poor and rich, between men and women, between nature and humankind. The “Platform" played an essential role in mobilising people across all continents to share experiences and ideas in most fields of human endeavour, and to frame proposals for a life of dignity for all human beings and for the preservation of the planet.
During this first stage, those involved concluded that to face up to the massive challenges of the 21st century, a new social compact among human beings was urgently needed, to found a partnership which could ensure the survival both of humankind and of the planet. Such a compact should take the form of a Charter to be endorsed by citizens from all over the world, and later by international institutions.
A "third pillar"
At present, international life is underpinned by two pillars : the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses on the dignity of individuals and on the defence of their rights, and the Charter of the United Nations, which focuses on peace and development. These two pillars have been a framework for undeniable progress in the organisation of international relations. But the last fifty years have seen radical global changes. Humankind now confronts new challenges. It is clear that these two initial pillars are no longer enough to come to grips with current and future change.
The idea for a third pillar, an "Earth Charter", focussing mainly on relations between humankind and the biosphere, first surfaced at the 1972 Stockholm World Conference. It was revived during preparations for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but no Earth Charter finally emerged because governments were unable to reach consensus on a wording which truly addressed the global challenges.
Since then, many draft charters have been prepared from various parts of international civil society (1), demonstrating that many are now convinced that a "third pillar" is more urgently needed than ever. The Alliance has made the collective drafting of such a Charter one of its objectives.
(1) Some like-minded initiatives with which the Alliance has been in contact: - the “Declaration towards a Global Ethics”, drawn up by the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1994; - the “Universal Ethics Project” which is prepared by the UNESCO Division of Philosophy and Ethics ; - the “Universal Declaration for Human Responsibility”, prepared in Vienna in 1997 by the “Interaction Council Congress, signed up to by 25 eminent political personalities. - the “Earth Charter” written jointly by the Earth Council (Maurice Strong) and Green Cross International (Mikhail Gorbachev). We have worked to enrich our own draft from these initiatives, and will continue this.
The drafting process
The process of framing a Charter was an iterative one, based on the twofold imperatives of unity and diversity : to lay shared foundations for action while respecting cultural, linguistic, economic, political and geographic diversity. The text had to be repeatedly revisited so as gradually to build consensus.
From 1995 to 1998, André Levesque and his team organised workshops in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. They aimed to draw out some common values and principles from the daily realities of life in different societies. The result was a first draft of the Charter (1999).
From 1999 to the end of 2000, the draft Charter was systematically tested out for its specific applicability in various fields of human activity and in different cultural contexts.
Meanwhile many Alliance working groups, each in its own field, were at work on proposals to address the new challenges of the 21st century.
The reactions to the 1999 draft Charter, and to these proposals, led to the decision in 2001 to prepare a new text embracing all these ideas.
The drafting committee (2) submitted its first draft in autumn 2001 to a Committee of Wise Persons (3) whose comments considerably improved the initial text. The revised draft was submitted to the World Assembly of Citizens organised by the Alliance in Lille, France, in December 2001. The participants tested the draft against their own varied backgrounds. Their comments led to a revised text which, after the Lille Assembly, was submitted to the Allies for further comment, leading to this final text, which has been widely disseminated since October 2002.
(2) Members of the Drafting Committee : Wesley ARIARAJ, Tannous BASSIL, Elisabeth Bourguinat, Edith Sizoo. (3) Pierre CALAME, CHAN Ngai Weng, Carmelina CARRACILLO, Hamidou Aboucabry DIALLO, Hamilton FARIA, Eulalia FLOR, Philippe GUIRLET, Stephane HESSEL, André LEVESQUE, Edgar MORIN, Raimundo PANIKKAR, Makarand PARANJAPE, Konrad RAISER, Cécile SABOURIN, John TAYLOR, Gerald WANJOHI, YU Shuo, ZHAO Yifeng.
The voyage does not end in Lille
After the Lille Assembly, the Charter must win acceptance within civil society, and hopefully at some stage among international institutions. The Alliance will continue to test out the relevance of the text in various cultural contexts and among various socio-professional groups.
The Charter : a common kernel to the diversity of ideas brought together by the Alliance.
The Charter of Human Responsibilities is not an end in itself. It highlights the essence of the common elements of the many suggestions from Alliance working groups : a call to recognise the imperative need to assume new responsibilities at the individual as well as the collective level.
These guiding principles are offered as a common nucleus, to be transferred and adapted into different fields of human endeavour and through translation into culturally appropriate forms. To use a metaphor : this common ground can perhaps be seen as the roots of a tree like the banyan, which produces a large number of branches and new trunks; these new trunks correspond to the application of the common guiding principles in various cultural contexts and in various fields of human activity.
Key features of the Charter
- It is a Charter of Human Responsibilities in the face of the challenges of the 21st century.
- It is not a document of the here-and-now, a response to short-term concerns or to any one human activity. Rather, the Charter enshrines general principles, to be shared by all those who endorse it.
- The Charter must be the basis of a new social contract, creating new rules for every social and professional group in its relationship with society. It aims to provide a new framework, not only for personal conduct, but for the political, institutional and legal domains as well.
- Its general principles must be translated into a variety of contexts, and gradually applied as a yardstick in specific spheres of human activity as guidance (for people themselves, for communities, for socio-professional groups, for governments, for business, etc).
Is "responsibility" a universal concept?
Yes and no. As an ethical concept, the notion of responsibility is found among all human groups. There are differences, though, in the way in which responsibility is assumed. In some societies responsibility is assigned by the group to one individual, rather than taken up by one person or another at his or her own initiative. So the way in which each person is held responsible for his actions in practice varies. And cultural differences are even more marked when it comes to giving a legal context to the concept of responsibility. The crisis now facing humanity means that these differences must be overcome. Just as the world’s nations have accepted the idea of "Human Rights", the time has now come to introduce the concept of "Human Responsibilities". Global co-operation and global governance, indeed, are inconceivable without certain universal ideas and principles which, whatever their origins, can be considered beneficial to all humankind.
Responsibility for life itself
The magnitude of the social and environmental crises of our time insist that what is now at stake is the very gift of life. Life is not created by human beings : life is the mystery that quickens everything that lives, that recreates itself endlessly, in nature as well as within humanity, and in the relationships among them all. Yet in spite of its diversity, humankind now has the common responsibility of safeguarding the right to life itself. That is why a Charter based on this awareness is "universal" in the real sense of the word : it touches on all that exists, the visible and invisible alike. It enshrines something that is beyond human understanding and human control, but for which humanity as a whole is responsible. Inherent in this basic responsibility is the need to create and safeguard space for other peoples and other forms of life. Just how that space and that responsibility are to be shared out will vary from one context to another, but the preservation of space for others and for other forms of life constitutes an integral part of the preservation of life itself.
It is this vision that has inspired the Proposal for a Charter of Human Responsibilities.Read more..