Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities (proposed)

In a recent speech given to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Professor Tommy Koh made the point that "Rights and responsibilities are the yin and yang, the head and tail of the same coin"; that "The world would be a better home if freedom is balanced by responsibility".

In the same speech, Professor Koh also referred to a proposed document entitled "A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities", which was drafted by the InterAction Council and presented to the UN for its consideration in 1997. The document, however, did not become ratified as a UN resolution because, according to Professor Koh, "Europe and America were so opposed to the document that they succeeded in blocking its submission to the UN" [Curiously enough, Professor Koh made no mention, explicit or otherwise, about why there was such significant opposition to the document].

Having my curiousity stoked by Professor Koh's speech, I went online to seek out this proposed declaration on the responsibilities of humankind. Without expending much effort, I managed to find the declaration and quickly reading through it, it gave me the impression of being a well-thought out document. Specifically, there were several parts of it which strike me as being particularly poignant.

And these parts are but not limited to...

Introductory Comments

"If one person or government seeks to maximise freedom but does it at the expense of others, a larger number of people will suffer. If human beings maximise their freedom by plundering the natural resources of the earth, then future generations will suffer"

Article I

Every person, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, political opinion, language, age, nationality, or religion, has a responsibility to treat all people in a humane way.

Article IV

All people, endowed with reason and conscience, must accept a responsibility to each and all, to families and communities, to races, nations, and religions in a spirit of solidarity: What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others.

Article VII

Every person is infinitely precious and must be protected unconditionally. The animals and the natural environment also demand protection. All people have a responsibility to protect the air, water and soil of the earth for the sake of present inhabitants and future generations.

Article IX

All people, given the necessary tools, have a responsibility to make serious efforts to overcome poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, and inequality. They should promote sustainable development all over the world in order to assure dignity, freedom, security and justice for all people.

Article XI

All property and wealth must be used responsibly in accordance with justice and for the advancement of the human race. Economic and political power must not be handled as an instrument of domination, but in the service of economic justice and of the social order.

Article XV

While religious freedom must be guaranteed, the representatives of religions have a special responsibility to avoid expressions of prejudice and acts of discrimination toward those of different beliefs. They should not incite or legitimize hatred, fanaticism and religious wars, but should foster tolerance and mutual respect between all people.

If you all are interested in reading the declaration in its entirety (it is a rather concise document, consisting of introductory comments, a short preamble and 19 articles), it is available here. Versions of the declaration in different lanaguages can also be found here.

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