Towards Cultures of Responsibilities-Engaging With Human Rights Defenders on Ethics, Rights and Responsibilities

Reflection on Action Document

Sudha Sreenivasa Reddy, John Clammer, Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations University, Tokyo, February 2016

As our global situation deteriorates along many dimensions – ecological, resource depletion, conflict, terrorism, loss of bio-diversity and many others – the realization has dawned that, essential as are human rights to any civilized life on Earth, they need to be balanced by a parallel concern with human responsibilities, both towards nature and towards each other.

Over the past decade, concerned citizens, members of NGOs, bureaucrats, professionals from many walks of life, have been meeting at diverse locations around the world to think together about what a culture of responsibilities – one in which responsibilities are not imposed traditional or legal obligations, but rather integral to cultural life in all its dimensions – might look like and how it might be cultivated. One of the most important dimensions of this global discussion has been dialogue between defenders of human rights and those who have stressed the notion of human responsibilities. Not a few activists in the field of rights see the notion of responsibilities as diluting or distracting from the critical issues of defining and defending human rights.

The document that follows records and reports dialogues between the two perspectives and demonstrates that far from being opposed or contradictory, they are actually complementary and mutually essential when addressing questions of social and ecological justice. It is itself offered as a document for discussion – one which will hopefully stimulate further constructive discussion, debate and clarification. It is essentially a digest of many conversations between diverse groups, but all committed to the pursuit of justice and sustainable futures, and an introduction to the concept of a universal charter of human responsibilities for those yet unfamiliar with the idea. Our hope is that it will clarify and advance cooperation between the emphasis on human rights and human responsibilities to the mutual benefit of both.

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