The reference texts
Is there a need to agree on a universal document that defines responsibilities? Is this possible in such a culturally diverse world? Does such a document already exist? If we succeed in creating such a document, what will it be used for, and who will benefit from it?
These are the four questions that we have been contemplating since we began working on responsibility in 1994. We would like to know what you think. These are the answers we have come up with:
- International life is underpinned by two pillars. The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the international community’s two foundational texts, and they have been the framework for undeniable progress. But there is a need for a third pillar, which encompasses both ethics and national and international law in the 21st century: that of responsibility, a principle which aptly reflects the interdependence that exists between societies and between humanity and the biosphere.
- The idea of collective responsibility is integral to all communities, even if different civilisations express this concept in different ways. Responsibility is therefore a universal ethical value. If we wish to build an international community of destiny, this requires assuming our collective responsibilities towards the biosphere.
- There have been a number of suggestions for what this third pillar might be, including various versions of the Earth Charter, signed at the Earth Summit in 1992. We studied all these suggestions and outlined our conclusions in Why do we need a Universal Charter of Responsibilities? The result of this critical process was:
- The Charter of Human Responsibilities (2001), adopted by the World Citizens’ Assembly (www.Alliance21.org), translated into several languages, and which proved to be relevant to extremely diverse societies.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, which aims to become the basis for a future international law.
- The UN General Assembly is not about to adopt the Declaration immediately because it involves recognising that power and responsibility go hand in hand and that state sovereignty doesn’t exempt countries from taking responsibility for their actions and for those of their leaders. However, it is becoming a benchmark for society:
- The Declaration is proving influential, triggering legislative changes. Courts are already drawing on its ideas in order to implicate the liability of governments and multinational corporations.
- Different ethical Charters from a wide range of fields are based directly on the Declaration.
- It is hoped that the Declaration’s principles will be progressively incorporated into different countries’ constitutions.
The Charter’s general principles may serve as the basis for international agreements on humanity’s commons, the climate, oceans, etc. It may also serve as a frame of reference to ensure governments are implementing the principles adequately.