On September 1, 1997, the InterAction Council proposed a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities. The InterAction Council is an organization of 30 former heads of state and prime ministers who collectively develop recommendations and practical solutions for the political, economic and social problems confronting humanity.

The premise of Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities was 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. It was divided into five parts: Fundamental Principles for Humanity, Non-Violence and Respect for Life, Justice and Solidarity, Truthfulness and Tolerance and Mutual Respect and Partnership.  It covers matters such as marriage, property, professionals and media.  – ‘What you do not wish to be done yourself, do not do to others,”

For instance:

  • If we have a right to life, then we have the obligation to respect life.
  • If we have a right to security, then we have the obligation to create the conditions for every human being to enjoy human security.

InterAction 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.

Nevertheless, the InterAction Council believes that “a better social order nationally and internationally cannot be achieved by laws, prescriptions and conventions alone, but needs a global ethic. Believing that a world in which everyone demands rights but does not accept responsibilities will be an unequal and even dangerous and discordant world, Interaction wanted to explore the possibility of establishing a common ethical standard.  Many societies have traditionally conceived of human relations in terms of obligations rather than rights. This is true, in general terms, for instance for much of Eastern thought. While traditionally in the West the concepts of freedom and individuality have been emphasized, in the East the notions of responsibility and community haven prevailed.

Over 50 years ago, the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights found that indeed there were principles underlying the draft Declaration in many cultural and religious traditions. They also found that these principles were not always expressed as rights. Instead, some cultures operate upon the understanding that people also have duties to themselves, each other, their community and their world. They concluded by saying in order to create a more balanced approached that truly spans across all cultures and belief systems, a Responsibilities Declaration may now be a necessary complement to the Duties Declaration.

1 thought on “Human Rights and Human Responsibilities: A Necessary Balance”

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