of a Charter of Human responsibilities
Six theses as the foundation of the Charter
Facing the radically new situation of humankind, a third ethical
pillar, common to all societies and all social spheres, is needed
to serve as a complement to the two existing pillars which underpin
international life : the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
the Charter of the United Nations.
The same ethical principles can be used at the personal level and
the collective level, both to guide individual behaviour and to
The notion of responsibility, inseparable from any human relationship,
constitutes a universal principle. It is the common ethical basis
of the Charter of Human Responsibilities.
Given the impact of human activities and the interdependence among
all human societies, a broader definition of responsibility is essential.
It comprises three dimensions : accepting responsibility for the
direct and indirect consequences of our actions; uniting with one
another to escape from powerlessness; acknowledging that our responsibility
is proportional to the knowledge and power which each of us holds.
The Charter of Human Responsibilities does not lay down rules; it
proposes priorities and prompts choices.
Every social and professional sphere is invited to draw up, on the
basis of the Charter of Human Responsibilities, which is shared
by all, the rules of its own responsibility. These rules are the
foundation of the contract which links it to the rest of society.
before have human beings had such far-reaching impacts on one another’s
social, political, economic and cultural lives. Never before have
they possessed so much knowledge, and so much power to change their
spite of the immense possibilities opened up by these ever-increasing
inter-relationships, and in spite of the new powers which humankind
has acquired, unprecedented crises are emerging in many areas.
economic gaps within and between nations, the concentration of economic
and political power in ever-fewer hands, threats to cultural diversity,
or the over-exploitation of natural resources, are creating unrest
and conflicts world-wide and giving rise to deep concerns about
the future of our planet : we are at a crossroads in human history.
yet, the social institutions which should enable these new challenges
to be met are working less and less well. The pervasive power of
international markets is undermining the traditional role of states.
Scientific institutions, pursuing their narrow specialist interests,
are increasingly pulling back from analysing and confronting the
global issues and their interactions which challenge humanity. International
economic institutions have failed to turn the rising tide of inequality.
Business has often pursued its profit goals at the expense of social
and environmental concerns. Religious institutions have not adequately
fulfilled their role to provide responses to the new challenges
faced by our societies.
this context, every one of us must take up his or her responsibilities
at both the individual and the collective level.
Charter maps out what these responsibilities are, and how they can
be exercised. It is a first step towards developing a democratic
global governance based on human responsibilities, and towards developing
a legal framework within which these responsibilities may be exercised.
Nature of responsibilities
The growing interdependence among individuals,
among societies, and between human beings and nature heightens the
impacts of individual or collective human actions on their social
and natural environments, immediately or far away.
This opens up new possibilities for each of us
to play a role in the new challenges that face humankind : every
human being has the capacity to assume responsibilities; even those
who feel powerless can still link up with others to forge a collective
Although all people have an equal entitlement to
human rights, their responsibilities are proportionate to the possibilities
open to them. The more freedom, access to information, knowledge,
wealth and power someone has, the more capacity that person has
for exercising responsibilities, and the greater that person’s
duty to account for his or her actions.
Responsibilities attach not merely to present and
future actions, but also to past actions. The burden of collectively-caused
damage must be morally acknowledged by the group concerned, and
put right in practical terms as far as possible.
Since we can only partially understand the consequences of our actions
now and in the future, our responsibility equally demands that we
must act with great humility and demonstrate caution.
Throughout human history, traditions of wisdom
- religious and otherwise - have taught values, to guide human behaviour
towards a responsible attitude; their basic premise - still relevant
today - has been that fundamental change in society is impossible
without fundamental change in the individual.
These values include respect for all forms of life
and the right to a life of dignity, a preference for dialogue sooner
than violence, compassion and consideration for others, solidarity
and hospitality, truthfulness and sincerity, peace and harmony,
justice and equity, and a preference for the common good sooner
And yet, there may be times when these values have
to be weighed against each other, when an individual or a society
faces hard choices, such as the need to encourage economic development
while protecting the environment and respecting human rights.
In such cases, human responsibility dictates that none of these
imperatives should be sacrificed to the others. It would be futile
to believe that sustainable solutions could be found to problems
of economic injustice, disregard for human rights, and the environment,
by tackling each issue separately. Everyone must become aware of
this interconnectedness; and even if their priorities may differ
due to their own histories and present circumstances, they cannot
use those priorities as an excuse for ignoring the other issues
This is the thinking that lies behind the PRINCIPLES
to guide the exercise of human responsibilities.