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Why an International Charter on Human Responsibilities?

Suggestions for reflection on Status, Content, and Potential Impact.. Background document.

Edith Sizoo, December 2010

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Summary :

The present document intends to offer a background for reflection on the status, content, and potential impact of an International Reference text on Human Responsibilities.

It argues why the new challenges humanity has to face in the 21st century call for a renewed effort to claim the need for such a text, setting out human responsibilities in all spheres of life, endorsed not only by states but also by citizens and major powers of influence at various political, economic and social levels. It thus aims to respond to a question often asked since the initiative to promote the idea of a Charter of Human Responsibilities was taken at the World Citizens Assembly1 in Lille, 2001: Is there indeed a need for such a reference text?

The answer given in the following pages boils down to a “yes,” although recognizing that an international text is not sufficient. Other efforts are needed as well, at different levels and sectors of society, locally and regionally. Such a multi-level process will contribute to the emergence of cultures of responsibility and serve as a catalyst for raising awareness of the need for an authoritative reference text, and of monitoring such a text once it has come about.

The present document focuses in particular on the need of such a text at the international level. This issue will be dealt with in three different ways:

First of all, an effort will be made to learn from the experiences of other international initiatives in this field (Part I).

Secondly, the choice to focus on the need to strengthen the sense of responsibility in all societies will be defended (Part II). For this purpose, the various dimensions of the concept of responsibility itself will be made explicit, their societal relevance elucidated, and their cultural variations illustrated. These clarifications are of course relevant as well for those who are concentrating their efforts on promoting cultures of responsibility in various fields of professional and social activities.

Thirdly, the key question of why to aim as well at an authoritative text on Human Responsibilities at the international level will be directly addressed in Part III.