A New Way of Thinking? Government Tell Me More Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities 



Caring Citizen —

A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities

In 1989 a small group met in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It planned to form an American Civil Responsibilities Union – as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. I will take some credit for convincing the group that society would be better served if we did not create one more one-sided, adamant representative of one half of the needed equation. Our position should be that strong rights and strong responsibilities are corollaries; a well-ordered free society requires both. This meeting led eventually to the formation of the American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities.

Shortly thereafter, this quarterly was founded. From its first issue it stressed that rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. The same crucial point has been emphasized in the Responsive Communitarian Platform – the cornerstone of The Communitarian Network – which was widely endorsed in the United States and overseas. (For details, visit www.gwu.edu/-ccps  or write The Communitarion Networks at 2130 H Street NW, Suite 714, Washington, DC 20052.) The idea that strong rights presume strong responsibilities was further spelled out in The Spirit of Community and The New Golden Rule.

An analysis of numerous public dialogues that followed these developments shows that the thesis that rights and responsibilities complete one another had become very widely accepted. To cite but one example, in his 1995 State of the Union Address President Clinton acknowledged, and sought to correct, the one-sidedness of his own rhetoric: "I have proposed the Middle Class Bill of Rights – which should properly be called a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, because its provisions only benefit those who are working to educate and raise their children or to improve their own lives."

More recently, a group of 24 former head of state, following the leadership of the German philosopher Hans Küng, formulated "A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities." The group, which calls itself the InterAction Council, aims to have this declaration endorsed by the United Nations, so that the current one-sided declaration of rights will be completed by this new document. The text of the declaration and the list of the heads of state follows.

Amitai Etzioni

Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities
(Proposed by the Interaction Council)

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world and implies obligations or responsibilities,

whereas the exclusive insistence on rights can result in conflict, division, and endless dispute, and the neglect of human responsibilities can lead to lawlessness and chaos,

whereas the rule of law and the promotion of human rights depend on the readiness of men and women to act justly,

whereas global problems demand global solutions which can only be achieved through ideas, values, and norms respected by all cultures and societies,

whereas all people, to the best of their knowledge and ability, have a responsibility to foster a better social order, both at home and globally, a goal which cannot be achieved by laws, prescriptions, and conventions alone,

whereas human aspirations for progress and improvement can only be realized by agreed values and standards applying to all people and institutions at all times,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly
proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities as a common standard for all people and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall contribute to the advancement of communities and to the enlightenment of all their members. We, the peoples of the world, thus renew and reinforce commitments already proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: namely, the full acceptance of the dignity of all people; their inalienable freedom and equality, and their solidarity with one another. Awareness and acceptance of these responsibilities should be taught and promoted throughout the world.

Fundamental Principles for Humanity

Article 1
Every person, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, political opinion, language, age, nationality, or religion, has a responsibility to treat all people in a humane way.

Article 2
No person should lend support to any form of inhumane behaviour, but all people have a responsibility to strive for the dignity and self-esteem of all others.

Article 3
No person, no group or organization, no state, no army or police stands above good and evil; all are subject to ethical standards. Everyone had a responsibility to promote good and to avoid evil in all things.

Article 4
All people, endowed with reason and conscience, must accept a responsibility to each and all, to families and communities, to races, nations, and religions in a spirit of solidarity:
What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others.

Non-Violence and Respect for Life

Article 5
Every person has a responsibility to respect life. No one has the right to injure, to torture, or to kill another human person. This does not exclude the right of justified self-defense of individuals or communities.

Article 6
Disputes between states, groups, or individuals should be resolved without violence. No government should tolerate or participate in acts of genocide or terrorism, nor should it abuse women, children, or any other civilians as instruments of war. Every citizen and public official has a responsibility to act in a peaceful, non-violent way.

Article 7
Every person is infinitely precious and must be protected unconditionally. The animals and the natural environment also demand protection. All people have a responsibility to protect the air, water. and soil of the earth for the sake of present inhabitants and future generations.

Justice and Solidarity

Article 8
Every person has a responsibility to behave with integrity, honesty, and fairness. No persons or group should rob or arbitrarily deprive any other person or group of their property.

Article 9
All people, given the necessary tools, have a responsibility to make serious efforts to overcome poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, and inequality. They should promote sustainable development all over the world in order to assure dignity, freedom, security, and justice for all people.

Article 10
All people have a responsibility to develop their talents through diligent endeavour; they should have equal access to education and to meaningful work. Everyone should lend support to the needy, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and to the victims of discrimination.

Article 11
All property and wealth must be used responsibly in accordance with justice and for the advancement of the human race. Economics and political power must not be handled as an instrument of domination, but in the service of economic justice and of the social order.

Truthfulness and Tolerance

Article 12
Every person has a responsibility to speak and act truthfully. No one, however high or mighty, should speak lies. The right to privacy and to personal and professional confidentiality is to be respected. No one is obliged to tell all the truth to everyone all the time.

Article 13
No politicians, public servants, business leaders, scientists, writers, or artists are exempt from general ethical standards, nor are physicians, lawyers and other professionals who have special duties to clients. Professional and other codes of ethics should reflect the priority of general standards such as those of truthfulness and fairness.

Article 14
The freedom of the media to inform the public and to criticize institutions of society and governmental actions, which is essential for a just society, must be used with responsibility and discretion. Freedom of the media carries a special responsibility for accurate and truthful reporting. Sensational reporting that degrades the human person or dignity must at all times be avoided.

Article 15
While religious freedom must be guaranteed, the representatives of religions have a special responsibility to avoid expressions of prejudice and acts of discrimination toward those different beliefs. They should not incite or legitimize, fanaticism, and religious wars, but should foster tolerance and mutual respect between all people.

Mutual Respect and Partnership

Article 16
All men and women have a responsibility to show respect to one another and understanding in their partnership. No one should subject another person to sexual exploitation or dependence. Rather, sexual partners should accept the responsibility of caring for each other’s well being.

Article 17
In all its cultural and religious varieties, marriage requires love, loyalty, and forgiveness and should aim at guaranteeing security and mutual support.

Article 18
Sensible family planning is the responsibility if every couple. The relationship between parents and children should reflect mutual love, respect, appreciation, and concern. No parents or other adults should exploit, abuse, or maltreat children.


Article 19
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the responsibilities, rights, and freedom set forth in this Declaration and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.


The proposed Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities has the endorsement of the following individuals:

Helmut Schmidt (Honorary Chairman), Former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Malcom Fraser (Chairman), Former Prime Minister of Australia

Andries A. M. van Agt, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Anand Panyarachun, Former Prime Minister of Thailand

Oscar Arias Sanchez, Former President of Costa Rica

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States

Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Former President of Mexico

Kurt Furgler, Former President of Switzerland

Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Former President of France

Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, Former Prime Minister of Spain

Kenneth Kaunda, Former President of Zambia

Lee Kuan Yew, Former Prime Minister of Singapore

Kiichi Miyazawa, Former Prime Minister of Japan

Misael Pastrana Borrero, Former President of Colombia (deceased in August)

Shimon Peres, Former Prime Minister of Israel

Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, Former Prime Minister of Portugal

Jose Sarney, Former President of Brazil

Shin Hyon Hwak, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea

Kalevi Sorsa, Former Prime Minister of Finland

Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Former Prime Minister of Canada

Ola Ullsten, Former Prime Minister of Sweden

George Vassiliou, Former President of Cyprus

Franz Vranitzky, Former President of Austria

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