After writing my last article: The Mythology of United Nations: UDHR; I must write this piece, otherwise I would do injustice to the great Human Rights Principles of our times, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), that have guided the humanity beautifully so far.
Given the state of the world upon the end of World War II, including the devastation of war and the realities of colonialism, I also think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reflected recognition of human duty. I believe UDHR has been, largely, the beacon for humanitarians of all backgrounds so far.
Let’s look at the article 29.1:
everyone has duties to the communities in which alone the free and full development of his (or her) personality is possible.
Rights and duties are intimately and essentially linked, one existing in creative tension with the other. You can’t have rights without duties. Your duties have merits only if they help to fulfill someone else’s rights.
In my recent conversation, a friend of mine from Australia, who is a true human (duty and) rights activists, Chris Sidoti said:
Rights exist within a community context, a community in which alone full development of personality is possible. I am in fundamental disagreement with those who argue that human rights means personal autonomy. Many of them are my very good friend and are human rights activists, including some great LGBTI human rights activists. But their view is wrong. Human rights do not mean individual autonomy because human rights can only be exercised and human personhood can only be fully developed within a community to which the individual owes duties.
The importance and fundamental meaning of Article 29.1 are rarely commented on and usually overlooked or ignored because the provision is inconsistent with human rights orthodoxy. But look at what it says and the consequences are obvious and inevitable. It deserves inclusion in your analysis!
And I can’t agree more…..
Some States or authoritarian leaders may argue that someone who does not perform human duties loses human rights. That simply cannot be right. Our human rights are inherent and inalienable; they are essential parts of being human. To be deprived of human rights leaves us deprived of our humanity at fundamental level. So even a criminal who commits grievous crimes has human rights and is entitled to have them respected. So an accused criminal is entitled to a fair trial, with the presumption of innocence and all due process.
But what happens when everybody demands human rights only but nobody performs their human duties, what kind of societies will we become? We must be clear that duties do not come at the cost of rights and rights are not forfeited by a non-performance of duties. We need both and cannot forfeit either. Human Rights that you enjoy ensures basic survival at the fundamental level; where as human duties that you perform helps you grow your humanity to a higher level, towards divinity. Simply put: Survival of Humankind and Growth of Humanity.
We, as institutions, communities and individuals, need to do both (the duties and rights) better — expanding the rights we wish for ourselves to be based on work for the betterment of all.
Last decades or so, many of us have talked a lot about “Human Rights based approach”. I won’t repeat that, instead, I am going to propose the complementing approach which is missing (often from our day to day thoughts and actions) and more necessary in today’s world; that is ‘Human Duty Based Approach’.
So what is ‘Human Duty based approach’?
A Human Duty based approach , for me, is about empowering individuals, communities and institutions, to know and perform our duties and responsibilities; as simple as that.
A Human Duty based approach is also about enhancing the ability and willingness of individuals, communities and institutions that are, universally, responsible for respecting and fulfilling their duties, as well as encouraging others to do the same.
Taking a Human Duty based approach is about making sure that duties of individuals, communities, institutions (including government, non-government and international) are put at the very center of values, cultures, policies and practices.
The principles for the Human Duty based approach, for me, are:
Friendship: You are always encouraged to support other’s success and feel joy when you see others successful.
Compassion: You equally share the pain of others and try everything possible to help them out of their misery.
Non-discrimination: You do not discriminate based on any grounds such as gender, caste, color, class, profession, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and so on.
Effort: You are always excited and never tired of performing your duties for the larger good.
Self-review or intro-inspection: You constantly review your thoughts, speech and actions to see how they are affecting others’ rights and correcting yourself as deemed necessary.
How do you put the Human Duty based approach into practice?
People should be encouraged to do their duties, while enjoying their rights, as human beings. Communities and Institutions should encourage people’s larger participation when formulating duties and rights.
For Individuals, communities and institutions, self-monitoring should be encouraged to see how effectively each one of us has performed our duties or how people’s rights are being affected due to our performances.
Individuals, communities and institutions must always find ways to prohibit, prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination. Individuals, communities and institutions must put the people in priority who face the biggest barriers in realizing their rights. You must not discriminate, while performing your duties, based on any grounds such as gender, caste, color, class, profession, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion and so on.
Individuals, communities and institutions should understand their duties and people’s rights, and be fully encouraged to take part in developing values, cultures, policy and practices which guides them towards their duties and responsibilities.
Morality and legality
Approaches should be grounded in the legal and moral duties that are guided by the domestic and international laws.
UDHR, indeed, is the best documents of our time. But, we must know that, nothing remains as best forever, we can only and always do the ‘better’. I do hope that Human Duties will be integrated more and more in to the Human Rights concepts and practices, as they complement each other and they make the humanity complete.
Thank you and Namaste!