The Charter of Human responsibilities in Colombia: a strategy for empowering civil society
Lille, December 2001: the text of a Charter for Human responsibilities is presented to 400 citizens from 120 countries and 25 social and professional backgrounds during the closing ceremony of the World Assembly organised by the Alliance for a Plural, Responsible and United World. Ethics, individual and collective responsibility, dignity, sustainable peace and common good are at the root of the Charter’s main principles. Considered as a “third pillar” complementary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations’ Charter, the Charter of Human Responsibilities represents a new social pact and a common ethical ground for protecting the future of humanity and of our planet. Today, the challenge is to disseminate the spirit of the Charter and ensure its appropriation by the citizens of this planet. It is, in fact, essential to assess the relevance of this text in diverse geo-cultural and social and professional contexts.
The CINEP (Centre for Popular Investigation and Education), an institution in partnership with the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation and member of the Alliance for a Plural, Responsible and United World, decided to meet this challenge and proposes, in the framework of the Call for initiatives issued by the Alliance, a methodological project for disseminating the Charter within Colombian society. With the approval of this project, the CINEP began its work in April 2003. The project coordinators, Diego Escobar and Claire Launay, have been working for two years to publicise the Charter of Human Responsibilities, stimulate debates, analyse it and have it appropriated by Colombian civil society. They have since then joined the Charter’s International Committee and present here the results of their initiatives.
1. The relevance of the Charter in the social and political context of Colombia
The Charter of Human Responsibilities reveals all its significance and implications in a social and political context such as Colombia’s. On the one hand, it initiates a process of building ethical references for action, and constitutes a text that new negotiation discussions for peace in Colombia could be based on. In this sense, in the current context of intense tension between civil society and the state, it could provide a basis for mediation. On the other hand, the Charter offers a set of positive proposals with which Colombian NGOs could draw on in their claims against human rights abuses. The notion of responsibility could, in fact, make the promotion of human rights more credible, and provide a clear proportional framework for their application. Human rights are essential, but as a condition for individual and collective responsibility.
2. The challenge of having the Charter appropriated by social groups and regions of Colombia
Our action in Colombia is focussed on the pursuit of two main goals:
The Charter is being disseminated in Colombia by regions and social and professional sectors: women, unionists, business leaders, young people, NGOs, academics. One person or institution is designated in each region to facilitate the relations between the various social and professional groups and the national team and to organise local meetings. A website: www.colombiaresponsable.org and a permanent systematisation of our activities have been set up in order to make communication easier between the various regions, sectors and co-ordination teams.
A first process has been launched in the Cauca Valley, in Cali (south-east of Colombia) with 45 women from popular neighbourhoods. It resulted in these women drafting their own Charter of Responsibilities, which takes their day-to-day problems and their role in Colombian society into account. This Charter was widely distributed and led to the formation of a network of associations in the city of Cali with “promotion of a responsible local citizenship” as its main objective. In Carthagena (on the Caribbean coast), several workshops have been organised with a group of young people to assist them in pinpointing their responsibilities and drafting a Charter. In Bogotá, a collective of social organisations and governmental bodies is being set up to disseminate the Charter of Human Responsibilities. The aim is to organise comprehensive informative and educational actions which stimulate reflection on the notion of ethics, and pinpoint responsibilities in association with the development plan launched by Bogotá local authorities. Two other processes will be launched in 2005. The first one entails the drafting of a Charter of Human Responsibilities in the region of Antioquia with CINEP’s partner organisations, taking into account what social groups and sectors understand by responsibility, as well as the historical ethical codes of moral action. The other will take place in the Nariño region (south of the country), first within the CINEP’s Human Rights School, and afterwards in association with the construction of a “development and peace laboratory”, backed by the European Union and managed by organisations and social bodies that promote sustainable development in order to consider the importance of responsibilities and the principles of the Charter. Lastly, we will design a specific line of work with which to approach the business world.
3) A “Charter Workshop” methodology
The co-ordinators of the Charter project have designed a methodology general enough to be adapted to each social and professional group. It entails the following steps: a PowerPoint presentation of the history of the Charter and of the dissemination process, distribution of the Charter text, individual reading followed by an exchange of reactions. The assembly is then divided into small groups for deeper reflection over three initial questions: what are the fundamental principles that drive my actions as a woman, as a young person, as a unionist, etc.? What are my needs and what are the responsibilities I assume to meet these needs? What responsibilities do I expect people I am in relation with to endorse? These three questions, considered at the end of the session, introduce a process of successive meetings which will result in the drafting of a text - on, for example, the responsibilities of Colombian women today.