A cross-cultural and multilingual contribution to the elaboration of a Charter of the Alliance
The "Cultural Multi-Identity": a New Dimension of the Human Rights
The Charter of Human Responsibilities: from written to oral expression
Translating the Charter of Human Responsibilities from French to Wolof (Senegal), or the difficulty of translating the concept of responsibility into Wolof
Published on 4 October 2008
Responsibility A common key-notion in a world of diversity
South Asian Workshop : “Uniting in Responsibilities in a Culture of Rights”
Position paper by Edith Sizoo
Building on the excellent presentation of the theme for the workshop on “Uniting in Responsibilities in a Culture of Rights”, this position paper does not need to emphasise any further the necessity of linking Human Rights with the notion of Responsibility. As a well-known Professor of law, François Ost, formulated it: “Responsibility is the hidden face of Human Rights ”.
Rather, I would like to draw attention to the necessity of making explicit what exactly is understood by the idea of “responsibility”.
Cultural diversity of perceptions and practices
Cultural / religious conceptions about the notions of the self, the other and the relationship between the two as well as the (inter)relationship between the human beings and the living world around them, differ. Highlighting these differences may be deeply revealing in the sense that they may provide a fundamental insight into the understanding of responsibility by human communities around the world.
These varying conceptions are of essential importance to shed a light on questions like : where does the idea of responsibility come from? Is it an inner attitude or is it imposed? Does it come from a person’s free will (his free choice, his autonomy) or is one simply meant to assume responsibilities? Who assigns Responsibility to whom? For what? Who accounts to whom for what? How does one determine whether someone has exercised her/his responsibilities successfully?
The second dimension comes from the Latin verb "respondere" which implies to account for the way in which one exercises the entrusted tasks. Responsibility therefore is a twofold commitment. It is by definition a relational concept as it always refers to ways of behaviour between human beings, and by extension to ways of behaviour of human beings in relation with the wider world of living beings and nature.
While in the course of European philosophical history assuming responsibility has become a matter of the free choice of the individual, Tarek AL NOMAN  states that “in a culture dominated by a firm belief in fate and predestination as for instance the Arab Islamic culture, the extent of a person’s responsibility for her/his choices and actions, indeed the whole idea of free will and the freedom of choice, is problematic.”
Another remarkable difference between various cultures is that contrary to Western languages, an expression like: “I take responsibility” would not easily be used in African and indigenous cultural contexts like those of the Maori in New Zealand or the Andean peoples in South America. Why? Because in these cultural contexts the individual “I” is subordinate and subservient to the community. So, there, people would ask an individual who says “ I will take responsibility”: “Who do you think you are to “take” responsibility? Who then will define your responsibility? You yourself? And to whom then would you account for that responsibility? In their cultural understanding, responsibility is defined by the group the individual belongs to or for particular things by God or the gods. It is entrusted to someone by that group or God and s/he will have to account to the group or God(s) for the way s/he exercises it.
In the book Genesis of the Christian Bible, God after having created the universe, the earth and the human being, passed on responsibility for the earth to man. Man was told to "master" (or "nurture" depending on the translation) His Creation. Indigenous worldviews, however, consider that humans are not separate from or above other forms of life (and so cannot possibly “master” them). They are a product and an expression of Mother Earth. Human beings are part of a “woven universe” in which all forms of life are interconnected. And so, responsibility cannot be a matter of choice; it is inherent to the human condition itself.
"Duty" as distinct from "Responsibility”
"Duty" not always distinct from "Responsibility"
Similarly, though in the West accountability is mainly a matter between people, elsewhere it can be a matter between people and an environment that is broader than the social. In fact, while in the West the idea of accountability to other people is very much at the heart of the notion of responsibility, it does not appear to be that central in other cultural contexts.
The challenge of intercultural dialogue… and acting
Moreover, international contacts are becoming less and less restricted to governmental and business elites. The advent of civil society at global level, an international society claiming its right to participate in vital decisions concerning the future of the planet and humankind, becomes increasingly manifest. And citizens of our planet do not only want to communicate. Above all, they want to act together. But too often, in the rush to act, it is taken for granted that everyone ascribes the same meaning to "common" words. Everyone knows: traps are hidden in communication between people from different cultures. But which ones? Exactly? Does everyone know them?
One thing is sure, though: the experience of international life has at least shown that it may be more prudent to take up the challenge of intercultural learning than to ignore it. The effort of trying to make explicit the diversity which enriches us in order to discover the commonalities that bring us together, is worth its while. Intercultural dialogue is indispensable for acting together.
A common responsibility
In pre-modern times ethics was predominantly concerned with the human being and geared towards a common present: “Love your neighbour as yourself”, here and now. Nature was supposed to take care of itself and the future was supposed to be always better thanks to human progress and the discoveries of the sciences. XXIst century ethics has to extend its concerns. It has to design modes of conduct which not only nurture humankind, but nature as well. It has to set norms which are geared not only to the present but to the future as well. Our newly gained freedoms must be guided by the principle of precaution. Despite our cultural specificities, this is the common responsibility each and everyone of us, individually and collectively, we have to assume, and to account for….
 F. Ost, H.Dumont, S. van Drooghenbroeck, et al. (dir), La Responsabilité, face cachée des droits de l’homme, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2005.
 Tarek AL NOMAN, paper for meeting Intercultural Research Group on Responsibility, May 2005