Published on 8 May 2006
Translations available in: français .

Cultures and Responsibility - Ethical Foundations and Social Practices

by Edith SIZOO
Associated Central Topics: Cross-culturalism, dialog and multilingualism . Cultures and responsibility .
Associated General Topics: Cross-cultural .

The wider context

"The Earth is our one and only, irreplaceable home.
Humankind, in all its diversity, belongs to the living world
and is part of its evolution. Their fates are indivisible
(Proposal for a Charter of Human Responsibilities)

New challenges… new responsibilities  [1]

The initiative to set up an intercultural research on the notion of Responsibility is part of a process that aims at promoting the idea of an International Charter of Human Responsibilities.

At present, international life is underpinned by two pillars: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses mainly on individuals but also on communities, their dignity and the defence of their rights, and the Charter of the United Nations, which focuses on States, peace between them and development. These two pillars have been a framework for undeniable progress in the organisation of international relations. However, the last fifty years have seen radical global changes. Humankind now confronts new challenges. It is clear that these two initial pillars are no longer enough to come to grips with current and future change.

Never before have human beings had such far-reaching impacts on one another’s social, political, economic and cultural lives. Never before have they possessed so much knowledge, and so much power to change their environment.

Widening economic gaps within and between nations, the concentration of economic and political power in ever-fewer hands, threats to cultural diversity, and over-exploitation of natural resources, are creating unrest and conflicts world-wide and giving rise to deep concerns about the future of our planet: we are at a crossroads in human history.

And yet, the social institutions which should enable these new challenges to be met are working less and less well. The pervasive power of international markets is undermining the traditional role of states. Scientific institutions, pursuing their narrow specialist interests, are increasingly pulling back from analysing and confronting the global issues and their interactions which challenge humanity. International economic institutions have failed to turn the rising tide of inequality. Business has often pursued its profit goals at the expense of social and environmental concerns. Religious institutions have not adequately fulfilled their role to provide responses to the new challenges faced by our societies.

In this context, every one of us must take up his or her responsibilities at both the individual and the collective level. Every human being has the capacity to assume responsibilities; even those who feel powerless can still link up with others to forge a collective strength.

However, a distinction is to be made between « rights » and « responsibilities » : although all people have an equal entitlement to human rights, their responsibilities are proportionate to the possibilities open to them. The more freedom, access to information, knowledge, wealth and power someone has, the more capacity that person has for exercising responsibilities, and the greater that person’s duty to account for his or her actions.

The project of framing a Charter of Human Responsibilities was approved by the World Assembly of Citizens (December 2001, Lille, France), organized by the Swiss Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer (headquarters in Paris) in the framework of the dynamics of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World.

Some 40 people, covering around 25 languages has worked on translations of the Charter into culturally appropriate versions.

One of the recommendations of the World Assembly of Citizens in Lille was to make a cross-cultural in-depth study of the ethical foundations of the notion of Responsibility itself and of their implications for social practices. The background of this suggestion was that it was felt necessary to specify cultural interpretations of some key notions used in the Charter, starting with the concept of "responsibility" itself. The results of such a study will provide essential ground material for an intercultural dialogue on the present day implications of the idea of Responsibility itself and the Charter of Human Responsibilities in particular.

[1] This section highlights a few paragraphs of the introduction to the Charter of Human Responsibilities


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