*** RIGHT & RESPONSIBILITY TO PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS ---------------------------------------------------- Written comment on the Draft Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms submitted to the 50th session of the Commission on Human Rights in response to an invitation from Ibrahima Fall, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, issued in accordance with resolution 1993/92 of the Commission on Human Rights. Geneva, Switzerland 3 December 1993 * * * * * Ibrahima Fall Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Centre for Human Rights United Nations Office at Geneva Palais des Nations CH 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland 3 December 1993 Dear Mr. Fall: Thank you for your letter dated 23 September 1993. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with resolution 1993/92 of the Commission on Human Rights. We are pleased that agreement has been reached on many provisions of the draft declaration, particularly those that permit -- and, indeed, encourage -- individuals, groups and organs of society to promote the human rights of others. Certainly, the effective implementation of existing human rights standards requires vigilance on the part of all members of society, the freedom to speak out against abuses and the willingness to do so. At the same time, we note that agreement has not yet been reached on all provisions of draft article 5 of Chapter V, which addresses the relationship between rights and responsibilities, particularly the extent to which the declaration should recognize responsibilities. As we discussed it at some length in our submission last year, the Baha'i International Community believes that rights and responsibilities are inextricably linked. We, therefore, offer for the consideration of the working group some further comments on the importance of addressing in the final document the role of individuals, groups, institutions and non-governmental organizations in ensuring respect for universal human rights. ** A. RECOGNITION OF THE ONENESS OF HUMANKIND AS A BASIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS --------------------------------------------------------------------------- The concept of human rights should be anchored in the principle of the oneness of humankind. As Baha'u'llah stated over one hundred years ago: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."The primary challenge facing civilization he set forth in the following words: "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." World unity requires universal respect for human rights. The basis for a commitment to human rights is recognition of the oneness of humanity, for it requires abandonment of prejudice of every kind -- race, class, color, creed, nation, sex, degree of material civilization -- everything which enables people to consider themselves superior to others. To accept the oneness of humanity is to embrace the variations that characterize human society, and to desire for every individual the opportunity to develop and express his or her unique capacities and inherent talents. Recognition of the oneness of humanity gives rise to an elevated concept of human rights, one that includes the assurance of dignity for each person and the realization of each individual's innate potential. This view differs markedly from an approach to human rights that is limited to preventing interference with the individual's freedom of action. ** B. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RIGHT TO PROMOTE THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS ------------------------------------------------------------------- If, as in the Baha'i perspective, the realization of human rights involves promoting human dignity, then it becomes apparent that governments alone cannot implement human rights. Legal protections for human rights and freedom from government oppression are unquestionably essential to human dignity. But dignity is fostered fundamentally by the way one is treated by others. This, then, is the critical contribution that the draft declaration can make to the human rights debate: it recognizes that the right to help others, to defend the sanctity of their persons, and to promote their fundamental dignity as members of a global community is one of the most important of all rights. It is essential to the effective implementation of all other universally recognized human rights. ** C. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROMOTE THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS: A SOURCE OF EMPOWERMENT AND A NEW VISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- At the same time, we believe it is impossible to implement human "rights" without a sense of collective responsibility. Indeed, if the whole of humanity is one interconnected body, then an injury to any member is an injury to the body as a whole. Thus it behooves every individual member of the human family to take action whenever and wherever human rights violations occur. Some links between human rights and responsibilities are already generally accepted. Legal rights guaranteed by the existing human rights instruments are implicitly balanced by responsibilities, and states are obligated to respect human rights under international law. Likewise, the notion of responsibility is widely acknowledged in its narrow criminal and tort law sense. Yet in the Baha'i perspective, the concept of "responsibility" in the context of human rights encompasses the responsibility devolving upon every person, as a divinely-created being, to recognize the essential oneness of the human race and to promote the human rights of others with this motivation. Thus, it seems to us essential to broaden the conceptual framework for addressing human rights problems from an adversarial paradigm -- pitting the government against the individual citizen -- to a cooperative one, where we consider relations among all human beings as members of one community. In this context, everyone has an essential role to play in implementing fundamental human rights. When individuals assume responsibility for ensuring each other's human rights the foundation for unity will be firmly established. In addition, recognition of such a responsibility to promote human rights can empower ordinary people and give them a new sense of purpose and dignity. As stated in the Baha'i writings: "And the honour and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight." (`Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization , pp. 2-3.) ** D. SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS RELATING TO ARTICLE 5 OF THE DRAFT DECLARATION --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Turning again to draft article 5, it is, of course, for the members of the Commission and its working group to determine whether the draft declaration is the appropriate document in which to acknowledge the responsibility of every human being to promote the human rights of others. The Baha'i International Community believes, however, that such a recognition would represent a major advance in the cause of human rights. A recognition of responsibilities in this context need not conflict with the right of each individual to promote and protect human rights and freedoms. Rather, it would encourage and empower all people, not just governments, to become active participants in implementing established international human rights standards. In this connection, we welcome the working group's preliminary agreement on paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) of article 5, which acknowledge the important responsibilities of individuals, groups, institutions and non-governmental organizations to promote the rights of others. We suggest that the ideas expressed in these paragraphs be retained in the final text of the draft declaration, and that, if possible, the concept of responsibilities be further elaborated along the lines we have discussed. We offer our support and encouragement to the working group as it continues its important work. Sincerely, Diane `Ala'i Baha'i International Community Representative to the United Nations * * * * *