UNITED NATIONS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
CHARTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION 2000
The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values.
Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.
The Union contributes to the preservation and to the development of these common values while respecting the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe as well as the national identities of the Member States and the organisation of their public authorities at national, regional and local levels; it seeks to promote balanced and sustainable development and ensures free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and the freedom of establishment.
To this end, it is necessary to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights in the light of changes in society, social progress and scientific and technological developments by making those rights more visible in a Charter.
This Charter reaffirms, with due regard for the powers and tasks of the Community and the Union and the principle of subsidiarity, the rights as they result, in particular, from the constitutional traditions and international obligations common to the Member States, the Treaty on European Union, the Community Treaties, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Social Charters adopted by the Community and by the Council of Europe and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities and of the European Court of Human Rights.
Enjoyment of these rights entails responsibilities and duties with regard to other persons, to the human community and to future generations. (my emphasis)
The Union therefore recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out hereafter.
Whereas the UN Declaration is an aspirational declaration, the EU statement on human rights does expect its members to enshrine the rights into their own laws.
But, whereas the UN Declaration mentions teaching people about these rights, the EU statement does have one sentence about the responsibilities and rules with respect to human rights. It is this that I wish to turn to.
On the one hand, having such rights are pointless if we are not aware of them, and most citizens and others are not and therefore are often at a disadvantage in developing their lives to their potential. Yet, among those who recognise their rights, they are often used to the detriment of others. Hence, we can seem to have a travesty of justice. Part of the problem is that human rights are very much biased towards the individual and not the responsibilities to the wider community. Now, we have to be careful that we do not stray into situations where governments use the excuse that a right is not a right because of the ‘common good’, as that can lead to abuse. No, it is more that individuals, communities, business, the third sector and government should be made in law to be responsible towards their fellow human beings in a more active way, instead of expecting others to always do things for them. Therefore, we need to re-write the UN Declaration and the EU Statement to reflect this. And part of that process is the importance of educating, training and participation by all citizens in their responsibilities.
Part of the importance of such a document is the need to give people a broad framework of what is right and wrong that takes into account of how our actions affects others and the importance of engendering community among a vast diversity of cultures and beliefs, so as to bring the best out of them to enrich each other. By turning the emphasis on responsibilities and also enshrining them in law should lead to a culture shift in solving many of the issues that face humankind today.
We also need to take away the rights of States to minimise rights in times of war or national crisis as they often leads to dictatorship.