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Proposal for a universal declaration for the common good of humanity

My friend François Houtart, one of the godfathers of the alterglobalisation movement, visited me recently and gave me a copy of his book on the common good of humanity, which contained the french version of a universal declaration of the common good of humanity. On the internet I found an english version, to use with my students, but then I thought it should be spread in all manner. So, Feel free to spread and discuss... Lieven De Cauter
dinsdag 22 april 2014
Deze blog werd geschreven door een van onze lezers. Wil je zelf ook beginnen bloggen in onze community, ga dan meteen aan de slag.

This project, which has been constantly elaborated for juridical and pedagogical purposes by an international group of jurists and social leaders, was presented at the Peoples’ Summit in Rio de Janeiro (July 2012) by the World Forum for Alternatives. It has been revised following the comments in order to be redistributed at the World Social Forum in Tunisia in March 2013. All contributions by groups and individuals who support the initiative are welcome; please send them to the following email address:


We live in a critical time for the survival of natural and human life. The attacks against the planet are multiplying, affecting all living species, ecosystems, biodiversity, even the climate. Peoples’ and communities’ lives are destroyed by land dispossession. The monopolistic concentration of capital, the hegemony of the financial sector, the rapacity of the economy, the alienation of peoples’ minds and consciousness, but also deforestation, monoculture agriculture, the massive use of toxic agents, wars, economic, political, military and cultural imperialism, austerity policies and the destruction of social advances, have become the daily bread of Humanity.

We live in times of a multidimensional crisis; it is financial, economic, food, energetic, climactic. It is a systemic crisis, a crisis of values and civilization. Their common origin lies in the irrationality of an economic system that is concentrated on profit and not on needs, which brings with it its dynamic of deadly logic. This historic moment does not allow for partial answers. It demands a search for alternatives.

We live in times marked by a demand for coherency. The Resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the United Nations’ International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (1966), Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States (1974), the World Charter for Nature (1982), the Declaration on the Right to Development (1986), the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992), the Earth Charter (2000), the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), among others, demand the articulation of a holistic perspective and an integrated ecological, economic, political and cultural system for decision-making, in the service of life.

We live in times in which human beings are realizing they constitute the conscious part of a Nature that can live without them and that they are progressively destroying the Earth. The vision of development, inherited from modernity and accelerated by the evolution of the capitalist world system which ends up in such destruction is seen as linear progress on an inexhaustible planet. Reality is segmentalized and an overall and holistic vision of the universe is eliminated. It disregards nature’s reproduction, particularly of the other living species, in order to concentrate exclusively on the growth of the human species (anthropomorphism). It trivializes cultures, destroys utopias and instrumentalizes spiritualities. In its capitalist version, it leads to exploitation, injustice and growing inequality between social classes, genders and peoples. In its socialist version of the 20th century it overlooked the reconstruction of the relationship with nature and ignored the democratic organization of society.

We also live in times when social and political movements’ actions are multiplying as they fight at the grassroots for ecological and social justice and peoples’ collective rights. The perception is growing that the life of Humanity is a common and shared project, conditioned by the life of the planet and this is expressed in various documents such as: the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples (Algiers, 1976), the Declaration of Indigenous Women (Beijing, 1995) and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (Cochabamba, 2010). This vision needs to be intensified and disseminated, requiring a shared effort that respects social and cultural differences.

To reestablish the rights of nature and to construct interpersonal solidarity globally, tasks inseparably linked, a new initiative parallel to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is today necessary. Its aim is to redefine, from a holistic perspective, the essential elements of humanity’s collective life on the planet, in order to propose a new paradigm around which social and political movements can converge.

The Declaration attempts (1) to shift from exploiting nature as a natural resource to respecting the earth as the source of all life; (2) to privilege use value over exchange value in economic activity; (3) to introduce the principle of spreading democracy in all human relations, including gender relations, and in all social institutions and (4) to promote interculturalism to allow all cultures, knowledge, philosophies and religions to clarify the perception of reality, to participate in the construction of the ethic necessary for its permanent construction , and contribute to the anticipations that make it possible to state “Another world is possible.” It is the paradigm of the “Common Good of Humanity” or the principle of the “Good Life” (BuenVivir) that offers the possibility, capacity and responsibility to produce and reproduce the planet’s existence and the physical, cultural and spiritual life of all human beings in the world. Hence, the proposal of a Universal Declaration.

It is a question of expressing an objective, a utopia in the positive meaning of the word: what it is that helps us forward. This has to happen at all levels, from personal behaviour to international organization and in all sectors, from relationships to nature and to culture. Utopia must take concrete form in transitions, conceived not as simple adaptations of the system to new ecological and social demands, but rather as a step forward, appropriate for each situation. Of course declarations do not change the world, social struggle does. However if declarations stem from the cries of the earth and the clamours of the exploited, they can help to make objectives more precise and bring together the many combats that are taking place all over the world. Hence the proposal for a Universal Declaration. Each article is divided into three parts: the juridical status of the question, the action required and sanctions.

Universal Declaration of the Common Good of Humanity

- 1. Respecting Nature as the source of physical, cultural and spiritual life

Article 1 (Establishing the symbiosis between the earth and the human species, which is the conscious part of nature)

Nature is the origin of the multiple forms of life, including humanity, having the earth as its home. The air, sunlight, atmosphere, water, soil; the rivers, oceans, forests, flora, fauna, biodiversity; the seeds and living species’ genomes are all elements that constitute her reality. Nature should be respected for her fundamental integrity, her equilibria, her processes and the richness of her ecosystems that produce and reproduce biodiversity; for her beauty and her capacity for regeneration. It is the responsibility of the human race, as the conscious part of the planet, to respect ecological justice and the rights of nature, on which its existence and the Common Good of Humanity depend.

Nature must also be able to reproduce life, which is equivalent to a right.

All practices that destroy the regenerative capacities of “Mother Earth” such as the unbridled and anti-ecological exploitation of natural resources, the destructive use of chemical products, the massive emission of greenhouse gases, the depletion of soils and aquatic reserves, the irrational use of energy, the contamination of the earth, of ground water, of the rivers and seas, as well as the production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are inconsistent with the responsibility of humanity towards nature, with the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir). For these reasons these practices are sanctionable.

Article 2 (Building harmony between all elements of nature)

The harmony of the universe and its diverse elements Is a precondition of life. All living species form part of a whole and each vital piece has its own function. Biodiversity is essential in this process and the material exchanges between species (metabolism) must respect the equilibria. The peoples of the earth have the duty to live in harmony with all other elements of nature. Development action must not be undertaken if it involves serious, irreversible damage to nature, which is also the key to the reproduction of the physical, cultural and spiritual life of humanity. It is the responsibility of all the peoples in the world to live in harmony with nature’s elements.

All actions, institutions and environmental systems that implement development models contrary to the integrity and reproduction of the ecological system are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and will therefore be subject to sanctions.

Article 3 (Protecting the Earth, the foundation of all physical, cultural and spiritual life)

Nature is a unique and finite reality, the source of life for all species that inhabit her and all living entities not yet born. The earth can be administered by human beings with the necessary guarantees for the continuity of the administration, but it cannot be appropriated, commodified, or made a source of speculation. It cannot suffer irreversible systematic aggression for the purpose of any mode of production. Natural wealth (land, mineral, oil, oceanic and forestry resources) are a collective heritage and assets cannot be appropriated either by individuals, corporations or financial groups. The elements of the earth (soil, air, water, seas, rivers, forests, flora, fauna, spaces, genomes) should be administered, extracted and treated with the upmost respect for the reproduction of ecosystems, biodiversity, the life of species, the equilibrium of the metabolism between nature and the human species, as well as the welfare of both the present and future generations.

Respect for ecosystems, for biodiversity and for the equilibrium of the material exchanges (metabolism) between human beings and nature must be guaranteed.

The privatization and commodification of land, of natural wealth and the elements necessary for the reproduction of living species – particularly water, oxygen, seeds, as well as the patenting of nature are contrary to the respect for nature and the Common Good of Humanity and they are consequently subject to sanctions.

Article 4 (Ensuring the regenerating capacity of the earth)

It is urgent that the regenerative capacity of the earth be restored. All peoples and human groups are obliged to contribute to this objective. Environmental impact inventories and audits must be implemented, assessments and reparations for damages administered. All peoples and individuals and especially industries, corporations and governments, have the responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle the materials used in the production, circulation and consumption of material goods.

Nature’s capacity to regenerate must be ensured through the joint organization of the human species.

Planned obsolescence, the waste of energy and other primary materials, the irresponsible disposal of waste, and the omission of systematic reporting on ecological restoration are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity, and therefore liable to sanctions.

- 2. Economic production at the service of life and its continuation

Article 5 (Organizing social forms of production and distribution, without private accumulation)

It is necessary for the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir) that people, institutions and economic systems prioritize social forms of ownership of the principal means of production and economic distribution through community, family, communal, cooperative, citizen, and public, thus avoiding the processes of individual or corporative accumulation that cause social inequality. Workers’ and consumers’ control of the production and distribution of goods and services, a well as the financial system will be organized through appropriate social forms, from cooperatives to citizen participation and, if necessary, nationalization.

The production and circulation of goods and services are social activities that should ensure the welfare of everyone and they must be carried out through appropriate forms of action and common organization.

The appropriation of the means of production and distribution by individuals, enterprises and financial groups for private capitalist accumulation is contrary to the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir) and therefore prohibited.

Article 6 (Prioritizing use value over exchange value)

Work (formal and informal) that is subordinated to the accumulation of capital destroys the autonomy of workers and their capacity to be actors in economic activities. Such subordination leads to the breakdown of social peace. The economic system of production and distribution is destined to satisfy the needs and capacities of all peoples and all individuals on the planet. Accessing use values is a fundamental right necessary for the production and reproduction of life. The exchange value, product of commercialization, should be subjected to use value rather than serving private capital accumulation and creating financial bubbles resulting from speculation and being a source of increased social inequalities.

The function of all economic systems is to satisfy necessities and to promote the capacities of all human beings on the planet. The redistribution of the surplus is a common responsibility.

All individual or corporate actions that commodify use values as mere exchange values, that instrumentalize them with advertising for irrational consumption by consumers, and that encourage speculation for the private accumulation of capital, are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity. Also inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity are: tax havens; banking secrecy; speculation on food commodities, natural resources and energy sources. Public and private “odious debts” and poverty as the result of socially unjust relations, are declared illegal.

Article 7 (Promoting dignified and non-exploitative labour)

The processes of production and distribution should ensure that workers have dignified and participatory jobs that are adapted to family and cultural life, fostering their skills and guaranteeing them adequate material means of existence. For work, in all its forms, fulfills human beings as social actors in the Common Good of Humanity. Workers associations to organize the production and distribution of goods and services constitute the basis of this objective.

Work has priority over all the other elements of the production and distribution of goods and services. Solidarity should be given to those who, for reasons of age, physical handicaps or adverse economic circumstances, cannot accede to work.

All organization of the production and distribution of goods and services under the auspices of capital is contrary to the Common Good of Humanity. All modern forms of slavery, servitude and labour exploitation, especially of children, for the purposes of individual profit or private accumulation of surplus value as well as limitations on labour organizing are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir) and are therefore prohibited.

Article 8 (Reconstructing territories)

Confronted by globalization, which has favoured a unipolar economy, the concentration of decision-making powers, the hegemony of financial capital and the irrational distribution of goods and services, it is indispensible to reconstruct territories as a base for resistance to the globalization hegemonized by capital. They should promote the autonomy of peoples, the decision-making powers of the communities and citizens, and food and energy sovereignty, as well as for the main trading exchanges. With this in view, the regionalization of economies should be carried out in accordance with their complementarity and solidarity and not competitivity, thus enabling the peripheral regions to ‘delink’ from the hegemonic economic centres in order to ensure autonomy of production, commerce and finance.

Territory as a basis of social life must be recognized in its different dimensions – local, regional and continental. The principle to be respected is that the populations affected by mining extraction projects, public works and all utilization of natural wealth should be informed and consulted in advance.

The constitution of monopolies and oligopolies, whatever their fields of production, distribution or finance is prohibited, as well as all political centralization that involves the disappearance of territories and all abuse of territorial power to the detriment of other, similar bodies. These are incompatible with the Common Good of Humanity.

Article 9 (Guaranteeing access to common goods and universal social protection)

There are certain common goods that are indispensible for the collective life of individuals and peoples and that constitute inalienable rights. These are: food, housing, health, education, and material and immaterial communication, not only quantitative but also qualitative. Various forms of citizen control or social property exist for the effective organization of access to these goods. “Universal protection” is a right of all peoples and individuals, a responsibility of public authorities that should be guaranteed by an appropriate fiscal policy.

Access to common goods must be recognized as a right of peoples and of individuals

The privatization of public services, particularly in the fields of health and education, in order to contribute to capital accumulation is inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and is therefore prohibited. Specifically, speculation on food, housing, health, education and communication is sanctionable, as is corruption while exercising these rights.

- 3. Collective democratic organization based on participation

Article 10 (Generalizing democracy as a basis for building the subject)

All peoples and human beings are subjects of their histories and have the right to a social and political organization that respects this principle. This organization must ensure harmony with nature and access to the material needs of life through production and distribution systems built on social justice principles. To achieve these goals, collective organization should enable everyone to participate in the production and reproduction of the life of the planet and of human beings, i.e., of the Common Good of Humanity. The organizing principle of this goal is to spread democracy into all social relationships: family, gender, work, political authority, between peoples and nations and in all social, political, economic, cultural and religious institutions. This is valid for all institutions that represent specific sectors of activity or interests, such as industrial and agricultural enterprises, financial and trading bodies, political parties, religious institutions and trade unions, non-governmental organizations, sports and cultural groups and humanitarian institutions. All this means returning to the subject, collective or personal, as the actor in social construction.

The generalization of democracy must apply to all social relations and all institutions.

All non-democratic forms of organizing society’s political, economic, social and cultural life are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir) and are therefore prohibited. Genocides are condemned as irreparable and criminal acts of discrimination. All segregation based on gender, race, nation, culture, sexual orientation, physical or mental capacity, religion or ideological affiliation are liable to sanctions.

Article 11 (Building the equality of relationships between men and women)

Particular importance will be given to relations between men and women, unequal from time immemorial in most societies in the course of human history (patriarchy).

All institutions and all social and cultural systems must recognize, respect and promote the right of women to a life that is equivalent in all fields to that of men and guarantee them their participation on an equal basis.

Social and economic practices, institutions and cultural or religious systems that defend discrimination or actively discriminate against women are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity. All forms of masculine domination, particularly differences in wage income and the non-recognition of family domestic work linked to the reproduction of life, are subject to sanctions.

Article 12 (Prohibiting war and collective violence)

Democratic international relations do not allow the use of war to resolve conflicts. In this day and age, peace is not guaranteed by an arms race. The availability of nuclear, biological, chemical weapons directly jeopardizes the life of the planet and of Humanity. Arms have become a business. Their production causes an immense waste of energy, natural resources and human talents; their use brings about, apart from the loss of lives and infinite physical and moral suffering, serious environmental destruction.

Peace, which is based on Justice, is built up on dialogue.

Incompatible with the Common Good of Humanity and therefore forbidden are: the manufacture, possession and use of weapons of mass destruction, the accumulation of conventional weapons to guarantee regional hegemony and control of natural resources, the destruction of the bases of life (water, food, micro-climates), the use of rape as a weapon of war, the incitement to war by social communications, hegemonic regional pacts and military solutions to solve internal political problems.

Also prohibited are generalized acts of social violence. Genocides are condemned as irreparable and criminal acts of discrimination, as are also ethnocides and ecocides. All segregation based on gender, race (ethnics), nation, cultural, social status, sexual preference, physical and mental incapacities, religious and ideological convictions.

Article 13 (Building the State in function of the Common Good)

The role of the State, as collective administrator, is to guarantee the Common Good, i.e. the public interest, as compared to individual or private interests. Democratic participation is therefore needed to define the Common Good (constitutions) and how it will be applied. All peoples and communities of the earth, in the plurality of their components (members, organizations and social movements), have the right to political systems of direct or delegated participation with a revocable mandate. Regional governments and international organizations, particularly the United Nations, must be constructed on democratic principles.

Social and political organization must be built from below upwards, through participation and social representation, in order to guarantee a fair and equitable functioning of public institutions.

All dictatorial or authoritarian forms of exercising political or economic power, where non representative minorities, formal or informal, monopolize decisions without participation, initiative or popular control, are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and are therefore prohibited. Also forbidden are public subsidies for organizations, social movements, political parties or religious institutions that do not respect democratic principles or that practise any kind of discrimination whatsoever (gender, racial or sexual preference).

Article 14 (Guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples)

Indigenous peoples have the right to be recognized in their differences. For this they need the material and institutional foundations necessary for the reproduction of their customs, languages, cosmovisions and communal institutions, that is, a protected territory, a bilingual education, their own juridical system, public representation, etc. They make important contributions to the contemporary world: for the protection of Mother Earth, resistance to the extractive-export mode of production and accumulation, and a holistic vision of the natural and social reality.

Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities have the right to exist as such.

Actions, institutions and economic, political and cultural systems that destroy, segregate, discriminate against or hinder the physical, cultural and spiritual life of indigenous peoples are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and are therefore prohibited.

Article 15 (Recognizing the right to resistance)

All peoples and social groups have the right to develop critical thought, to practise peaceful resistance and if necessary, insurrection against destructive actions taken against nature, human life, collective or individual liberties.

Resistance to injustice is a right and a duty for all peoples and all human beings.

All censorship of opinion, all criminalization of resistance and the violent repression of liberation movements, are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and are prohibited.

- 4. Interculturalism as a basic dynamic for thinking and social ethics

Article 16 (Building up interculturalism)

The Common Good of Humanity requires the participation of all cultures, knowledge, arts, philosophies, religions, and folklore in interpreting reality and in the development of the ethics necessary to its social construction, the production of its symbolic, linguistic and aesthetic expressions, as well as the formulation of utopias. The cultural richness of humanity, built up throughout history, has become our heritage, and cannot be destroyed. Science and its technological applications must serve the welfare of humanity and not the accumulation of capital. Interculturalism involves the contribution of all cultures, in all their diversity, to the various dimensions of the Common Good of Humanity: respect for nature as the source of life, the priority of use value over exchange value within processes of justice, widespread democratization and diversity and cultural exchange.

All cultures, knowledge and spiritualities in accordance with the principles of this Declaration must have the means for contributing to the pursuit of the Common Good of Humanity – the only definition of progress.

Cultural ethnocide, the practices, institutions and economic, political and cultural systems that hide, discriminate against or turn into folklore the cultural riches of peoples, together with those that impose a monocultural homogenization, identifying human development with Western culture, are incompatible with the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life and are therefore prohibited. Also forbidden are the practices, institutions, and political and cultural systems that demand the return of an illusory past, often endorsing violence or discrimination against other peoples also within their own societies.

Article 17 (Ensuring the right to education and to the transmission of communication)

Information has become central in a production system that employs immaterial means in a globalized world. According to the logic of capital, information is monopolized by the economic powers, both in its production and in its use, thus causing a certain kind of alienation. As regards mass communication, this acts against the exercise of genuine liberty. State monopolies without citizen participation are not an appropriate solution. Only rules that have been democratically established can ensure the free circulation of information that is responsible, critical and constructive.

All peoples of the earth have the right to information, to critical opinions and to knowledge. They also have the right to exchange knowledge and know-how in the pursuit of information useful for constructing the Common Good of Humanity. They should democratically establish their norms of operation.

Monopolies of the media by groups with financial or industrial power, commodification of the public by advertising agencies, exclusive and non-participatory control by States over the content of information, and patents of scientific knowledge that impede the circulation of knowledge useful for the well-being of peoples are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and are therefore prohibited.

- 5. Obligations and sanctions for noncompliance with the Declaration

Article 18 (Applying the paradigm of the Common Good of Humanity)

All noncompliance with, or violation of the rights set forth in this Declaration, which aims to construct permanently the Common Good of Humanity, or the non-execution of the mechanisms set forth herein, shall be known, prosecuted, punished and redressed according to the scale and impact of the damage caused, in accordance with the dispositions of national and international law. Short-term or mid-term transition measures (reforms and regulations) should open up the way to changing relations with nature, establishing the priority of use value, generalizing democracy and creating multiculturalism. However they should not become mere regulations of the contemporary mode of accumulation in order to enable it to adjust to new requirements for the protection of nature and the survival of human beings. Rather they should constitute stages for adopting the new paradigm of the Common Good of Humanity.

The implementation of this Declaration must be guaranteed by appropriate measures that have been democratically drawn up.

All forms of impunity, amnesties and any other laws that deny justice to victims, that is, to nature and her conscious part, humankind, are inconsistent with the Common Good of Humanity and the Good Life (BuenVivir) and are consequently.



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