Proposal for a universal declaration for the common good of humanity

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 19:55
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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

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.

Declaration of the Common Good of Humanity

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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


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