Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Re-Newal Year: The Human Right to Time

By David Gallup

The New Year provides an opportunity to reflect on time, which is a universal right. How time is celebrated and marked varies worldwide yet impacts all world citizens.

Although many celebrate January 1st as the start of the new year, Chinese celebrate the new year in late January or February, Iranians celebrate in late March, Hindus celebrate in March or April, Buddhists celebrate in April, Jews celebrate in September, Wiccans celebrate at the end of October, and Muslims celebrate based on shifts in the lunar calendar.

When people celebrate the New Year depends upon the calendar in use, which has varied over time, culture, religion and government. Some of the almost 100 different calendars include the Egyptian, Solar, Lunar, Yin-Yang, Mayan, Aztec, Hellenic, Roman, Julian, Celtic, Runic, and Gregorian. So January 1st and all other New Year’s celebrations are a human construct, a method of distinguishing how our lives fluctuate in comparison to one another in the space-time continuum.

Why do we choose to celebrate a new year, to put a border on part of our lives with a beginning and an end? Perhaps because we are alive for an infinitesimal amount of time, we want to mark milestones of our survival. We want to recognize the impact we world citizens have had on each other and the world around us. We want to comprehend the preciousness of time and how far humanity has progressed.

The universe moves at its own pace whether or not humans notice how long it takes for the earth to orbit the sun. Though the universe does what it will, we humans want a feeling of control. We celebrate the passage of time, the arrival of a new day, a new year, and the appreciation of what has gone and what is to come to have a sense of agency over how time passes. Self-imposed limits, such as marking of time, provide an appearance of structure, stability and security in an otherwise unpredictable world.

This recognition of time’s passing – the desire to track it, mark it, measure it – and the feeling of being bound by it is characteristically human, though not only human.

Like humans, our animal cohabitants of the earth also instinctually perceive time. They feel its impact through their visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory, and tactile senses as well as through balance, motion, and magnetism. Elephants, chimpanzees, dolphins, and magpies recognize moments in time, such as “mourning” the loss of one of their tribe. Even plants and bacteria can sense time through changes in light and internal biochemical processes. An appreciation of the concept of time, and how it is used, is important for all beings, and in particular, humans as world citizens attempting to live together peacefully.

Human’s arrangement of time helps us to organize how we behave and interact with each other and the world around us. Our memory captures snippets of time, allowing us to repeat helpful events and actions and to avoid harmful ones. Storytelling, writing and photography, distinctly human capabilities, extend our memory, allowing us to travel through time. We can visit the past, describe the present, or imagine the future. As travelers-through-time, we can evolve as individuals, as humanity, and as part of the universe. We are certainly time keepers. When we recognize our rights and duties as world citizens, we can also be time givers.

Do we become older and wiser over time? Does time give us second and third chances? Does time give perspective?

The only time we can really change is now, how we use time in the perpetual present. Every day provides an opportunity for living anew.  Every day is a moment to make each other happy and to treat each other and the earth with respect.

Although time itself has no frontiers, we humans create borders of time to add order to our lives together.  To maintain that order, however, as world citizens we know that we do not need to separate one human from another by physical borders. In fact, we all share time, and time is free, in the sense that time is available without humans having to expend any energy to create it. We do need to spend energy in how we choose to use our time.  This is where human-made borders, divvying up the earth, favors some humans over others. Thus many people are deprived of their right to time.

How does our control of time empower some of us, and the lack of control subjugate others of us?

If you are living at a subsistence level, all you can do is spend your time working or looking for your next meal. Although we each have a duty to use some of our time to help others and to improve our communities, we also have the right to invest time in personal improvement and in enjoyment and wonder of being alive.

This right to time is affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Article 24 of the UDHR affirms the right to leisure – meaning that we do not always need to use our time exercising our “right to work.” Article 24 states, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

Article 27(1) of the UDHR provides another outlet for how we may use time. It states, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also affirms the right to “participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.”

These affirmations of our right to leisure, to uncontrolled time, are another way of stating that work should not be the ultimate goal of how we “spend” our time. We say “spend” because time, along with being a human right, is also a commodity that has value – value that can be given, taken, shared, wasted, saved, lost, and gained.

We must cherish time. We must appreciate that we have a right to time. We must reaffirm our commitment to equality of opportunity and equality of outcome with regard to time; it is a duty of everyone to respect how each of us can use the time we have.

Just like having a minimum basic income, we need to have a minimum basic time allotment to spend on ourselves, not working or laboring.

Humans have great intellect. As time passes, we as a species must use our intellect to evolve how we use our time to achieve a sustainable, just and peaceful world. We can create a virtuous cycle of ever-expanding human wisdom and planetary improvement. In addition to promoting time rights and duties to each other, we must also ensure that we use some of our time to protect the earth, or our time will be nil. The time is now to recognize that we must implement a new era of human and earth harmony, together as world citizens.

Happy New Year! Happy New Now! Happy New World! 

Friday, December 8, 2017

69th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Unifying Human and Environmental Rights

By David Gallup
Why should we think beyond our humanness to a worldly, earth perspective? Does the earth have a right to exist independently from humans? Do animals, plants and even inanimate objects have rights? How should humans interact with the earth and ecosystem, not as “owners” of the earth, but as caretakers of the planet?

As we celebrate the 69th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2017, let us take a moment to appreciate the bounty that the earth provides for humanity. It is a time to reflect, not only upon human rights, but also upon the rights of the earth itself. It is time to reflect upon how our human rights are dependent upon environmental rights. And it is time to reflect upon humanity’s duty to protect the earth.

Global warming, ozone depletion, rising sea levels, soil erosion, habitat destruction, species extinction, drug, pesticide, plastic and petroleum toxins in groundwater, pollutants in the air, landfills and oceans, deforestation, etc. These human created problems impact all life on the planet and pose a threat to all beings’ existence. We must consider how our human actions are violating that most fundamental right – the right to exist.  Although the focus of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) pertains specifically to human rights, several Articles in the Declaration can be construed to provide a basic legal framework for considering environmental rights and duties as part of our human rights and duties.

The Human Focus of the UDHR

In 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, humans were not fully aware of how our use of the earth and its resources could negatively impact the world. The link between human rights and environmental rights was not yet established. The UDHR focuses specifically on human rights, and only indirectly on environmental rights, for several reasons:

  1. The UDHR was created immediately after World War II when the rights of millions of people were violently, and for many lethally, violated. The UDHR was a reaction to the war, to develop laws of peace as an adjunct to the laws of war, with the expectation that once human rights are fully respected, humans would be less inclined to behave aggressively toward one another.
  2. The framers of the UDHR wanted to focus on human interactions – how we treat each other – in order to build a peaceful world.
  3. The conceptualization of other third or fourth generation rights (such as environmental rights) had not yet come into mainstream thought. The earth had for so long been looked upon as human property to exploit solely for human advancement.
  4. The scientific studies that reveal how treatment of the environment can impact our ability to claim and exercise our rights had not yet been conducted.
Even though the framers of the UDHR do not directly mention environmental rights, these rights can be deduced from Declaration.

The UDHR and Environmental Rights

We can extrapolate rights related to the earth from five articles of the UDHR: Articles 3, 25, 28, 29 and 30.

Article 3 of the UDHR affirms the rights to live, to freedom and to security: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” We now know that if the earth dies, we humans die with it. To affirm our life, liberty and security, we have the duty to act towards nature sustainably and indigenously.

Article 25(1) of the UDHR affirms the rights to health and to fulfill basic needs: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” To advance the standard of living for humanity, we must respect the web of life that supports our health and well-being.  To have abundant food and to fulfill our basic needs, we must nourish the land and maintain clean air and water. While considering standards of living, we must also be mindful of how the priority of continuous economic growth, and its concomitant resource usage, negatively impacts the environment. The earth is facing greater and greater strain from human activities that exacerbate natural phenomenon such as hurricanes, wildfires, and seismic activity.  When we are not mindful and respectful of nature’s infrastructure, nature will wreak havoc on our human infrastructure.

Article 28 of the UDHR affirms the goal of living in a world of order rather than entropy: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” What does a social and international order look like, that allows us to fully realize our rights? That order will come from a holistic world system that equally values both human and environmental rights. That order will come from advocating for the earth. We humans must speak up for the earth, using our “reason and conscience” (as Article 1 states) to voice and implement what the earth needs in order to heal and flourish. That order will come from the awareness of both our rights and duties as world citizens to each other and to the earth.

Article 29 of the UDHR affirms that we humans have duties to each other and the world around us:  “(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” We must expand the notion of duty to the community to mean duty to the earth as a whole, rather than only to the human community. We must secure the recognition of rights of others with the consideration that “others” includes the environment. We must exercise our rights only to the extent that this exercise does not damage the earth.

Article 30 of the UDHR affirms that humans cannot engage in any activity or perform any act that destroys our rights: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” In this final Article of the Declaration, we find our ultimate human duty to the planet. Destruction of the environment eventually destroys our rights.  More than any other human activity, war violates human rights and despoils the environment. Our human rights, and ultimately world peace, are dependent upon healthy, sustainable natural and human environments.

Moving Beyond the UDHR

As our understanding of humanity’s link to the earth has evolved, activists and lawmakers have established environmental laws in an attempt to regulate human interaction with the environment. More than 80 declarations, treaties and multilateral conventions have been ratified over the past 75 years in an effort to protect various aspects of the environment. Several of the most well-known, though not yet well-implemented, include the 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the right to a healthy environment, the 1992 Rio Declaration on the protection of the integrity of the earth’s ecosystem, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gases, the subsequent 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 1998 Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. In 2015, 193 countries adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which 8 directly pertain to the environment. National governments have given themselves until 2030 to try to achieve these goals.

As environmental activists have seen nation-state treaties come and go with big fanfare but little positive change, other attempts to declare the rights of the environment have come to the fore. In 2010, at the “World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth,” a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth proclaimed the rights of the earth and all beings and the duties of humans to the earth. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have signed a petition in support of this rights of nature declaration. Activists plan to present more than a million signatures of support to the United Nations on the 70th anniversary of the UDHR next year with the expectation that the UN will adopt the Declaration. As with many declarations and treaties, relying upon the UN or individual nations to enforce their provisions has had limited success.

Despite the plethora of laws and scientific guidelines for humans to follow to be good stewards of the earth, national governments and corporations have blocked progress toward an ecologically sustainable world. It is not necessarily a question of making new laws, which national and corporate leaders will likely ignore; rather, it is a question of enforcing the laws already on the books, engaging the public in protecting the environment, and summoning a united political will. We need to work with one human voice to govern how we treat the earth and all its inhabitants.

Universal Human Rights Require Universal Environmental Rights

Human rights, peace, and environmental activists must work together to achieve universal awareness and respect for all rights. In the future, we may adopt a Universal Declaration of Universal Rights and Duties, a compendium encompassing all human, environmental and other rights and responsibilities. For now, though, uniting as world citizens to implement universal human rights side by side with universal environmental rights is the key to survival of humanity and the earth.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why Do We Call Ourselves World Citizens?

“I speak an open and disinterested language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity… Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world...” 
--Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

Why Do We Call Ourselves World Citizens?
 (also available at
By David Gallup
157 years after Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man, and after dropping bombs on cities as an air force pilot in WWII, Garry Davis voluntarily gave up his national citizenship and claimed world citizenship. In his autobiography, My Country is the World, he wrote, “Man’s deadliest, self-imposed, restrictive device is nationalism. You and I may be fellow humans, but we are not fellow nationalists. I am a fellow who willfully withdrew from the co-partnership of citizen and national state and declared himself a world citizen.”
Why did Garry Davis call himself a “world citizen”?
Garry Davis, like Thomas Paine, called himself a “citizen of the world” or “world citizen” because he saw the earth and humanity linked together as one unit, not just as a biosphere or ecosystem in which we are passive onlookers. He saw a human and political governing system sustainably integrated into the environment.  He saw the possibility of humans working together to achieve a greater goal, to be more than the sum of individual parts.
He realized that if we humans were to move beyond aggression and war, then we would need to recognize that we are already one human family. We would need to claim a higher citizenship, a higher allegiance to each other and to the earth.
Citizenship is the expression of our rights and duties within a particular communal framework. World citizenship is the recognition that our communal framework is the world as a whole, that we carry our rights and duties with us wherever we are and that the world we share already unites us.
Why should we call ourselves “world citizens” rather than “global citizens”?
 The term “global citizen” is a misnomer. The word “global” derives from “globe,” meaning ball or sphere. “Global” is an adjective describing a location or place. A global citizen is an individual who happens to live on the earth.
“World citizen,” two nouns together, describes an action. A “world citizen” is who you are, what you do, and to what you pledge your allegiance.  The word “world” derives from Old English and Dutch, meaning the “age of man.”  “World” pertains to the life of humans, human existence, humanity, society, civilization, human institutions and the web of interactions among humans and with the environment.
As both a noun and an adjective, “world” is a system. The word “world” describes both the place where humans are and what, together, humans have done with and can make from our surroundings. The “world” is an interconnected system of our actions, reactions, and abilities to transform our relationships with one another and the earth. The word “world” focuses on the human aspect – the structures and institutions – of our existence.
You wouldn’t say “citizen of the globe.” That is not a system. That is a description of where someone finds themselves on a spherical shape or geographic mapping. “Citizen of the world,” however, does engage the idea of people working together for a common goal. So, to be a world citizen means that you consider rights and duties of everyone individually and of all of us together towards each other and the planet. It’s not just a location. It’s not just a description. It is a political statement.
World citizenship is an idea put into action; it is ideals made real. World citizenship embraces action to develop an ethical framework for fulfilling our rights and duties. We have to conceive of the world framework that we want.
This conception of a functional world system requires principle, ideology, strategy and tactics of world citizenship. For a world citizen, the principle is one human family; the ideology is universal rights and duties; the strategy is education of universal principles, rights and duties; and the tactics are the symbols and tools that we engage to promote comprehension of our need to be committed to our planetary and human status, to the rights and duties that we have in the world that we create for each other.
Why is this distinction between “global” and “world” important?
Unlike the term “global,” the term “world” constitutes the ethics, structures and institutions of the humenvironmental system that we can choose to create and develop sustainably.  
We must claim world citizenship status. National governments cannot prevent us from doing so. They can only restrict horizontal citizenship – from one nationality to another. They cannot restrict vertical citizenship that transcends the nation.
If you have a “right to a nationality,” you also have a right NOT to have a nationality. You have a right to claim a higher allegiance to humanity and the earth. Or you can consider the idea of “nationality” to take a broader perspective of identity, meaning world citizenship status – meaning the world is our country.
We are citizens of everywhere and everywhen – wherever and whenever you find yourself in all times and situations. We are each a citizen of everywhere (the whole world). And we are each a citizen everywhere. In other words, wherever you are, wherever you find yourself, you are already a citizen – with rights and duties, no matter whether you were born in that specific place or not. Having a “state” identity is irrelevant to our innate and unalienable rights that we carry with us wherever we go. The problem with the nation-state, as a challenge to a functioning world system, is that it attempts to exclude; it places “others” outside of its own framework of local law.
As world citizens, we rely on world law, such as Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” We have rights and duties inherent to being a world citizen, which must be respected everywhere and for everyone.
We use “world citizen” and not “global citizen” because we need world law – law for a world system to help us govern ourselves peacefully and sustainably. Global law only pertains to the environment, an ecological framework. World law relates to humans, to our human world, to the myriad of interactions that we have with each other as well as with the planet.
Once the framework of world citizenship is secure, we can unite at an even higher level. With a sustainable system in place in this world, we can then become citizens of the universe.
Why do we claim and must we claim world citizenship?
In a future blog, I will discuss the idea of world citizenship as an organizing principle for a successful, sustainable humanity – why we do claim and must claim world citizenship.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Nation-State Hypocrisy and the Nuclear Threat

By David Gallup

How can nuclear weapons states, like the United States of America, legitimately demand that other states, like North Korea, cease their research and production of nuclear weapons, when they themselves continue to maintain and upgrade their own arsenals?

Developing, producing and maintaining nuclear weapons are war crimes and crimes against the peace that could lead to the ultimate crime against humanity, omnicide -- the elimination of humanity and the extinction of most life on the planet.

Nuclear weapons development, production and maintenance violate both humanitarian law and human rights law. See the appendix below regarding how nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and the laws of peace.

Despite the international law against nuclear weapons and war, nation-states with nuclear weapons do not want to divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals. The nation-states’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, ruled in 1996 that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal, with the exception of use for self-defense – a loophole that allows governments to maintain the nuclear option. North Korea could claim that its nuclear testing and arms development is for its own protection. What country doesn’t invoke self-defense, national security, or national sovereignty as a basis for its aggression?

Humanity finds itself in this quandary because of the nation-state principle of national sovereignty.

We must now turn to a new principle of sovereignty, if we are to transcend the control of nuclear weapons countries who make the false case that their best interests are aligned with the best interests of humanity and the earth.

The Supreme Leader of North Korea thinks he can win a nuclear war. So does the Commander-in-Chief of the United States. These national “leaders” are not rational actors. But neither are the other nuclear weapons heads of state.

These heads of state have no legitimate intention to dismantle all nuclear weaponry, nor to stop aggression generally. National governments want these tools of destruction at their disposal, even arguing that their existence prevents their use. What sane leader would start a nuclear war knowing that global annihilation could occur? Mutually assured destruction does not prevent national leaders from acting irrationally.

Nuclear weapons and nuclear war are not the only nuclear concern. Continued use of nuclear energy is poisoning the planet. The uranium and plutonium used by nuclear power plants has already led to environmental degradation in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Enriched plutonium from power plants continues to be made into nuclear weapons. Whether this material is in the hands of national governments, insurgents, or terrorists, its existence threatens our survival.

Outlawing nuclear war, nuclear weapons and nuclear power will begin to remove the threat. To solidify humanity’s future, we need to create global institutions of law and engender a global pride in being citizens of the world. We need to establish a consciousness of humanity and the earth as precious, to be protected.

Before the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, under the “old world order” rulers or governments had no compunction about waging war for unabashed self-interest. They considered it an acceptable tool of state-craft. After World War I, the League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact attempted to make war illegal. In particular after World War II, under the “new world order,” governments became reluctant to wage wars of conquest, couching most wars as defensive protection rather than for offensive gain. (See The Internationalists by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro.)

The UN Charter attempted to establish the conditions in which member-states may use armed force, in particular for self-defense and common defense. Article 2(4) of the Charter states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Because the Charter maintains national sovereignty as sacrosanct, however, warfare within a state (non-international) remains unchecked.

Both the old world order and the new world order are disorder. Continued lack of unity of the human race under one citizenship perpetuates chaos and is the breeding ground of war. A legitimate world order will arise with a global rule of law that world citizens create through democratic, non-hierarchical and participatory world institutions of law.

Sanity in governance requires higher level sovereignty with human and whole earth thinking. Sanity requires human government -- world citizens’ government. A future for humanity requires sanity, sincerity, and human-level sovereignty.

As sane and rational actors, we need to engage our idealism to deal with the realistic threat of nuclear weapons. We need realism to be tempered by idealism. We need to become real-dealists. Only if we implement our idealistic goals of a governed, and nuclear-free, world, will we be able to realistically survive as a species. It’s in our best interest to move beyond our self-interest. We must transcend the paradigm of nationalism to create a world that works for everyone. World citizenship can lead us to achieve an honest, holistic, and worldly consciousness.

One immediate step that each of us as world citizens can take is to sign the petition supporting the ratification of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” To sign the petition online, click here and to sign a handwritten petition, click here

I have already signed the petition. Will you?


The threat or use of nuclear weapons violates the principles of international humanitarian law.

War crime:

The Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Statute of the International Criminal Court maintain the premise that war is supposed to be limited, affect civilians minimally, and be winnable in a short time frame. Fallout from a nuclear war cannot be limited. Many people, not just military combatants, will die. No one can win a nuclear war.

Crime against the peace:

The threat of using nuclear weapons not only destabilizes the regions where the threat is focused, but also the progression of humanity towards the global rule of law and the consequent peaceful world. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) confirms that any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law; yet heads of state dangle the nuclear option like a plaything.

Crime against humanity:

Even a limited nuclear incident could cause immediate, dramatic devastation and long-term habitability concerns for the entire earth. Nuclear war would be genocide of humanity.

According to customary international law and international treaty law, national governments must not commit acts that violate human rights.

Article 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”

Article 5 (1) of the ICCPR states, “Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.”

Continued development of nuclear weapons violates our human rights, in particular our right to live and our right to a world order that allows for the full and free exercise of all our innate and unalienable rights.

Right to live:

Article 3 of the UDHR states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Article 6 of the ICCPR states, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

World order:

Article 28 of the UDHR states, “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”

The preamble of the ICCPR states, “The States Parties to the present Covenant, Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world; Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person; Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights; Considering the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms” agree to uphold human rights.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Should Human Rights Be Decentralized?

By Noemie Broussoux-Coutard*, Guest Blogger

Activists assert the universality of human rights to demand that governments respect everyone’s rights and duties universally. Embodied by treaties, covenants and declarations, human rights enforcement appears to provide an antidote to ongoing violence and inequality in the world. Has the demand for respect of universal human rights principles led to greater respect of our rights?
In her book, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law Into Local Justice, Sally Engle Merry, Professor of Anthropology, Law and Society, analyzes the current flaws in international human rights law creation and dissemination, and attempts to respond to these flaws by proposing that international law and human rights development should return to local community engagement.  Education and promotion of human rights standards, she maintains, should be in accordance with the culture of the local area.
Merry highlights the knowledge gap between the drafters of international law and the communities who are directly impacted by these laws. Localities are often excluded from crucial conversations and preparatory work during the drafting of human rights laws, as well as from what those laws will do and how they will be implemented. Merry posits that the lack of awareness of the law-making process creates an unwillingness to abide by the laws, as well as a perpetuation of human rights violations all over the globe.
Because law drafting tends to be an elitist process, lawmakers sometimes fail to acknowledge the concepts of culture and local identity, and how those concepts relate to human rights.  Local culture, to a significant amount of communities, represents the essence of their existence. Merry states that cultural considerations in human rights often are either overlooked by international standards, or used as a shield against laws, but instead should serve as a peaceful tool to benefit all parties. She writes, “Even as anthropologists and others have repudiated the idea of culture as a consensual, interconnected system of beliefs and values, the idea has taken on a new life on the public sphere.” Merry proceeds by explaining that culture can be used as a method of educating all parties: the international actors, by teaching them the intricate diversity of each community and how it ultimately relates to human rights, and the localities, by teaching them the essentiality of having human rights laws by giving local examples of human rights violations, stemming injustice in their communities.
Merry argues that the solution lies in the “vernacularization” of human rights, by bridging the gap between participants at the international and the local levels, utilizing resources such as NGOs and other activist groups who can translate and understand both parties in this dilemma. This solution is particularly useful in implementing crucial laws that are generally misunderstood by populations with little to no access to the human rights education. This misunderstanding is due in large part to the law-makers of the privileged world who take part in what Merry calls the “transnational culture of modernity.”
This term describes the general grouping of people who, by the simple fact that they all live in modern, organized states with high regards towards individual rights and protection from the state, fail to consider the differences between their world, and communities whose cultures largely differ from these standards. The people in this transnational culture of modernity are often the very people who compose human rights codes and promote human rights on a global scale. Through the assistance of NGOs and activists to bridge the gap of understanding between global standards and local cultures, various disadvantaged communities have come to understand how their governments are mistreating and oppressing them. They have begun to claim their rights utilizing the resources that international human rights treaties provide.
To achieve greater awareness and respect for human rights everywhere, we need to deal with how globalization of human rights has excluded many underprivileged communities from participating in the development of legal standards and legal processes. We need to provide human rights education to local communities, explaining how human rights law and human rights violations directly impact those communities. We also need to educate everyone involved in drafting and implementing international human rights laws that those laws will achieve greater recognition and support when local communities have a voice in the process.
*Noemie Broussoux-Coutard participated in the Summer 2017 Session of the World Law Internship Program in World Service Authority's Legal Department.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year’s Chant

By David Gallup

I endeavor with this tale to raise the ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it raise your spirit pleasantly.

Your faithful friend and fellow human,

December 2016

                The waning moon rises high above his skyscraper as Hugh puts his “Best regards” on his final email of the evening. A winter chill slinks up his fingers from the cold of the laptop keyboard.  The screen’s light flickers as he presses the power off and leans back in his large mahogany desk chair.
                What report to shareholders is due in the morning? How many conferences calls are scheduled for later that week? What is all the commotion coming from the street below, breaking his train of thought? He walks over to one of the windows of his 3rd story downtown condo and looks out.  “Oh,” he mutters to himself, “just some holiday partygoers singing a bit too loud after one too many drinks.”
                “Don’t they know I still have work to do?” he thinks. He opens the window a crack and yells, “Damn revelers. Keep it down!” In typical city fashion, the partygoers yell back, “No, you keep it down!” They all laugh in unison and keep on walking and singing.
                Hugh slams the window shut.  He tidies all the papers on his study desk, reviews his phone calendar, and jots a few more notes. “Well, that’s almost it for tonight,” Hugh furrows his brow. “Roberta can take care of the rest of the planning for this week’s meetings,” Hugh says aloud to the bookshelves and wood paneling that quietly keep him company. His voice slightly echoes.
                Though it is New Year’s Eve, Hugh picks up his cell phone and texts his personal assistant Roberta for the seventh time that evening, with directives, points for research, speech edits, etc. Always a polite return text from Roberta, “Yes, sir, Mr. Mann. Right away.”
                Immediately after he sends the text, a call comes in from a local charity requesting an end of the year donation.  “Absolutely, not!” Hugh shouts into the phone. “Disturbing me when I’ve told you every year prior that charity begins at home! Bug someone else.” He pokes the hang-up button forcefully.
                Head still down toward his cell, he paces from his study across the long hallway lined with empty rooms and perfect photos of his perfect vacations to Paris, Milan, London, Geneva, though most of his memories are the heated arguments in the boardrooms, not the magical waters of fountains or the mischievous gargoyles mocking cathedral visitors.
                Making his way into the dimly lit living room, he pulls out a Waterford glass from the wet bar and pours himself a finger of cognac to calm his mind and muddle his concerns. He sits in the oversized leather armchair, kicking off his hand-made Italian shoes and resting his feet on the ottoman. His voice command turns on the gas flames in the wall mounted fireplace. The cognac warms his tongue and burns his throat as he sips.
                The orange-blue flames are mesmerizing as they flicker, jump and crackle, now the only sounds in his otherwise silent condo. The cognac and the fire seem to mix as if he is sipping the flames.
                Hugh picks up the glass to take another sip. Staring at him from within the crystal is the face of Mr. Mortimer, his partner in his energy and armaments consulting firm, who had died seven years prior. Hugh squints at the glass, shuts his eyes, and slowly reopens them.  Only the viscous amber liquid clinging to the sides of the glass is now visible.
                He pulls the heavy down comforter off the side of the armchair and covers himself from head to foot. Must be all the figures in his head and the cognac making him see things. “I’ll just rest here a bit,” Hugh decides, retreating under the comforter with his glass of liquor rather than walking through the cold, empty condo to his master suite. Some repose from the long hours that have taken their toll would be welcome – a respite from checking his financials, making deals, and persuading business and government leaders to follow his advice.
                Yet the cognac, the fireplace and the heavy down comforter can’t seem to relieve him of the winter chill.  He buries himself further into the armchair and shuts his eyes, drifting off to sleep.
                From the fireplace, a clang, loud bangs and clanking of chains startle Hugh from his cognac-induced sleep.  The crystal glass slips from his hand over the armchair and shatters across the marble tile. Before him a bulking translucent body, wrapped in chains and in what was once a fancy suit, now tattered and stained, drifts out of the fireplace toward Hugh. It is the ghost of his former partner Mortimer.

                The Ghost of Tristan Mortimer

                A resounding deep voice from the ghost of Mortimer calls his name, “Mann!”

                Hugh is silent in astonishment.

                “Mann!” shouts the spirit.

                With no where to hide, Hugh squeaks out a “yes?”

                Hugh had spoken at Tristan Mortimer’s funeral. He lauded Mortimer for all his cunning in business. But he hadn’t thought of him hardly since. Why was he showing up now?
                The ghostly Mortimer rattles his chains, oily chains that Hugh can see are interspersed with yellowing spreadsheets, invoices, business cards, and a once glossy prospectus.

                The spirit groans, “You must listen to me, Hugh. It…is…important.”

                “Why are you so pained?” Hugh asks. “You never had a worry about another when you were alive.”

                “These chains weigh me down. My spirit is shackled,” Mortimer moans. “Don’t you recognize the links of this chain? Don’t you see the indifference, the ingratitude, the selfishness?”

                Hugh could not fathom what the phantom was implying. Hugh was proud to have his name engraved in gold next to Mortimer’s on their company’s signage: Mortimer & Mann. Mortimer, like Mann, was a business man’s business man. For Hugh, business, or rather, success in business is all that really matters.
                “If you don’t  want to end up like me, doomed to wander the earth as an apparition, unable to change anything I see, unable to interact with those in need, then I suggest you take heed about what will happen next.” Hugh knew Mortimer to be gruff, but the seven years since his passing had made him forget how much.
                The chains and tattered suit begin to flutter and rise as the ghost begins to drift back into the fireplace. Before he disappears, Mortimer wails to Hugh, “You will be visited by three spirits over the next three nights -- when the bell tolls one. You have no choice in this matter. Your money and influence cannot stop this journey. I suggest you listen closely, pay attention and heed their warnings….” With one loud whooping sound and a large flash of orange flames, the ghost completely disappears.
                Hugh jumps up out of the armchair with the comforter under his arms, bounds over the broken glass, down the hall to his bedroom, where he proceeds to lock the door, places a chair under the door knob, and climbs into bed. On his nightstand, he finds a sleeping pill and bottle of water which he has trouble opening with his trembling hands. He closes the bed curtains that block any stray light.
                “That cannot have been real. It must be the take-out food from dinner upsetting my stomach. Maybe too much cognac?” Hugh surmises to himself. Though still anxious, he cannot stop the feeling of overwhelming exhaustion. “I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning. A good night’s sleep will make me forget this nightmare.” Hugh falls into a deep sleep.
                Twelve slow clangs from the church bell across from Hugh’s condo waken him for a moment. He opens the bed curtains and all is dark and quiet. Good! Now back to sleep. An hour later, or perhaps a day later, a long, deep clang, as if time has slowed to a crawl, reverberates from the church bell. Then comes a scraping at the window. It is an eerie, wind-howling sound like an axe scraping against the glass pane. Hugh, though still groggy, cannot ignore the scraping sound. “What could be scratching at my bedroom window three floors up and at this ungodly hour?”
                Hugh slowly opens the bed curtains a half inch and peaks out. A ghost, in what he recognizes as tribal clothing and kufi cap with only faint reminiscence of color remaining, swoops clear through the window and up to the bed curtain. The ghost is more a boy, not yet a man. In the face of the ghost, Hugh sees the faces of all of the tribespeople he had encountered many years ago. These are the people who were protesting the spoiling of their homeland by their government and the multinational oil company that Hugh’s firm represented.

The Spirit of New Year’s Past

                “Can a whole day have passed?” Hugh wonders more to himself than to the ghost. “Did I forget to turn in the financial report to investors?” But his musings are quickly halted by the child-ghost who takes hold of Hugh’s hand.
                At that moment, they are no longer in his bedroom, they are in a lively village with people going about their daily, happy lives, not knowing that a few miles away bulldozers, trucks, drill riggings, cranes, workmen, and armed guards are approaching.
                “Are you one of the spirits that Mortimer foretold to me?” Hugh whispers.

                “Yes. I am the ghost of New Year’s past.”

                “Long past?” asks Hugh.

                “No,” says the child sadly, “Your past.” “Take a look around. See all these happy people going about their daily lives?” The child-ghost leads Hugh through the village. It is a village he had visited many years before, as a young adult. It had oil-rich deposits, a place that the then-new firm of Mortimer & Mann could easily exploit, lobbying and convincing the government to continue to allow drilling for their powerful client. Hugh recalls that he had had a youthful twinge of guilt for selling out tribal resources without consulting the tribespeople, themselves. Mortimer had convinced him to ignore this feeling, and focus only on unemotional thoughts of what was best for business.
                In one home, Hugh can see the family gathering for lunch, family members singing and setting the table. In another, a mother swaddles her child and puts him the bassinet for a nap while the baby’s older siblings play games during the lunch break from school. Having a laugh or two while tending to crops and herding animals, the adults seem content, self-sufficient and without want. In the village square, the elders discuss their plans for their community over the next few years.
                Hugh does not know how these contented people have anything to do with him.
                The ghost takes hold of Hugh’s hand, more forcefully than before. And again, they are transported, though not in place, but in time. “Twenty years have passed,” the child-ghost explains. “Look around and what do you see?”
                The fields lay barren of crops. Most of the homes are empty and in disrepair.

                “Where is everyone?” asks Hugh with trepidation.

                “If they are not dead, they have gone.” The ghost child shakes his head and wipes away tears. “Your work, or those for whom you lobbied, poisoned our land and drinking water. We protested but the government arrested us, tortured us, and hanged us. Even if they hadn’t, we would have died of cancer from the oil spills and waste discharged without thought of us who lived here.”
                “These people are, were, my family, my tribe. This was my home. But your work destroyed it, destroyed me.”
                Hugh cannot help but feel remorse for this child. But what is worse for Hugh is that the child feels remorse for him. “I bring you here for your welfare, Mr. Mann,” admonishes the ghost-child. “Your wealth and power is no use to you or anyone if you don’t do anything good with it…”
                “Spirit,” Hugh beseeches, “Remove me from this place…Please no more. Why do you torture me like this?” Hugh begs the ghost-child to bring him back home.
                The spirit of New Year’s past replies, “I show you what you have accomplished. These are shadows of what has been. Do not blame me for what has passed.”
                Now, Hugh grabs the spirit’s hand, thinking that he can force him, being only a child, to listen to his plea. Upon touching the ghost’s hand, Hugh is thrown into darkness. As his eyes adjust, he finds himself clinging to the fringe of the bed curtain in his apartment.
                Hugh is overwhelmed with drowsiness, whether due to the journey to his past or the sleeping pill, he cannot be sure. He falls fast asleep, until the slow clang of the 1 a.m. church bell wakes him with a start. He looks around his room with the flash light from his cell phone, but sees and hears nothing.
                No sooner does he fasten the bed curtains closed then he feels clammy hands reaching in through the curtains and pulling him out of bed by his wrists. He does not immediately get a look at the apparition as he is whisked away.

The Spirit of New Year’s Present

                Hugh finds himself in a low-rise apartment building staring at a family who is scurrying to collect personal belongings. He is standing next to the ghost of a young woman, perhaps 17 or 18, wearing a disheveled head scarf, with specks of ash and blood on her dress.
                “Who are you? Where are we?” Hugh does not recall ever having visited this locale.
                “This is my family. You must look!”
                She proceeds to show him her family, her apartment, as mortars and rapid gunfire explode near by. Hugh covers his ears and ducks.  “Why do you crouch? These bombs cannot hurt you. This is your present, but you are not presently here, not really. You are not here when the bombs fall from the sky, are you? But see, they do affect my family.”
                The ghost’s mother, father, two sisters and brother gather a few pairs of clothes, some food, whatever they can fit into back packs, even the four-year old brother carries one. The family stares blankly, frowning as they take one last look at their apartment for any important item they might need. The children sob softly as they needlessly shut the apartment door and make their way down the back stairs into the hidden alley.
                The ghost takes Hugh by the collar, dragging him along behind the family as they make a long trek at dusk to the outskirts of the city where they plan to meet another family and leave the country. All the while, to avoid stray bullets, they stop intermittently to hide behind whatever concrete walls remain of neighboring buildings.
                A moment later, the ghost pulls Hugh through the back of a delivery truck. Inside, Hugh sees the families hidden under tarps, quietly whispering. One mother sings softly to calm her baby. The road is bumpy with debris from bombed out buildings. Through the truck window, Hugh sees bodies strewn on the ground and attempts to turn his head away, but the spirit grabs his head by each ear and forces him to look at the destruction.
                “This is what you are doing to my family and to my city,” the spirit says to Hugh, pointing to those in the truck and the devastation outside the window.
                “I did not cause this,” Hugh retorts. “This has nothing to do with me…”
                The spirit puts her hands to her hips, then lifts her left arm with hand extended gesturing to everything around her. “You think that your lobbying has nothing to do with this?” the spirit raises her voice incredulously.
                “Your work allows the rebels and the government alike to be armed, to have an unending supply of artillery, guns, bombs, and war planes.”
                “It’s not my fault,” Hugh protests, “that there’s an arms industry. This is just part of the business.”
                “Well, your business,” the spirit scoffs, “and one of its bombs got me killed.”

                The family begins to say prayers and hold hands. Despite the artillery fire outside, the mother, father and children gain a resolve in their expressions.  They muster the will to press on and find a new home elsewhere in the world.
                For Hugh, though, the spirit jerks him from the truck and drops him back at the city’s center. Hugh instinctively runs for cover behind a concrete wall. He is not alone. Two trembling children, or rather the ghosts of two children, are crouched by his side.
                “Those are my cousins” the spirit starts, then continues with emphasis, “and your cousins.”
                “The boy is named Selfishness and the girl is named Oppression,” the spirit states. “And although these two are dead, they have many twins amongst the living.”
                Hugh asks, “They could not find refuge or resource?”
                The spirit replies, “Are there no camps, no jungles for the persecuted and the displaced? Are there no factories of hard labor? No prisons for dissidents?”
                The ear-piercing shelling intensifies, and a bomb explodes next to Hugh. Then, complete silence. He slowly opens his eyes to find himself in his bed, covered with sweat on his brow and above his lip. He shivers and pulls the covers over himself. Could this be a delusion from fever? Before he can think further, the church bell rings 1 a.m. once more.
                Before the bell completes its ring, Hugh is no longer in his bed. He is clinging with all his might to a large piece of plastic in a rough sea. Hugh’s ears are deafened by the thundering waves crashing and thrashing all around him.

The Spirit of New Year’s Future

                “What are we doing here? There is no land as far as the eye can see,” Hugh attempts to shout at the ghost floating in the air above the waves. The ghost of New Year’s future has withered, wrinkled and burnt skin with boils oozing a putrid green liquid. Its bloodshot eyes have no lids to protect Hugh from the phantom’s fixed gaze. Its only clothing is red flames that rise from its body in rings around its legs, midsection and chest.
                As Hugh pulls the plastic sheet closer to his chest, the ghost hovers above the waves whose waters only seem to stoke the fires on the ghost’s skin.
                “Our world is no longer livable. This is the future that you are creating.”
                A tsunami approaches in the distance. Hugh is swept away, carried atop the waves where all he can see is water for miles. The salty, oily water burns his eyes, and he gags as some water forces its way into his nostrils. He shuts his eyes tight, and the next thing he notices is a feeling of extreme heat as he lands upon a sand dune in a desert.
                The spirit howls, “This used to be the northern plains. Look what your handiwork has done! Men think that they can control nature. We don’t own the earth. We belong to the earth.”
                Hugh considers all he has seen from the three spirits. He thinks aloud, “One’s actions will foreshadow certain ends, to which if persevered, they must lead. But if one departs from those actions, the ends will change.”
                “Please, say that it is thus with what you show me,” Hugh implores the ghost.
                Hugh begins to sink as a sand storm piles fine grains all around him.
                Hugh cries, “I will honor the new year in my heart and will try to make each day of the year a new beginning. I will live the past, present and future now with the spirits of all three in me. I welcome the lessons they teach. Please remove me from this desert.”
                Reaching up for the hand of the ghost, despite the flames all around it, Hugh attempts to pull himself free of this desert grave. The ghost floats away, out of Hugh’s reach. But Hugh holds up his right arm as if to make an oath before a judge that he will change.
                Suddenly, the winds stop and the sand transforms into his comforter on his bed. Light shines through the bed curtains. He runs over to the window, swings it open and yells down to a kid on the street. “Hey, what day is it?”
                The kid shouts, “New Year’s day, of course.”
                Hugh jumps for joy, not having missed New Year’s Day, for the spirits visited him all in one night. He throws on some clothes and runs out of his apartment building down to the street. With the bright sun above, he does not notice the chill in the air. Grinning, he hops on the subway. When he exits the subway, he looks around at the city, with a new sense of appreciation. On the subway ride, he thought about what he could do and what he would do. Having a little lunch first couldn’t hurt.
                As he walks down the street a bit more, he finds himself at the doorway to the apartment where his assistant Roberta lives. He rings the buzzer.
                “Who is it?” asks Roberta.
                “It’s me… Mr. Mann… Uh…Hugh. Sorry to bother you on this day off, but I brought a little lunch, actually a big lunch and I have some good tidings I’d like to share.”
                Roberta sighs to herself; but surprised by her boss’s energetic enthusiasm, and, well, the offer of a hearty lunch, it would be impolite to refuse. She and her young son Tim would not have to trudge out to the grocery. She buzzes him in.
                Hugh hands bags of warm and savory food to Roberta as she opens the door to her modest apartment. Seeing the big smile on his mother’s boss’s face, Tim, who usually hides behind his mother’s legs whenever he sees Mr. Mann, gives a little wave and a soft hello.
                They sit at the kitchen table and begin to eat. Hugh tells Roberta that he wants, needs, to draft an entirely new business plan for the firm. Fossil fuels and armaments will be phased out. Solar and renewables, repurposing weapons factories, and manufacturing for infrastructure would be their new focus. Between bites of sandwich, Roberta expresses her surprise and delight.
                Hugh continues, “Tomorrow, I am calling the local refugee agency and will sponsor a family to stay with me. My condo is plenty big and I could use some company. And while I’m at it (he looks at his cell phone), I’ve got to call that fellow back from the charity and send in my annual donation.”
                Roberta’s jaw just about drops. If it hadn’t been for the yummy food in her mouth, it would have.

The End of the Chant
                Hugh was better than his word. He did it all and became a good friend and mentor to Roberta and Tim, as good a person as the good city knew, or any other good city in the whole world.
                Some people laughed at Hugh to see the alterations he had made in his life, in his work, in his life’s work. But he did not mind this laughter for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened in this world, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset.
                Knowing that people such as these would think his moral advocacy to be nothing more than utopian folly, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle their eyes in grins, than try to dissuade him in unattractive ways.

                His own heart laughed. And that was quite enough for him…and for the world.