The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humankind: Big Words, Small Effect

The text of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humankind was presented on Monday before the french Economic, Social and Environmental Council. France will introduce the declaration in December at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where 50,000 participants (representatives of State governments, intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies, NGOs and the civil society) will assemble. The ambition is for the United Nations General Assembly to adopt it in 2016. As it is, the draft proclaims four principles, six rights and six duties of humankind, including the right to a healthy and ecologically sustainable environment. This new generation of rights sets to prevent excessive reduction of vital resources.

Whose concern?

The redactors of the declaration, the former french Minister for the Environment Corinne Lepage and her team of publicists, opted for a global scope in the drafting: humankind includes all human individuals and organizations, and contains the past, present and future generations; the text refers to the demands of the „human family“ and to the „principle of intragenerational and intergenerational responsibility“. This particular semantics apparently taps into the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and it does so for a very specific task: that of ensuring the transmission of humankind’s common heritage to future generations.

The semantic correspondence is however the only true point of contact between human rights and the alleged „rights of humankind“. There is no reason to believe, other than the assertion made in the introduction that fundamental rights and the preservation of nature are interdependent, that human rights will come out reinforced of this innovation. This will simply add to the corpus of soft law from which the justiciable can draw ...

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