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Simultaneous 70th Anniversaries: Universal Declaration of Human Rights & World Citizenship Movement

By David Gallup

Two moments in recent history have helped us to realize that there is one humanity and one earth:

The first moment was when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. These bombs confirmed that humans have the power to eradicate humanity and destroy the entire world.

The second moment was when a rocket was propelled into near earth orbit in 1946, with an attached motion picture camera. The camera captured photographs of the earth as one unified whole.

These two moments provided competing visions, one view of the earth as a fractured planet and another view of the earth as one world. Representing two ends of an ethical spectrum, they forced humanity to choose between a world of destruction and a world of inspiration. Both moments ultimately led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and world citizenship.

Moments such as these helped to inspire Eleanor Roosevelt and Rene Cassin (drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to establish universal principles to guide humanity, principles that would be applicable to everyone, everywhere.  The Declaration was a legal response to the violence and chaos of World War II. The drafters intended to establish a code of conduct for humanity in order to prevent a third world war.

These moments also inspired World War II veteran Garry Davis, as he describes in his memoir My Country is the World, to “willfully withdraw from the co-partnership of citizen and national state and declare himself a world citizen.” Garry was ashamed of his own direct participation as a bomber pilot 29,000 feet above the earth dropping bombs on his fellow humans.

1948 was the year that Garry Davis gave up his exclusive allegiance to a country and also the year that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. Specifically, this December 10th marks the 70thanniversary of the unanimous adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now viewed by many legal scholars as customary international law.  This year also marks the 70th anniversary of Garry Davis’s renunciation of national citizenship in favor of world citizenship, which has been followed by almost 2 million people world-wide who have also claimed world citizenship status.

What can we learn from this joint celebration of the Declaration of Human Rights and Garry’s declaration of human unity?

At the heart of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and at the heart of Garry Davis’s claim of world citizenship is the idea that humanity, human rights, and the earth itself, deserve a universal legal status, a universal identity, and a universal governing system. The UDHR drafters and Garry Davis responded to World War II by universalizing rights and by universalizing citizenship.

The UDHR was revolutionary. It created a human rights dialogue, so that people could engage in discussion of our universal freedoms and responsibilities.

Garry Davis’s renunciation of national citizenship also was a revolutionary act. He constructed a level citizenship that did not involve violence, war, or oppression to establish a world government.

In 1948, the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights envisioned the Declaration as a tool to teach everyone about our rights. They wanted the global public to demand that governments “secure universal and effective recognition and observance” of our rights, as the Preamble of the UDHR states. They wanted to create “a social and international order” in which everyone could share the world peacefully and in which everyone’s rights and needs would be fully met. They envisioned every day as a human rights day.

Both the drafters of the UDHR and Garry Davis knew that if the rights of all human beings were to be upheld, those rights would have to be codified – written down for all to see, all to learn, and all to implement. As the UDHR’s Preamble states, if humans are “not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, then human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

In the halls of the UN, however, the squabbling of the nation-states continued throughout the autumn of 1948. The Russian government and several Soviet Bloc countries were threatening to vote against the Declaration.

If you saw the documentary “The World is My Country” about Garry Davis, you learned that he was instrumental in the unanimous signing of the Declaration. By December of 1948, Garry was world renowned for camping out on the steps of the United Nations when it was holding its General Assembly sessions at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, and for interrupting a session to demand the creation of a world parliament and world government. (His interruption occurred on November 19, 1948.)

On December 9th, 1948, the night before the UN general assembly vote on the Declaration, Garry Davis spoke before a crowd of 20,000 war-weary Europeans at the Velodrome d’Hiver Stadium in Paris. Calling for world government, Garry said, “We can no longer permit ourselves to be led by statesmen who use us as pawns in the game of national interests. We wish to be led by those who represent us directly: we, the individuals of the human community.”

This rousing speech made headlines throughout Europe and impacted the representatives of the states considering whether to accept or reject the Declaration.  The next day, instead of voting against the UDHR, 8 countries abstained.  This meant that 48 countries unanimously accepted the UDHR.  Now every member-state of the United Nations, when becoming members, must agree to abide by the Declaration.

It takes moments–like Garry Davis’s bold acts of civil resistance–to build momentum.

What does the UDHR and world citizenship tell us as about humanity’s roadmap to a peaceful world? Where do we go from here?

It’s time to rise up! We need a spark—like the character Katniss Everdeen—in the novel The Hunger Games.  Or like actual heroes Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Garry Davis. We need to know that we can each be the spark of world peace, and we need to teach others how to find their spark.

Just as Garry Davis created a movement in 1948 that inspired a global public searching for hope, unity and peace, we need to do the same.

As global warming, perpetual wars, and neo-nationalism threaten the existence of our rights and our human identity, NOW is the time to organize a new world citizenship movement for global change!  We need a movement that engages both incremental change through law and institutions, as well as moments of mass resistance.

We need to stage an uprising devised of political theater and activism. We need to interrupt the UN and nation-state system once again. Through coordinated disruption, sacrifice and escalation, we need to show that our world model resolves and transcends the anomalies of the nation-state paradigm. We need to unite universal rights and world citizenship into a movement that people will flock to.

Here are two concrete examples of how the World Service Authority (WSA) is igniting this movement, one through incremental change and one through immediate action:

For incremental change, the World Service Authority, along with partner organization Citizens for Global Solutions, is establishing World Citizen Clubs on high school and university campuses. We are using the theory of change and building momentum simultaneously by educating the minds and inspiring the hearts of youth around the world. World Citizen Clubs will get young adults to start thinking and acting as world citizens, claiming this status for themselves and providing an example for others. Engaging youth will help us to create the moments that lead to momentum in the world citizenship movement.

For immediate action, representatives of WSA’s World Citizen Center of Ojai have traveled to Tijuana to stand in support of people fleeing persecution in the Americas and around the world. Along with American Friends Service Committee, we are exposing the inhumanity of militarization and borders that separate humans from humans, perpetuating the divisions that lead to violence and war. We are shining a light on the injustices that refugees, stateless and undocumented people — millions of our fellow humans — face on a day-to-day basis.

This 70th anniversary of the UDHR and of modern world citizenship teaches us that we can imagine change, we can organize change, and we can be the change. We can be successful in igniting the world citizenship movement by coordinating our theory of change efforts with momentum from mass non-violent action.

By coordinating the principles of the UDHR and world citizenship, we can advance institutions and identity based on unity, rather than separation – based on our common needs, rather than our cultural differences. Respect for human rights and recognition of world citizenship strengthens us socially, economically, politically, legally, psychologically, and environmentally.

The strength that we gain through world citizenship and the universalization of human rights will not supplant the nation-state system or threaten local identity. The way to protect the local is to acknowledge the global. By achieving peace at the world level, we can ensure that local culture is preserved rather than destroyed by violence.

After World War II, the drafters of the UDHR and Garry Davis were compelled to imagine a world in which all human beings could live together in harmony. To take that image of peace and portray it in the world writ large, they had to make and be the change that they wanted to see. The drafters had to affirm the universality of our rights and Garry had to affirm the universality of our human identity.

Like the creators of the Declaration of Human Rights and Garry Davis, we must be the drafters and actors of own destiny. We must be the change we want to see in the world!


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