The Charter and activities in Lebanon, Presentation and methods
by Ziad MAJED
What is the Charter of Human Responsibilities?
The Charter is a text that was written thanks to the efforts of people from a number of continents and countries. It is also a working process that consists of disseminating this Charter, which, on the one hand, lists certain principles associated with the idea of responsibility and on the other, complements Human Rights with the aspect of human and citizen responsibility. So it involves activities that are based on disseminating the Charter but which are, at the same time, linked, to some degree, to the Charter’s philosophy. In other words, it’s about establishing spaces for participation, spaces for dialogue and inciting responsibility in individuals and groups in various countries.
For us, in the Arab region, and more specifically in Lebanon, we began by translating the text into Arabic and adapted it accordingly. I think the problem of terminology, which exists perhaps in other regions, regarding the translation of the term responsibility, wasn’t an issue for us, firstly, because this term is often used in Arab political literature; in Arabic it is MassouLia; and secondly, because of the generally Muslim religious background, where the term responsibility carries a relatively strong religious connotation for the individual believer, who must take his actions upon himself, and is thus responsible for them before God. So we worked on this term and translated the text. The text was then disseminated by way of cultural clubs and students, as well as at the Arab Book Fair, held in Beirut.
There are perhaps a few comments and details which should be considered: first of all, as the majority of Arab countries are non-democratic, people don’t “really” feel responsible because they have no way of changing an authority they don’t like, and they don’t feel that they are masters of their own political and social fate.
So, working on principles associated with responsibility is not an easy task but it is nonetheless a very interesting one, particularly in light of the region’s situation, where there is a feeling that outside the Arab world, a number of states and even societies are to some extent responsible for what is happening in the Arab world itself.
The work is, therefore, twofold: on the one hand, there is the issue of citizenship in the Arab world and the responsibility that leads to change, and on the other, solidarity between the world’s societies where people are working on the same principles.
How are you putting this Charter into action?
In this first phase, which we have been at for the last six months, we organised meetings with both groups of students and with the older generation that has, for years, been involved in social and cultural struggles and political work in general. So first of all, we present the Charter, its ideas and the actions that took place around Lille and since Lille. Secondly, we lead a discussion on how this notion of responsibility might be seen from an Arab point of view, and to what extent it expresses the concerns of Arab citizens who are seeking a world which is more responsible. Again, two generations are present:
The youngest, who are more interested by what is happening in the world and in the internationalist movement, are extremely enthusiastic.
So there were meetings, there was the dissemination of the Charter itself, which consists of two texts: the Charter and another text with an introduction that goes further into the approach behind the text. We are also going to present it on the websites of a number of Arab NGOs and social and political movements, and I think it will be beneficial for a lot of other countries.
There is also the idea of making a short film at least 5-6 minutes long with spots of people from different backgrounds and generations speaking about what the term responsibility evokes for them.
We also have the idea of holding a Lebanon meeting where we could invite representatives from civil society and former journalists, and I think we could find business leaders or people connected to the government, and hold a short seminar on the Charter and distribute it.
We could perhaps later invite several members of the International Committee to give conferences in universities where they could both target students and teachers, in preparation for a major meeting on the Charter in September 2006.
When I go back, I think that after seeing the work others have been able to do on the Charter, we will try to adopt several approaches, perhaps in connection with women, progressive members of parliament, businesspeople, etc.
So you work on a number of levels: directly with civil society, with the media, with political groups, with companies and so forth.
Exactly, because I think the challenge is that if the Charter is ever going to be extensively adopted and hold a place in public debates, the work cannot be restricted to grassroots or social movements sectors – although these sectors are very important – but there has to also be another level of work connected to the media, which is able to disseminate the principles on a large scale, or if they don’t want to speak about the Charter in its entirety, they can find a text with a principle that is able to spur debates on the idea of responsibility, and people connected to the decision making process.
I think working on multiple levels is important. Furthermore, if work on international institutions is to be developed with the Charter’s International Committee on an international level, it seems just as important to do some lobbying in numerous countries and not just in democratic countries where public opinions are listened to.
What are you referring to when you speak about “Lille”?
Lille was a Citizen Assembly of all the world’s continents. Before Lille, there had been regional and continental assemblies, with meetings in the Arab world, in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In these meetings, there had been a huge amount of discussion on a number of topics, from social movements, governance, participation, and women’s rights to a series of relatively complex topics.
In Lille, for each regional or continental meeting, there were delegates from a number of social backgrounds and professional profiles who met late in 2001 to put together this charter. This was done through workshops that took place over four or five days. Suggestions were put forward by each workshop, which at the end resulted in the drafting of the text.