Global Citizenship: A New and Vital Force

Michelle Bachelet, President Of Chile, Addresses the Seventy-First Session of the General Assembly. 21 September 2016. ©UN Photo/Cia Pak

The idea of global citizenship goes back a long way, but in its current iteration it played its most significant role in the process that began with the creation of the United Nations in 1945 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, continuing with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement in 2015. This has been a period during which lessons were learned, tragedies were experienced and progress was made and during which the idea and the institutions promoting an inherent and universal dignity of the human person gradually matured.

In this way, both the Charter of the United Nations and the preamble of the Universal Declaration represent the beginning of the “… recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, which are today our minimum standards in the international arena, and which is the foundation for today’s global citizenship.

Throughout this period of over seventy years, the United Nations has played a key role in enabling the concept to mature and adapt to the reality of globalization in its various aspects. It is now understood as a type of citizenship that transcends what is purely national, is unrelated to a specific identity and/or territory, and embraces a constantly evolving global ethic.

Global citizenship exists at various levels, in numerous contexts and at different times, with no single identifiable institutional framework. In the new world order, it seeks to expand its scope and democratize a decision-making process that can radically affect basic aspects of our societies, especially in people’s lives, particularly those of minorities and the disadvantaged. Global citizens act without limits or geographical distinctions and they do so outside the traditional spheres of power. Their goal is to defend human dignity and to promote social accountability and international solidarity, in which tolerance, inclusion and recognition of diversity occupy pride of place in word and deed, reflecting the multiplicity of actors involved in the actions of global citizenship.

These actions are producing real results. In its 2016 report,1 the Global Citizenship Commission describes the development of the rights associated with universal dignity as those that constitute human rights. Although progress has sometimes been uneven and there have been serious setbacks, they have won general acceptance. They have come to be protected by other concepts and institutions seeking to preserve and consolidate their legacy by broadening their scope, depth and coverage.

In my capacity as former Executive Director of UN-Women, I should emphasize the importance of the concept of global citizenship and the education of active global citizens, as an element of positive change for the promotion of women’s rights and their participation in public life.

We know that there is still a legal backlog and that much remains to be done to achieve gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, and to eradicate abuse and violence against women and girls. However, cooperation within the multilateral system and global citizenship have created a culture in which it has become socially acceptable for women to occupy leadership and decision-making posts. This is especially evident in the United Nations, where Secretary-General António Guterres has made a commitment to gender parity.

This recent history proves the existence of a paradigm shift in the international order. It is based on the reconfiguration of citizenship and power, and has even challenged the traditional notion of security, with the emergence of the concept of human security. Accordingly, the focus of security should be the individual and not the State. This is also the source of the concept known as the responsibility to protect. It was adopted by all Member States of the United Nations in 2005 at the World Summit and is understood as the collective international ethical responsibility to act in cases of mass atrocities and to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

These developments, as well as the historical pattern of constant impetus and change, resulted in the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Both initiatives set a precedent for the global commitment to implement a global development agenda. It is composed of three interrelated elements necessary for sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. It is an ambitious project, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations and with citizens’ participation. It is a universal and transformative project aimed at the eradication of poverty and the construction of an equitable world by 2030.

Similarly, the Paris Agreement represents a milestone in global efforts to improve our response to the threat of climate change. The goal sought by all Member States who signed it is to considerably reduce the risks and effects of global warming. The planet is threatened by ocean acidification, affecting marine life cycles, and by rising water levels that are threatening the existence of Small Island States or creating extreme meteorological phenomena in zones previously spared, causing population movements and even humanitarian crises. This global commitment inspired Chile, which is especially vulnerable to natural disasters, to enact new environmental legislation.

In view of this history, we can be optimistic about further progress. Admittedly, much remains to be done but we have a new and vital force—global citizenship. This is why it is crucial for society and decision-makers to work together. This partnership will help us to create a global ethic, based on the accountability and universal solidarity of active global citizens. The cooperation must be inclusive, benefiting from regional differences and universal experiences. Only then will we be able to deal with issues of a global nature requiring global solutions. Concerted human action, innovation and democratic education of future generations will enable us to successfully face challenges that are not responsive to national solutions and that threaten the survival of the entire human race.    

Notes

  1. Global Citizenship Commission, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 21st century: a living document in a changing word”, Report (New York and Cambridge, UK, NYU Global Institute for Advanced Study and Open Book Publishers, 2016). Available from http://gias.nyu.edu/2016/04/release-global-citizenship-commission-report/.