23 May, 2022


InterAction Council & Balancing Human Rights With Duties & Responsibilities

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Under the present international and national circumstances of each and every country, balancing human rights with human duties and responsibilities has become of paramount importance. Although this has been a theme from the beginning of human civilization, human’s always have had a tendency to undermine the duties and responsibilities. The reason perhaps being that they gave priority to material needs and personal interests instead of overall moral values and ethical principles.

Now we have come to a crisis point with the coronavirus pandemic, global warming, natural disasters and environmental pollution. Even before, these moral issues were there in respect of universal  poverty, malnutrition and class discrimination. No international leader however appeared to care much for these needs when they were in power.    

The InterAction Council (IAC) consisting of a group of former statemen and leaders however came up with a Universal Declaration of Human Duties in 1997 which is much relevance today. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether this would be followed up by the IAC and others under the present circumstances.

Some InterAction Council Members


Past Religious Discourses

Almost all religious leaders and most (ancient) philosophers emphasized the importance of human duties and responsibilities along with or separate from rights. Those were mainly the times of feudalism or similar social settings. Therefore one could cynically argue that those pronouncements were mainly to justify feudal societies, if not feudal exploitation.   

However a closer look at those teachings show whether it was Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Greek philosophy, Judaism or Islam that the purposes were to advocate rightful/spiritual individuals and cohesive societies. Almost all of those leaders found something wrong with the existing societies. Different leaders of course gave different reasons and explanations. The teachings also differed depending on the times and circumstances. For example, Sigalovada Sutta of the Buddha differed from the Laws of Manu of Hinduism. Sermon of the Mount of Jesus differed from the Ten Commandments that Moses advocated. These differences also were in respect of duties and responsibilities. 

It is difficult to discuss or compare all religious and premodern philosophical doctrines, in this short space, justifying the importance of duties and responsibilities. However the importance or the similarity between the Sigalovada Sutta (Buddhist) and the Sermon on the Mount (Christian) cannot be overlooked.

Both discourses started with general moral principles whether we fully agree with them or not. The Buddha talked about four vices in conduct, evil action in four ways, and six channels for dissipating wealth as preface to his main discourse. Altogether fourteen evil things were emphasized that people have an obligation to prevent from. See Narada Thera on Sigalovada Sutta.

The Christ talked about eight beatitudes before the main sermon. These were put forward as positive attributes. Blessed are (1) the poor in spirit, (2) who are meek in behavior, (3) the mourners, (4) who suffer from hunger, (5) who are the merciful, (6) those who are pure in heart, (7) the peacemakers, and (8) those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. When he said ‘blessed are those who suffer from hunger,’ the purpose was not to justify poverty, but to sympathize with the poor in unreasonable society. See Charles Gore for the Sermon on the Mount.   

In most of these moral principles, which have now been abandoned by many disciples, both leaders came closer in principles and heart. In the Veludvara Sutta, Buddha said “one should not do anything to others that one does not like done to oneself.” Likewise, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” This common principle is now identified as the ‘Golden Rule.’ 

Sigalovada Sutta

The Sigalovada Sutta is undoubtedly much pertinent to today’s debates on rights and duties, emphasizing the reciprocity between different duties of duty holders. In advising Sigala about the real meaning of worshiping the ‘six quarters,’ the Buddha explained the mutuality of duties between: children and parents; students and teachers; husbands and wives; friends and associates; employees and employers; religious leaders and their followers.

Interpreted from Narada Thera, most interesting today might be the following.

‘There are five ways a husband should minister duties to a wife: (i) by being courteous to her, (ii) by not despising her, (iii) by being faithful to her, (iv) by handing over authority to her, and (v) by providing her with adornments.’

On the other hand, ‘There are five ways a wife must minister duties to a husband: (i) by performing her duties well, (ii) being hospitable to relations and attendants, (iii) being faithful, (iv) by protecting what he brings, and (v) being skillful and industrious in discharging her duties.’

Of course the duties were formulated based on the circumstances of those times. However, it is important to note that the duties of the husband came before the duties of the wife.

During the Modern Era

It was towards the end of the medieval period in Europe that the rights of individuals or groups (with some status) started to emerge. Magna Carta of 1215 was one example. It was the rebellious Barons against an authoritarian King/s that these rights were first articulated.

However it is a mistake to consider that modern philosophers and intellectuals were not concerned about people’s duties. In 1673, Samuel Pufendorf wrote his treatise, ‘On the Duty of Man and Citizen.’ He was basing his arguments on what meant to be natural law and said ‘more inhumanity to man has been done by man himself than any other causes of the nature.’ According to him, the first duty of man is to the God, and then to the ‘natural laws’ governing the society. As a consequence, man has duties to himself, the fellow citizens and society.   

When we normally refer to the modern origins of human rights philosophy, we refer only to the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen’ of the French Revolution (1789) or revised versions thereafter. However in 1795 there was a ‘Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen.’ “The maintenance of society requires that those who compose it should both know and fulfil their duties,” the document declared. 

This second declaration which became the basis of a new French constitution after Robespierre’s terror and anarchy (before Napoleon’s reign), declared both rights and duties. On the rights side, ‘liberty, equality, security and property’ were declared as before. On the duties side, first came the duties of the legislators (like our parliamentarians), and the government. To mention only two of the other duty propositions, it said (1) “the obligations of each person to society consist in defending it, serving it, living in submission to the laws, and respecting those who are the agents of them,” and (2) “no one is a good citizen unless he is a good son, good father, good brother, good friend, and good husband.”   

I can go on and on referring to other declarations (of that time and after) and to philosophers like Emmanuel Kant, Emile Durkheim or Mahatma Gandhi. However the pertinent question is why did the drafter’s of the UN ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)’ in 1948 overlooked this side of human nature or necessity? I have previously mentioned that I asked this question from one of the UDHR drafters, John Humphrey, in 1988 at a UNESCO conference held in Malta. Unfortunately, he did not have a good answer except referring to Article 29 of the UDHR!   

InterAction Council 

In 1983, a former Prime Minister of Japan, Takeo Fukuda, initiated the InterAction Council (IAC). The other leaders who were in the forefront then and thereafter were Helmut Schmidt (Germany), Pierre Trudeau (Canada), Bill Clinton (US), and Malcolm Frazer (Australia). There were many others as members. As the IAC pronounced, “The idea was that former world leaders would be free to reflect on their experiences, and look beyond the immediacy of current issues and the limitation of national interests, to focus on the long term structural factors driving the global agenda.”

It was in 1987 that the Council convened an important meeting in Rome of religious leaders for a dialogue of religious kind (interreligious dialogue) to emphasize ethical principles necessary in the circumstances of cold war, ideological and religious animosities, globalization of extreme profit making efforts and the neglect of moral and ethical principles.


More pertinent to our discussion here is the InterAction Council’s initiative during 1996 and 1997 to bring a “Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities” which in fact was a great achievement. 

During this era of globalization, the Council declared that “Globalization also applies to the necessity for global ethical standards, since without ethics and self-restraint, humankind would revert to the Jungle.” It identified the “Golden Rule” as an ethical standard common to all major religions that makes a collective life possible.

Although the Declaration (another UDHR) was a great achievement, it was not properly followed up for reasons clearly not known. The InterAction Council is planning to have its (previously postponed) 37th Plenary Meeting on 1 and 2 December 2021 in Malta in association with the One Young World organization.

Considering the validity of human duties and responsibilities along with human rights under the present circumstances of coronavirus pandemic, global warming, environmental disasters, and increasing global poverty, it is hoped and suggested that the InterAction Council would give much emphasis in promoting those ethical principles in its forthcoming meeting.      

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Latest comments

  • 7

    “Balancing Human Rights With Duties & Responsibilities.”
    You cannot ‘balance’ Human Rights against anything else. Human Rights are sacred and inviolable and rise above all. They may not be compromised so that priority can be given to something else. Human Rights are not a commodity to be bartered in exchange for other things according to the whims of politicians, their advisors and spokesmen.

    • 8

      Captain Morgan

      “Human Rights are not a commodity to be bartered in exchange for other things according to the whims of politicians, their advisors and spokesmen.”

      Those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and those war crime deniers need to hide behind juggling balls or behind religions.

      Human rights are simple to understand and practice. The so called “do gooders” including Dayan need not to complicate human dignity and rights. However much they confuse the issues by unnecessarily citing various religious quotes, first they have to self analyse themselves, how intellectually honest were are they about respecting human rights and human dignity.

      The so called “Do Gooders” should first start honestly digging for truth.

      • 2

        Native Vedda,
        In Sri Lanka, Tamil terrorists led by Prabhakaran committed most heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity over a period of three decades and keep on denying. Are they hiding behind juggling balls or behind religions?

        “Those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and those war crime deniers need to hide behind juggling balls or behind religions.”

        • 4

          Eagle Blind Eye

          “In Sri Lanka, Tamil terrorists led by Prabhakaran committed most heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity over a period of three decades and keep on denying.”

          Could I see the copy of the comparative studies on who committed most heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity in this island between 5th April 1971 and 2009.

          Are you still sitting on your head/brain ?
          It is okay as long as you don’t let HLD M sit on your head.

      • 5

        Dear NV and CM:

        I suspect that this article is in defence of the double-Paksa government suppressing peaceful public protests (amid the pandemic)! Many still in an uproar over the manhandling of peaceful protestors few days ago.

        The author has already peddled this concept before us in March 2021;

        It is paramount that human duty and responsibility ensure human rights are not trampled-on under the pretence of ethical obligation.

        UN’s Hana Singer-Hamdy has tweeted;
        “Right of assembly includes the right to hold peaceful demonstrations. It helps exercise other rights; freedom of expression & influence public policies. Vital that restrictions imposed as measures against the pandemic don’t go beyond the legitimate protection of #PublicHealth.”

        The way police dealt with the protesters was entirely counter productive to public safety. Also, there’s been disparity in how the COVID-19 related restrictions are being dealt by the authorities. Here’s an excerpt from an online news;

        “ Sri Lanka police arrested over 40 protestors in Colombo and elsewhere last Thursday (08) for allegedly violating quarantine regulations, even as government supporters were seen celebrating the swearing in of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa by lighting firecrackers and gathering in small groups.”

        • 1

          I am full agreement with u here. This controversial Fernando was the head in WUS /COLOMBO. His article s in the past sounded somewhat netutral but since that short-lived 53 day fake govt created by Sorysena in last quarter of 2018, his have palpably biased. Please check the archive s for more details.🤨🤨🤨🤨

  • 3

    Dr Fernando,

    This is an excellent write up and current too.

    However, I was interested in reading about Islamic contribution to this topic, alas, found none. I don’t blame you because only a 23% of the world population follow Islam.

    Human Rights in Islam rests upon a foundation theoretically different from the traditional Western one in at least two ways.

    In the West, human rights were fought for and extracted from those in authority through bitter series of tussles by man against man. Rulers stubbornly withheld privileges. Subjects stubbornly fought for them. Revolutions took place and with each revolution fresh concessions were made. Further struggles built further concession upon those initial hard-won concessions, and in this way a growing body of rights evolved through the ordeal of bloodshed and struggle.

    These were hard-won secular rights and are naturally greatly prized. They represent a remarkable advance upon the pre-existing situation where even such fundamental rights as the right to life were denied.

  • 3


    In Islam, however, one does not view the problem against such a secular setting. The problem is not how man asserts his rights against man but how man discharges his duties towards God. It is not preoccupied with the horizontal relationship of man with his fellow man but with the vertical relationship that subsists between each man and his Maker. If the vertical relationship is properly tended, all human rights problems fall automatically into place.

    These are thus two very different relationships. Islamic human rights doctrine primarily deals with God and man and is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Secondly, and more importantly, it emphasises the concept of duty rather than that of rights. These make for fundamentally different approaches to what is otherwise in the main a commonly agreed body of accepted principles. The result may now be very much the same but the route by which it is reached is different. However, the Islamic stress on relationship with the divine, and on the concept of duty, could well lead to a more dedicated and purposive commitment to human rights than might be possible in a system which depends on concessions grudgingly granted under compulsive pressures.

  • 3


    Either route points to the existence of what can only be described as a well developed set of protections of a sort which we today call human rights.

    Many a king strove hard to live up to these guarantees, though, as with every system, there were others who did not. The Moghul Emperor Akbar was an example of the first type. It is well known that due process of law, fair trial and an independent judiciary were all guaranteed by him. All citizens, Jains, Parsees, Hindus and Christians were all part of his administration.

    All this ties in with a view of Islamic Law as being modern in its formulation of concepts and goals. It fits into the aspirations of the twenty-first century as it did not the age of its formulation.

  • 3

    *as it did into the age of its formulation.

    During the International Islamic Conference held in Paris on 15 September 1981 “Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights”was proclaimed by the Islamic Council of Europe.

    See European Human Rights Reports vol 4 (1981) pp 433-41)

    It is the duties that come to the fore!

  • 1

    In Sri Lanka, Vellala Tamils violate human rights of low caste Tamils (Dalit) in Yapanaya using a Malabar customary law called ‘Thesawalamei’ that they brought from Malabar region in Hindusthan. Muslims violate human rights of women using Muslim customary laws. Unfortunately, those who talk a lot about human rights do not pay attention to human rights violations committed by Tamil and Muslim communities. They only go after the Government and Sinhala Buddhists.

    • 1

      Where did you come from blind eye?

  • 3

    Everyone is taught and reads the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus (pbuh) and the Ten Commandments of Moses (pbuh). Rarely are we taught or aware of the last sermon of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). I reproduce a redacted verdict. Count for yourselves the rights and duties stated therein:
    After praising, and thanking Allah he said:
“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity.
    O people, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.

  • 3

    Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.
    All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.
    Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”

    It should read ‘redacted version’

  • 5

    Dr Laksiri Fernando,
    Compliance of human rights are expected from the strong, powerful and the time-honored traditional protectors – the governments whereas fulfillment of duties are mostly by the weak, not only towards their governments but generally mutually and voluntarily among the ordinary people in their day to day life.
    In Sri Lanka, state’s persistent complicity in massive human rights violations is irrefutable and reasonable people of the caliber of Dr Laksiri Fernando persons should not overlook it. If not locally, justice should be sought even outside national borders.

    Dr Laksiri Fernando as an academic, one time marxist, humanist and a catholic by birth should be in the forefront of transitional justice and should not be an apologist for the wrongdoers in the name of racial solidarity

      • 1

        Dear Laksiri,
        . Yes Collective, inclusive efforts are always better.approach at least to some of the problems..
        If a genuine effort is made, even if it may not lead to a solution, the mere fact that an effort is made itself will generate real goodwill leading to better understanding..
        However the question of duties looks problematic,
        The word itself looks very conservative and so many philosophers and religious leaders historically attempted to do something in this regard and finally it has fallen on the governments to run homes for the orphans, the elderly and the handicapped .to solve social problems. Duties between citizens and governments is another area that invites attention.
        Anyhow, much need to be done.
        Finally take care and good night.
        Best regards, Sri

  • 3

    “Considering the validity of human duties and responsibilities along with human rights under the present circumstances of coronavirus pandemic, global warming, environmental disasters, and increasing global poverty, it is hoped and suggested that the InterAction Council would give much emphasis in promoting those ethical principles in its forthcoming meeting”.

    The pandemic, global warming, environmental disasters and increasing poverty are nothing new to this world and promoting ethical principles and promoting human rights are also nothing new. More than global action, it needs action at country level. You cannot have human duties without human rights. To have a balanced human rights you only need a change at the executive level. For example, a proven murderer can be released from jail sentence why cannot you release another prisoner who is kept for 25 years without any lawful sentence. By doing that you save money and resources, you make happy a prisoner and you become morally acceptable to do your duty to serve vulnerable. You don’t need any international action or help to do this.

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