Blessed be the peacemakers…

 

ulivi.jpg

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.”

I have always loved the Sermon on the Mount, but I doubt I fully understood it until this morning.

Yes, this morning, in the shower, when I had an intuition (a full download, as a friend of mine would say). No surprise, my best intuitions are often in the shower, that’s when my rational mind is at rest and it doesn’t interfere.

Here it is. Since childhood, I have always thought of the peacemakers (and the meek and the poor in spirit) as the first Christians, the persecuted,  and, then, missionaries, men and women of God and all those who make themselves small and dedicate their lives to others.

I think of them in a non-denominational way, as I see all the religions as equal paths to God and I think that also people outside the official religions may fall within these categories, moved by spirituality or a strong ethical commitment.

Now I see how my reading of that text was limited.

Peacemakers are many more.

I am a peacemaker and I know many peacemakers. Everybody who works to build peace is a peacemaker. Changemakers who have a recipe for peace are peacemakers.

Being a lawyer with a background in the EU law I have my recipe for peace, I see law as a bridge between people, between nations and cultures.

For me peace is not the absence of war, peace is having structures which make war very unlikely: conferences, assemblies, joint committees and councils, and all sorts of places for dialogue. Law is also the tool to frame procedures: decisional procedures which are perceived as legitimate and fair. Once we have shared rules, we have a social pact, we have a legal order and a community, we don’t need anymore to take the law into our own hands, pick up our rifle.

What is true for individuals is true for states as well. Nowadays it is an (almost) universal truth that individuals have surrendered their right to take the law into their own hands as they belong to a society, sharing rules for justice and safety. But the international community – in spite of many efforts – is still half-way between society and Far West.

And I know that my role as peacemaker is to promote bridges instead of walls and guns.

But there are many more peacemakers who are at work to build these and other important tools. Many people involved in civil society organizations are at work to reduce inequalities and violations of fundamental rights which at the roots of many conflicts. Many people, who fund these organizations, are making their activity possible. There are political leaders and activists who promote peaceful political solutions. Social innovators – tech innovators as well as business innovators –  promote new models for shared responsibility for global problems. And many educators and coaches are at work to spread awareness and raise consciousness over the traditional patriarchal and hierarchic models grounded on strength and dominance.

The list is incredibly long.

This post is to tell them they are peacemakers and sons of God.

They too could have fallen in the interpretation trap I fell since childhood, and think that peacemakers are others. Please don’t underestimate yourselves, the world needs you.

If you want to connect with fellow peacemakers, you will meet a good number of them in Lecce,  on April 26-27.

Are You Reinventing the World or Just Accepting its Reinvention?

We live in a complex, globalized and interconnected world.

All the good and the bad concerns everyone, wherever it happens.

Yes, we have still roots in a country and in a culture (not necessarily the same culture of the country..), nonetheless, we know that our potential as human beings is affected by things happening on the other side of the world. We can take it for granted.

AI, as it is being developed in some Silicon Valley start-up, could affect the way my sons are going to study and work. Scientific discoveries, wherever they occur, impact the way I’m ageing. The way we eat, the way we breathe, the weather, all is the result of global forces at play.

And most of the issues our political leaders are trying to deal with are just out of reach for any single state, they are continental, if not global.

Climate change, mass migrations, terrorism. Global issues, requiring global solutions.

And we assist powerlessly in many states to the fragmentation and the crisis of democracy.

It is no surprise to me. It’s just the end of an era – the age of the nation-state – and the difficulty of accepting a new reality. The challenge of creating new democratic formulas and new ways of interacting in the political space for this new world.

It may appear just a theoretical problem: abstract, fuzzy and far from our personal experience.

But what if facing this new reality becomes necessary to your business plan as a company? Understanding how global issues and disruptive technology are going to impact your industry may be crucial.

What if you are trying to design new curricula for your education system?

What if you are struggling to preserve a welfare system in the destructive competitive world?

What if you are just a parent and want to prepare your kids for the world they are going to live in?

What if you are politically active  – in a traditional party or in some NGO –  and just want to know how to make an impact and which level of government is really relevant to you?

These are really the questions I want to answer to, in some way.

I have spent some years now on this topic, which I call supranational democracy: reinventing democracy for the globalized world. But I perfectly know that a single person or even 10 or 100 will not really go very far.

Moreover, I see this challenge as multi-disciplinary and intercultural. And I’d love to be a catalyst for a much wider research and discussion.

Finally, I don’t see this as an academic challenge, period. It’s a challenge for humanity: academicians and businessmen, artists and activists, just everybody, should join forces.

A first attempt is the Supranational Democracy Dialog we are organizing in Lecce in April.

But, believe me, this is just the beginning. Are you with me?

Identity, Nationality, Citizenship.

Who are we? 

Does our nationality or citizenship define us in some way?

people-and-the-planet_26412

There is much confusion around and it’s about time to clarify the meaning of some words much used and sometimes abused.

These three words communicate different concepts answering to three very different questions:

Who am I? (Identity)

Where are my roots? (Nationality)

To Which Community I belong? (Citizenship)

Of course, the most difficult question – and the most important – is the first one. And we are totally free to answer as we like and we feel. No objective data, no other person can answer for us. Our choices, our purpose in life, our beliefs, our personality traits are important clues, but ultimately we decide about their priority in defining who we are. Our nationality – our culture, religion, language – adds to our identity, but there is so much more at stake.

Nationality, so, is only a part of our identity. It is the place where we are born or the nationality of our parents. It is where we feel at home or where our roots are. It is our language, often our religion too. It is our food, our traditions. Could even be our football team. We can choose to identify totally with it or not, we can even feel disconnected, as it may happen in a dysfunctional family.

Citizenship, instead, is a political concept. It is the community we belong to, where we enjoy political rights, where we vote or participate in some way.

Citizenship can be acquired and can be lost. Multiple citizenships are possible.

Even if usually nationality and citizenship go together, it may not be so (as for Albert Einstein) or we could have a citizenship without a state, as it is the case for European citizenship, or a  citizenship beyond the borders, as Estonian e-citizenship. If nationality may be an accident, citizenship may be a choice.

In the end, as social animals, we humans need identity, roots, belonging. We also need to be aware that circumstances of our life do not define who we are, we do.

And we could also accept the idea that all these definitions can be dynamic: identity evolves as we grow and deepen our understanding of ourselves; nationality, as the tree’ s roots, expands as we learn more about our culture and its interconnectedness with other cultures; citizenship can change as we progress in our life path and I bet that we are going to experiment new more kind of citizenships, as legal creations giving us rights and access. We, humans, are a work in progress.

Whatever the nationality and the citizenship, the broader is the definition we give of ourselves, the larger is our circle of compassion. Defining ourselves as human beings mean we choose to feel connected to the human family.

As Einstein beautifully said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind”

It happens when the three, identity, nationality and citizenship, just overlap and adhere to each other in the illusion of exclusivity and superiority.

We had that disease already. If we can keep that memory alive next generations will be immune.

Identifying and Solving World Problems: the SIMPOL Solution.

SIMPOL is not a typo. It means Simultaneous Policy.

And this is the solution to the world problems offered by two brilliant minds: John Bunzle and Nick Duffell.

SIMPOL

If you read their original and provocative book “Our world is in a mess. Here is the SIMPOL solution“, then come to discuss it with me, we are going to have epic conversations!

I will tell you two of the reasons which made me love this book and read it in one breath.

The first reason is the clarity in identifìying the n.1 public enemy we face when it comes to managing world economy – how useless it appears nowadays targeting growth, shared prosperity and equality when everything seems to push us in the opposite direction.

This enemy is competition. Not the (almost) healthy competition we can see inside a legal order, among competitors who respect the same sets of rules – tax rules, labor rules, bureaucracy and foremost antitrust rules – but in the global arena, outside any rule.

Where nobody can be punished for unfair competition.

Where it is pretty normal that big multinational company move towards tax havens or countries who become tax havens just for them.

Where it is considered acceptable to invest in countries where labor standards are incredibly low and poverty will push people of any age – even children – to work in terrible conditions and to work for almost nothing.

Where these big competitors can easily wipe out the small ones, who cannot move so easily, don’t get special tax deals and struggle while states complacently behave like reverse Robin Hoods: taking from the poor to benefit the rich.

Why so? Because they have to remain competitive or they will lose in the big game of world economy and – if the big ones go away – they will face even more unemployment and even fewer tax revenues.

Because this is the paradox of destructive global competition: states are the victims, they are in a trap and do not know how to get out of it. This trap made them weaken the welfare systems, struggle with public debt and here and there get close to failure. Simply put, states are just too small to manage this alone.

Before we jump to the conclusions – and I don’t want to spoil too much – I will tell you the second reason which made me love this book: psychology. It doesn’t happen often that a psychotherapist and a businessman join forces to explain us the problems of the world.

As I feel and know for sure – and if you have read some of my posts you know that too – the solutions have to be bigger than states, possibly matching the dimension of problems.

There is an entire cultural shift needed, from the nation-centric to the world-centric approach. This wouldn’t be the first time in history that we, the humanity, move from a political and dimensional paradigm to another: from the tribes to the Westphalian order we took a step or two.  Still, we are stuck in the mourning of a system which doesn’t work anymore. We just cannot let go the myth of sovereign nation.

And here comes the psychotherapist, explaining to us that this is just normal: most of the humanity can be observed living – collectively – in one of the 5 stages of the mourning process: 1. denial and isolation; 2. anger; 3. bargaining; 4. depression; 5. acceptance. 

Reading what happens nowadays through these lenses make it easier to understand current politics. Even the worst of it. It makes us even feel compassion for those grieving the loss of a myth.

The book doesn’t stop here, it offers practical steps to get out of this trap.

What is even better, it encourages us to feel responsible for the state of the world and take a personal stance to push politicians to bring our states out of the game of competition at any price, adopting simultaneous political choices agreed with other states when it comes to facing global issues.

The book is filled with brilliant insights and provided me the definition of what I am: a “late world-centric”, meaning a person who sees the whole world as a dynamic organism, looks for global solutions with a holistic approach, accepting and respecting all cultures in their own context.

This envisaged cultural shift made me think of the integral theory by Ken Wilber and of the “human colossus” represented in a sketch of Tim Urban’s brilliant post “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future.

We can’t walk this path alone, we – the early world-centric – need to spread the word because only a critical mass and an active one, pushing political elites, can help humanity move to the final stage of grievance: acceptance. Then, the cultural shift will occur: embracing a new model.

Thank you, John and Nick, for your clarity, your explanations and to make me feel that I’m in good company.

 

 

Why Democracy is Declining

It’s no surprise that democracy is in a deep crisis, a glance at the democracy index by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit shows it clearly. According to it, only 4.5% of the world’s population lives nowadays in a “full democracy”. It was 9% only few years ago.

eui

This is even more evident in the very countries we always regarded as examples and bulwarks of democracy – Britain, France, US – the cradles of parliamentarism and of the rule of law.

I don’t say that these countries are not democratic anymore, I just worry about the amazing rise of populism and nationalism there, which are testing the democratic institutions as never before.

We can give so many different explanations for that: sociological, psicological, cultural… the liquid society and the solipsism and egotism of the modern human, the globalisation and rise of technology, the circulation of capitals and the social dumping, but I think that all this is just the background picture.

The real problem is in the dimension of the issues we face nowadays: migration waves, financial crises, global warming, terrorism…

Not one of these problems can be faced by a country alone, hardly by a group of countries acting together, even the European Union is struggling.

Citizens feel insecure, unsupported, and they expect answers from their political leaders, and from their governments. After all, this was the reason why the modern state was created in the first place: to offer security. Unfortunately, no state can offer this, not anymore.

Only populist politicians still offer promises and guarantees, do they know how illusory these are? Do their electors know?

And the easiest promise of all is the nationalist one: shutting the world out of the door, raising walls, guarding borders,  stopping people. Our country first… and only.

I understand the fear which originates these reactions and I am not here to add judgment and blame on the already excessive amount of judgment and blame we see around. I just don’t think this will work… if not to buy some time before the same problems knock to our doors again and again.

The solutions to these problems are difficult to imagine and hard to communicate. Nonetheless they do exist.

Just have a look at the agenda for Sustainable Development Goals  and at the countless initiatives started by private citizens to improve the state of the world, such as Geoversive, SimPol, the Good Country, ICRCCEN, Global Citizen, Business Fights Poverty,  and my list could go on and on…. Other solutions are possible and – even if we don’t see them on TV shows or in the news- other people are already thinking of them.

The decline of democracy can be stopped in two ways: one is in the hands of governments and it is the cooperation for the common good, the other is in our hands as citizens and it is in owning the awareness that we are global citizens and claiming for solutions at national and at global level.

Only stepping into our power, supporting and joining the initiatives and the causes aimed at solving our common problems we can still feel proud citizens of our state and and of this world.

 

 

 

Refugees as Global Actors

 

Image: UNHCR

Image: UNHCR

Some days ago I came across this beautiful petition (thanks Twitter!), which resonates with my assumption that individuals should have a say about issues and policies which impact on their life, even when they are managed at global level.

I copy/paste it here for you to read and possibly sign:

Internally displaced persons, refugees and people living in exile unite!

Europe is presently facing its biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Millions of people are being displaced in Syria and Iraq, as well as in other parts of the world, and many are trying to reach Europe, not only because they hope to be safe there, but also because of the political rights Europeans enjoy and take for granted: the right to free expression, the right to vote and so forth.

Yet, those few who do make it to Europe find themselves excluded from public life, without political rights and without a voice. To challenge that, we, people displaced by force, together with some NGOs and other stakeholders, are starting to organise ourselves with a view to creating new democratic structures both locally and internationally, so that in future internally displaced persons, refugees and people living in exile can offer themselves as dialogue partners to local councils, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the UN.

If you would like to support this initiative, please sign this petition now. We look forward to hearing from you.

If you agree, you can sign it here.

After a Skype conversation with Nico Andreas Heller, promoter of the initiative and founding director of the Democracy School, I found out that this petition is the tip of the iceberg of a wider process, aimed at creating an International Committee of Refugees (ICR), a directly elected, democratically accountable, representative body for internally displaced persons, refugees and people living in exile.

The challenge is tremendous: refugee camps host people from different cultures, religions, life experiences and many of them could have no experience of democracy at all (or don’t buy my or your idea of democracy).

They escape from different realities and for different reasons. They are over 65 millions nowadays and this number could increase over time as it is very possible to imagine climate refugees in the next future, fleeing from extreme climate events.

How the population of a camp could be represented? How the camp could have some kind of self-government to manage its specific needs and solve its internal problems? How the global population of refugees could dialogue with states and international fora – the UN in the first place – about their future?

From a strictly legal point of view, we need to consider that individuals are not unanimously considered subjects of international law, they cannot create an international organization, but just a non-governmental organization (NGO). They cannot dialogue on equal footing with states and international organizations but just enjoy – here and there – a limited observer status.

Nonetheless, an International Committee of Refugees would give them the rights to be aknowledged and to be heard. Which seems to me the minimum threshold for global civic rights. The mobilisation to explore innovative solution is on its way, and we are all invited, you can join it here.

I want to mention another beautiful project, the Project Love  – promoted by the architect and life coach Gregorio Avanzini -intended to create a holistic and scalable solution for refugee camps which includes everything from meeting basic human needs ( nutritious food; clean water; shelter; health care; education; emotional support). This too is an open initiative and everybody could offer his/her own expertise to make a difference.

We cannot ignore that we are facing  “the worst refugee and humanitarian crisis since World War II”( quoting UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon) and one of the biggest issues in the XXI Century. Denial will just make it bigger.

It’s time to consider people not just as part of the problem, but as part of the solution.

Sustainable Development = Intergenerational Equity

From the Development Education Program of the World Bank Group:

What is Sustainable Development?

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

— from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

But what does this mean? What are the needs of the present? Take a minute and jot down five to ten needs that you have in your own life.

Have you listed any needs that conflict with one another? For example, if you listed clean air to breathe, but also listed a car for transportation, your needs might conflict. Which would you choose, and how would you make your decision? If within ourselves, we have conflicting needs, how much is that multiplied when we look at a whole community, city, country, world? For example, what happens when a company’s need for cheap labor conflicts with workers’ needs for livable wages? Or when individual families’ needs for firewood conflict with the need to prevent erosion and conserve topsoil? Or when one country’s need for electricity results in acid rain that damages another country’s lakes and rivers?

How do we decide whose needs are met? Poor or rich people? Citizens or immigrants? People living in cities or in the countryside? People in one country or another? You or your neighbor? The environment or the corporation? This generation or the next generation? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first?

The Long and the Short of It

People concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. Some of these needs are itemized around the puzzle diagram.

What social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to the puzzle?

Many of these objectives may seem to conflict with each other in the short term. For example, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

Studying the puzzle raises a number of difficult questions. For example, can the long term economic objective of sustained agricultural growth be met if the ecological objective of preserving biodiversity is not? What happens to the environment in the long term if a large number of people cannot afford to meet their basic household needs today? If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Or, if you had to drive a long distance to get to work each day, would you be willing to move or get a new job to avoid polluting the air with your car exhaust? If we don’t balance our social, economic, and environmental objectives in the short term, how can we expect to sustain our development in the long term?”

The notion of sustainable development highlights two different dilemmas:

I. How do we  balance  conflicting interests which can be equally important, ethically legitimate, both compelling? Admitting that evolution in technology, governance, infrastractures, investment flows may change the scenario in every moment: how can we adjust decisions over time? How will we avoid new imbalances?

II. How can we integrate in our evaluations the interests of future generations? How do we guarantee the rights of our children and grandchildren?

The answer are not simple ones, I even wonder if you or me or anybody else has such answers…

But, before working on the answers, we need to work on “how” we could arrive to such answers!

Mine may be the typical legal mind approach, but – follow me-  it has some merit:

I. We need to integrate in this evaluation all the possible perspectives. No matter how good a political decisor may be, the authority in charge cannot know everything. The largest the number of people having a say, the better. And we need to know who these stakeholders are: NGOs, civil society at large, lobbies, experts…. Whoever bears an interest should be invited to intervene, admitting that they declare who they are and what they stand for.

II We need the best data available at the moment of the decisions, and in case of conflicting or uncertain data a precautionary principle should stop doubtful decisions.

III Then, once the perspectives and the data are collected, the authority in charge – governments, parliaments, international organizations, agencies, technical authorities – should decide and take full responsability for their decisions. Systems of checks and balances should ensure proper accountability mechanisms. Procedures for claims are necessary. Affected individuals, at least through collective organizations, should be granted a right to dispute the decisions, and impartial courts and bodies should be in charge of these evaluations.

IV Finally, decisions affecting sustainable development should be revised if new data, new technologies or other relevant elements affecting the previous evaluations change.

How can we be sure that interests of future generations will be granted ? We just cannot.

It would be great to have an advocate for future generation in the main international fora, just imagine the representative of future generations as a member of the G20 (+1)!

As we are maybe not ready for that,  we can only hope that our grandsons and grandaughters, looking back at the way we managed their planet, will concede us that we did our best with what we had and using our current knowledge. Setting a good procedure.

 

Einstein’s Supranational Government

During World War II, just like Altiero Spinelli wrote the Ventotene Manifesto, Albert Einstein endorsed the idea of a supranational world government, which would have guaranteed global peace  without interfering in culture, economy and national politics.

They where not the only ones to think that supranational laws and institutions could promise a new era of peace and prosperity. The United Nations and other multilateral institutions set up in the Forties of the previous century are nothing but a resized realization of more ambitious visions.

But let’s go back to Einstein and his personal path which brought him to use – one of the few – the word “supranational“.

Of course, he was Influenced by his life experience as a citizen of several nations as well as by his international  career as a scientist, he couldn’t but be a cosmopolitan. His spiritual openness informed his universalist perspective. His vision for world government, inherently pacifist, was not far from Kant’s Perpetual Peace.

Distaste for nationalism and militarism pushed Einstein to revoke his German citizenship in 1896 and, until 1901, he lived without citizenship at all. Then he got the Swiss citizenship and kept it until his death (adding Austrian and American citizenship, and again the German one in different periods).

Knowing first hand that citizenship may be relative or temporary, but humanity remains the core of what we are, Albert Einstein offers a powerful example of how personal experience and beliefs  also forge a personal political vision.

einstein

 

“It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.” – A. Einstein

From the Chaos, the Tiles of a New World Order

In many mythologies, order is born out of chaos. Well…  there is hope, at least !

What we see around us is quite a chaotic world: magmatic and unstable, full of emergencies, slipping out of the control of inadequate social and political structures.

Some of us have the impression that time is ripe for a big leap, a cultural revolution as the only  possible alternative to sinking into the anarchic collapse of our societies or, even worse, a new fall into the hell of nationalism and war.

Some philosophers or mathematicians could object that we are used to live on the edge of chaos, being the world a complex system whose balance is intrinsecally unstable. Hence, the  chaos theory seems to ignore  – at least in the social science – the important variable that I would call human evolution.

The choice is not simply between chaos and complexity, on one side, and stability and order, on the other (an illusion sold by many populist politicians). The third way is the most realistic one, even if difficult to walk: ethically navigating the complexity to promote the emergence of new models and solutions.

How could that be possible?

I think many of us have have had insights about it, different but all convergent. I’ll offer a number of inspiring examples.

First of all, I see a rise in awareness. Many people started to feel global citizens and experience this awareness. For instance, the huge community of global citizens has an impact on addressing extreme poverty; everybody, supporting Movements, can help an activist for human rights in need; people signing petitions on Avaaz  take a stance on causes which are perceived as global. Interestingly enough, active global citizenship is being born bottom-up.

There is also a way to express this awareness as economic players. Many years have passed since Klaus Schwab had the brilliant intuition that modern enterprises must serve all stakeholders to achieve long-term growth and prosperity. Since then, his creature, the World Economic Forum, grew exponentially, still committed to improving the state of the world.

Even if the concept of social responsibility of enterprises is not new,  it is getting more and more popular: together with the narrative of disruptive change, the narrative of positively impacting the world has gained traction in the entrepreneurial environment. Beautiful initiatives as XPrize or Hive are thriving. A powerful example of this new way of being economic players is offered by Business Fights Poverty, a network of over 15,000 professionals harnessing business for social impact.

Private foundations are now big players in financing development, education, health care, social justice: One, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Open Society Foundations and many more… Philantropists appear animated by the desire of giving back to humanity, by the deep consciousness of their impact on millions of lives and by the side effect of living more fulfilling lives.

The civil society  -after a long season of demonstrations in the Nineties (against  G7, WTO, globalization) – started building bridges to make their voice heard by international actors. NGOs are more and more global actors, starting original initiatives to make international organizations more legitimate, accountable and inclusive.

The newborn Citizens Climate Engagement Network deserves a special mention as a powerful example of what individuals can do even in the apparently out of reach challenge of stopping climate change.

In this changing climate, States are somehow hanging back, as bulwarks of the status quo, a problem that Simon Anholt is addressing with the Good Country project. He deserves all our support.

Finally which institutional shape would better fit this changing world? Which model would sort us out of this “competitive mode” and organise humanity as a single species sharing  a single planet? This is my issue and this blog is my thinking aloud about it. You can read here and there insights and bits of a solution. Something to work on for decades!

I apologize if I forgot to mention many worthy individuals and beautiful initiatives, I know many of you are on this path of progress and evolution and, if you want to add some information posting a comment, I really appreciate.

It seems to me important – in a world focused on bad news – turn on a light beam on the emerging tiles of a different reality.

How long it will take for the puzzle pieces to get together?

Ubuntu and International Law

Ubuntu is an ancient African word and it is difficult to translate it in a language that doesn’t hold the same concept.

It basically means: ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ or: my humanity is inextrically connected to the group I belong; my happiness is their happiness; their sorrow is my sorrow.

The word became popular thanks to two African Nobel laurates, Nelson Mandela and the archbishop Desmond Tutu, and even more thanks to the Linux desktop bearing this name.

It recalls me a famous Latin quote by the poet Terentius “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” (I am a man, nothing human is alien to me), but ubuntu goes much further: not only everything human is not alien to me, it even affects me deeply. It tells us about belonging, interconnectedness, wholeness, even empathy and compassion.

It is not a legal concept, but for sure it is an ethical concept which inspired some legal statements about common concerns of humankind.

It is close to a legal concept which is around (and debated) since long time: the common heritage principle, which establishes that some resources or sites belong to all humanity and have to be available for everyone’s use and benefit. It is established as a guarantee for the future generations and the needs of developing countries.

The principle surfaces in many international legal texts, even if its most known application remains the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1975) which gives UNESCO the competence to designate the sites being of special cultural or physical significance. These, due to their outstanding cultural or natural importance belong to the common heritage of humanity and have to be preserved for the future generations. While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, they have to be protected  in the interest of the international community.

The idea was not new, one of the oldest appearences is in the Antarctic Treaty (1959). It is stated in its preamble that its primary purpose is to ensure “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord”.

A clear affirmation of the Common heritage of the mankind, not just  as a principle but as a rule, is in the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (1967):

Art.1: “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies. There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international co-operation in such investigation.”

Art.2: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.

In the Moon Treaty, which came after (1979) we read that “[t]he Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind” (art. 11).

Then we had the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), where we read that “the Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind” (art. 136). This means that the Area and its resources cannot be claimed, appropriated, or owned by any state or person (art. 137). All rights to resources belong to mankind as a whole, with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) acting on mankind’s behalf (Article 140). Here we can see a step forward: an authority in charge to guarantee the interests of mankind.

Finally, we can read in the preamble of the Paris Convention on Climate Change:

“Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

To date, the principle is still waiting for application in other important fields:

The UNESCO adopted two declarations inspired to it (which are just declarations, not binding treaties): the  Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights and the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations, both in 1997They are potentially part of international customary law, if international or national judges can verify that they match the general practice of states and what states have accepted as law.

What about other resources which are at the core of our interdependence? Internet? Big data? Or, more trivially, the air we breath?

This application of the oneness principle to the difficult field of international law was first an intuition by Immanuel Kant in his essay Perpetual peace (1795), it is nowadays supported by cosmopolitanist theories and by the doctrine of global public goods. To be properly enforced, nonetheless, it requires a shift in legal paradigms that is really controversial (challenging traditional international law concepts such as acquisition of territory, sovereignty, sovereign equality, and international personality).

And it requires a shift in consciousness towards  Ubuntu.