In the aftermath of World War II, world leaders including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt created a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the UN, this declaration has been oft-quoted, but never enforced by law.
Enter the 2048 Project, facilitated by the Berkeley School of Law (yes, the same folks who employ John Yoo). The project’s goal is to engage the public in creating “humanity’s written agreement to live together embodied in an international bill of rights enforceable in the courts of all countries.”
Called the International Convention on Human Rights, the document would essentially work as a treaty that any country can sign onto. It protects a litany of human rights, ranging from the pedestrian right to petition one’s government to the sexy right to security. And before you go calling Commie on this peace-loving document, scroll down to Article 13 on the “freedom to own, buy and sell property.”
If 2048 Executive Director J. Kirk Boyd has his way, it won’t just be any country that accepts the enforceable human rights, but every country. Boyd, who is also a professor at the Berkeley School of Law, is releasing a book called 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together on April 12. In it, Boyd details the reasoning behind such an enforceable bill of rights, and he includes a framework for bringing the plan to fruition.
I sat down with Boyd at 2048 headquarters to talk more about the project, the book, and his personal interest in human rights.
LH: You start the book by explaining that 2048 is a movement already in the works. Where did the 2048 movement get its start, and why did you get involved?
The movement got started with the Holocaust in World War II; it was at that juncture that humanity decided that atrocities like this could never happen again. There’s been an evolution since World War II of documents, including the international declaration of human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. What’s needed is an international convention that can apply everywhere.
As for myself, I’ve been a civil rights lawyer for many years argued at all levels of courts, including the Supreme Court, and I see civil rights a subset of human rights.
LH: You propose an International Convention on Human Rights with working courts, ready to hear cases — by 2048. Tell me more about how a convention works and why it is the right model for human rights.
If you look at our bill of rights, it works extremely well for us. There may be disagreements, but it’s basically our agreement about the rights we all share, our agreement to live together. The European Convention is essentially the same. The idea is to broaden this model to all countries. What works for 47 can work for 192. It’s an extension of our bill of rights.
LH: Why the deadline of 2048?
It’s a deadline because we’re destroying our planet. We can’t go on as we are. We can’t go on spending 1.6 trillion on the military while we don’t have basic needs met.
LH: I thought it was interesting that you say Southern senators from the US resisted making the 1948 International Declaration of Human Rights enforceable by law because they saw it as a threat to segregation. Does the US have less to worry about now than it did in 1948 from enforceable human rights?
What the US has to worry about is that it’s forgotten its history. This is why the 2048 plan is not my plan or the plan of Berkeley Law. It’s an extension of the plan by Eleanor Roosevelt, a true blue American, and others who felt we needed to have a new social order embodied in a bill of rights. The difficulty in the US is that we have forgotten where we were coming from.
If the international bill of rights was enforceable, then cases could be brought against the US in courts like is done today in Europe. The European bill of rights is used in courts of Europe. Any European court [honors it]. It supersedes that country’s constitution; if there’s a conflict between the constitution and the convention, the European convention prevails.
LH: What about other countries with what we would consider flagrant human rights abuses? How do you expect them to sign onto something that criminalizes them by default?
Capitalism has prevailed, and everyone wants to be in the world trade club, which is the World Trade Organization. There should just be a requirement that to be in the World Trade Organization, you have to have the International Convention on Human rights. That’s the exact same structure as the European Union.
LH: You describe Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms,” upon which the international declaration was based. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are concepts Americans are familiar with, that the Supreme Court has heard many cases on. How will international courts enforce the conditions we are less familiar with, such as equality of opportunity in education, access to health care, and disarmament?
“It works.” That’s what Rene Cassan says when he won the Nobel peace prize for the European Convention on Human Rights. We do want to avoid judges becoming super legislators. They can say, “You do have to have health care.” If you have no health care, the court can declare that you have to have something, and the legislators can define what that is.
As for disarmament, freedom from fear is the result, it’s what you get, if you look at what 2048 is about. This is about the progression from humanity using clubs [to exert power]. It enables us to create a social order where the club doesn’t prevail. The judges will not be ordering disarmament. The reason you come to disarmament, as Roosevelt understood, is that when there’s freedom from want, there’s a lot less conflict and strife. And so you don’t need to have all the weapons production. We don’t need to have nuclear weapons against Canada.
LH: You add a fifth freedom to the four freedoms that FDR originally named: Freedom for the Environment. How does this pertain to human rights?
They didn’t have the same environmental concerns [in 1948] that we have now. So, the convention doesn’t just include humans, it includes all the species. Extinction is at the highest rate since the dinosaurs. In the time the interview takes, 2.5 species will be extinct.
LH: In the section on the environment, you say, “For momentous decisions that impact people’s daily lives and well-being, the public must retain the opportunity to contribute to the decision making process.” Can you give an example of a situation in which this right was lacking? How do you see this enforceable right being brought to trial?
For many years in America, landowners could just take the land and do whatever they wanted with it. Even if it meant clear-cutting and [destroying resources]. The right of input just means that you get to submit information to the court in the decision making process. Really what it means is that the science can prevail.
LH: How can readers interact with the 2048 movement? What is available on the website, and are there events locally and nationally that readers can attend or follow?
They can go to the website, and one of the first things is a big green button they can click on and give their name and email address in order to get information. They can also leave comments and join in the Facebook discussion. For students, it’s great if they talk to their teachers about this and for teachers, it’s great if they talk to their students. A big part of what we hope to achieve is education.
Apple picked up 2048 as one of the books on their [iPad] shelf. Readers can buy the book online. Write an email and tell us how you’ll use it and we’ll send it to you for free. For local events, the best thing the SF Appeal readers can do is go to the one of the readings. We have wonderful independent bookstores in the area. Booksmith in the Haight will have an event on April 17th at 7:00 pm.
We’d encourage people to do digital internships. You don’t have to be a UC Berkeley student. We have students from Sonoma State, UC Santa Barbara, etc.
It really doesn’t have to be [university students]. If someone is a construction worker and wants to do this can. Anyone who wants to participate is welcome. The parking lot attendant down there has been contributing his thinking. He reads in his time. I gave him a signed copy.
LH: Anything else you’d like to add?
2048 is different than most books; it doesn’t turn on the author. This isn’t my movement, this isn’t my idea. What we’re doing with 2048 is an extension of all the work in the past. Roosevelt was really clear when he did those four freedoms that he added, “everywhere in the world.” The reason we have these problems in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we didn’t address want. Americans are paying trillions of dollars now because we’ve been so stingy we haven’t addressed want. Out of want always comes war, and it’s always more expensive and more tragic to deal with the consequences of war.
It’s all about philanthropy, and the core of what needs to be done is clear. The book also talks about the need to choose between an ambulance and a fence. People love to give ambulances because they get awards and feel great for themselves. Someday we’re going to have to build a fence, and that fence that stops people from going over the cliff. That’s really the reason why the universal declaration hasn’t come to fruition, is money.
All the money from the book supports a great publisher, that publishes books that support a world that works for all. All the money from the book goes to the project. And that these funds are used primarily to give guidance to students who want to create this agreement. There’s no way we can have an organization without paid staff, without having the website translated. The real power of the 2048 movement is the 90 million students in the US who can participate in creating the agreement. I don’t think the agreement should be created either by one generation or one country.