Human Rights from an Indigenous Perspective

Ollantay Itzamná and vision of the Peace Accords. Paula Nicho

In indigenous philosophies, the human being is an integral part of the fabric of Life. He/she is neither the center nor the measure of reality. Much less the purpose.

In 1948, Western civilization, astonished by its self-destructive capacity in the wake of its world wars, declared what is now known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the promise to set humanity on the path of Development and Democracy.

71 years later, a diachronic and synchronous diagnosis of the living conditions of more than 7.5 billion inhabitants of the world indicates that we are on the wrong path.

At present, not only hunger, disease, illiteracy, socioeconomic inequality… threaten different pockets of societies, even in the so-called (poorly) developed countries, but the conditions of Life on planet Earth are increasingly precarious/dangerous.

The reserves of fresh water are irremediably exhausted and the population is increasing, soils are becoming sterile and there is more demand for food, hydrocarbon reserves are being exhausted and energy demand is growing, the climate is unpredictable, snowfalls are receding and the seas are rising, forests, ecosystems and different forms of life are being wiped out…

Why could human rights not come from this situation?

When liberals and socialists debated (during the 20th century) human rights concentrated exclusively on the idea of anthropocentric development, the wellbeing of the individual human being. There was a debate between individual (liberal) and collective (socialist) rights, but both focused on human welfare/development.

The developmental dream (propelled by individualistic philosophy and anthropocentrism) accelerated the depredation of the Web of Life on the planet, to the point of endangering the continuity of the human species. What is the point of having rights, even money, if there is no water available, (healthy) food, predictable climactic conditions?

71 years after the progressive recognition and implementation of human rights, we realize that these rights, whether individual or collective, are insufficient to guarantee the well-being and survival of the human species on the planet. We need to recognize and implement the rights of Mother Earth that guarantee, in turn, the rights/opportunities for humans.

What notion do indigenous peoples have about human rights?

Heart of Water. Paula Nicho

Western academic thought, the fruit of its intellectual arrogance, has reached the fallacious conclusion that: “indigenous and/or eastern peoples have no notion of human rights. They barely conceive of the idea of dignity”. This is false.

Our grandparents were very clear that “the well-being of the human community depended on the well-being of the cosmic community”.

In the philosophies of aboriginal and/or eastern peoples there was never the idea of the human being as an individual/independent being. Much less as a being cut off from the cosmic community. There was no madness to seek the welfare of the individual human by burning or destroying their only common home.

In indigenous philosophies the human being is an integral part of the Web of Life. It is neither the center nor the measure of reality. Much less the purpose. But, this symbolic/interrelational logic is impossible to verify/understand with methodological anthropocentrism, much less with the individualistic method.

For indigenous peoples the only way to guarantee human rights is to recognize the dignity, rights, and opportunities of Mother Earth (as a cosmic community).

Full human rights are impossible to achieve through development. Development will always threaten the rights and opportunities of the great majorities, and above all, the Web of Life.

According to indigenous philosophies, the human community will have the enjoyment of its faculties of well-being (rights) only as a communal being, restoring the equilibrium shattered by anthropocentrism and individualism.