Development, Democracy and Human Rights
For Baha'is, the most fundamental of human rights is the right of each individual to investigate reality for himself or herself, and to benefit from the results of this exploration. That such a right exists is to us self-evident from the fact that the human consciousness is endowed with the intellectual, moral, spiritual, and aesthetic capacities needed to undertake such an effort.
Most of the world's people would no doubt express in religious terms their agreement with this postulate. Throughout human history the conviction that each person has not only the right but the responsibility to "know and worship God," by whatever terminology they may have described this ultimate reality, has been inculcated by the world's great religions, arguably the most important force in the civilizing of human nature.
The central issue, however, is not a theological one. The historical record is relevant here because the religious forms are the ones through which the greater part of humanity have so far principally exercised the right to investigate reality. However hedged about that investigation no doubt was, because of the intellectual and social limitations of earlier ages, the right itself represents no new and untested hypothesis, but has lain at the foundation of what we call culture.
In exercising this right and responsibility, each individual will call, to varying degrees, on the range of capacities that characterize human nature. The development and exertion of physical well-being, experimentation with aesthetic and intellectual capacities, and the struggle to cultivate moral and spiritual insight are, therefore, aspects of the practice of this inalienable feature of human life. Any or all of these capacities are engaged as human consciousness begins to explore the inner and external worlds that provide its frame of reference and constitute its field of activity.
In undertaking this search, a search that is for all practical purposes synonymous with the living of a life that can be said to be truly human, every individual needs the assurance that the exercise of the faculties referred to will enjoy access to whatever benefits, protections, and opportunities can reasonably be provided by the society in which he or she lives. These benefits include, as our draft agenda reminds us, not only civil and political rights, but also rights in the area of economic, social, and cultural life.
The session's agenda also points out, however, that this system of rights is one and indivisible. Without economic rights, the exercise of civil or social rights is severely attenuated. Without cultural rights, an individual or community will have the greatest difficulty in exercising political or economic rights to a degree that meets the essential requirements of their respective situations.
Since humanity is so diverse, true development can best be assessed by people themselves, acting individually and as communities, in terms of the overall improvement in their quality of life. So long as such determinations do not infringe on the rights of others, the United Nations human rights system has a clear obligation to foster a climate of opinion and to elaborate a system of controls that will make this possible.
In contributing to the discussion of this subject, the Baha'i International Community feels an obligation to share with this important session of the World Conference on Human Rights its conviction that the entire range of human rights under discussion derives its integrity from the right of every human being on earth to explore reality to the fullest extent of the resources available to such an effort. It is, we believe, this irreducible principle that gives the appeal for human rights both its integrity and imperative.