The Rights & Responsibilities of Global Citizenship

Rights and Responsibilities


By Ron Israel, Co-Founder and Director, The Global Citizens’ Initiative/ July, 2015

A global citizen is someone who sees themselves as part of an emerging sustainable world community, and whose actions support the values and practices of that community. Many people today identify with being global citizens as more and more aspects of their lives become globalized.

Being a global citizen does not mean that you have to give up the other citizenship identities you already have, e.g. your country citizenship, your allegiance to your local community, religious, or ethnic group. Being a global citizen just means that you have another layer of identity (with the planet as a whole) added on to who you are. And if you take that identity seriously, there are a new set of rights and responsibilities that come with it.


The rights of global citizens are imbedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first drafted in 1948 after World War II. The core nature of the Universal Declaration—grounded in individual liberty, equality, and equity—has remained constant. However, the ways in human rights are applied change over time, with changes that occur in the political, economic and social fabric of society. Also new rights, that were not on the 1948 human rights agenda have emerged, for example, digital access rights, LGBT rights, and environmental rights. Some people cite the emergence of new rights and changing political systems as calling forth the need for an updated Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The main problem related to human rights has been the difficulties that the world has had in enforcing them. There is a long and shameful history of disrespect for and abuse of human rights on the part of sovereign states, religious institutions, corporations and others. A growing number of international mechanisms have been established for reporting human rights abuses. There also are global, regional, and national courts that exist to adjudicate incidences of human rights abuse. Yet, unfortunately, human rights enforcement mechanisms still have limited legal jurisdiction, and many states have not agreed to participate in them. This is yet another reason for a review and update of our current human rights policies and programs.


A global citizen, living in an emerging world community, has moral, ethical, political, and economic responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

#1 Responsibility to understand one’s own perspective and the perspectives of others on global issues. Almost every global issue has multiple ethnic, social, political, and economic perspectives attached to it. It is the responsibility of global citizens to understand these different perspectives and promote problem-solving consensus among the different perspectives and the building of common ground solutions. A global citizen should avoid taking sides with one particular point of view, and instead search for ways to bring all sides together.

# 2 Responsibility to respect the principle of cultural diversity: The multiple perspectives that exist with most global issues often are a reflection of different cultural belief systems. Each of our major cultural belief systems brings value-added to our search for solutions to the global issues we face. In building a sustainable values-based world community it is important to maintain respect for the world’s different cultural traditions; to make an effort to bring together the leaders of these different cultural traditions who often have much in common with one another; and to help leaders bring the best elements of their cultures to the task of solving global issues and building world community.

# 3 Responsibility to make connections and build relationships with people from other countries and cultures. Global citizens need to reach out and build relationships with people from other countries and cultures. Otherwise we will continue to live in isolated communities with narrow conflict-prone points of view on global issues. It is quite easy to build global relationships. Most countries, cities, and towns are now populated with immigrants and people from different ethnic traditions. The Internet offers a range of opportunities to connect with people on different issues. So even without traveling abroad (which is a useful thing to do), it is possible to build a network of personal and group cross-country and cultural relationships. Building such networks help those involved better understand their similarities and differences and search for common solutions for the global issues that everyone faces.

#4 Responsibility to understand the ways in which the peoples and countries of the world are inter-connected and inter-dependent: Global citizens have the responsibility to understand the many ways in which their lives are inter-connected with people and countries in different parts of the world. They need for example to understand they ways in which the global environment affects them where they live, and how the environmental lifestyles they choose affect the environment in other parts of the world. They need to understand the ways in which human rights violations in foreign countries affect their own human rights, how growing income inequalities across the world affect the quality of their lives, how the global tide of immigration affects what goes on in their countries.

#5 Responsibility to understand global issues: Global citizens have the responsibility to understand the major global issues that affect their lives. For example, they need to understand the impact of the scarcity of resources on societies; the challenges presented by the current distribution of wealth and power in the world; the roots of conflict and dimensions of peace-building; the challenges posed by a growing global populations.

#6 Responsibility to advocate for greater international cooperation with other nations: Global citizens need to play activist roles in urging greater international cooperation between their nation and others. When a global issue arises, it is important for global citizens to provide advice on how their countries can work with other nations to address this issue; how it can work with established international organizations like the United Nations, rather than proceed on a unilateral course of action.

#7 Responsibility for advocating for the implementation of international agreements, conventions, treaties related to global issues: Global citizens have the responsibility to advocate for having their countries ratify and implement the global agreements, conventions, and treaties that they have signed.

#8 Responsibility for advocating for more effective global equity and justice in each of the value domains of the world community. There are a growing number of cross-sector issues that require the implementation of global standards of justice and equity; for example the global rise in military spending, the unequal access by different countries to technology, the lack of consistent national policies on immigration. Global citizens have the responsibility to work with one another and advocate for global equality and justice solutions to these issues.