Michael Hunter

The Conrad Grebel Review 30, no. 1 (Winter 2012)

J. Kirk Boyd. 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler, 2010.

J. Kirk Boyd has a vision, namely to see an International Bill of Human Rights drafted by 2048, the 100th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The goal is to have a written agreement that is enforceable in the courts of all countries by the year 2048” (6). His vision is more than a dream. Boyd’s book documents and expands upon the 2048 Project, a movement animated by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. The law school has developed an internet website allowing anyone around the world to comment on, contribute to, and critique the draft of the future Bill of Human Rights. Participants in the movement aim to draft a bill with such high levels of international public support that each country’s leadership will have no choice but to adopt it. The forty-year timeline reflects the understanding that this is no simple endeavor.

This book describes where the 2048 Project is coming from, what it is, and where it is going. Part One gives the history of the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then explores hurdles to the present project’s success. The first hurdle to overcome is ego. The new Bill is to be a people’s document, so each contribution will be reviewed and critiqued without regard to the contributor’s identity. The second hurdle is to achieve the “1% solution,” that is, one percent of the world’s population participating in the project and one percent of the world’s GNP going to fund implementation.

Part Two explores the fundamentals underlying the International Bill of Human Rights, namely the Five Freedoms: Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear – plus “freedom for the environment.” Each freedom is explored in its own short chapter.

Part Three charts the steps towards the project’s goal. It begins with a regional example of what might be made global: the European Convention of Human Rights, a legal document enforceable in every European Union member country. Boyd addresses the “cultural myth” that human rights is a Western concept, arguing that the basic values underlying human rights are common throughout the world. The remainder of this section explains how everyone can participate in the project. The process will be inclusive, and the document will not be created only by lawyers. Every occupation, generation, nationality, and culture should be involved. Boyd invokes the beauty of art that transcends national, religious and cultural boundaries: “Our task is to focus, think, write, and decide together to create the most beautiful Bill of Rights that has ever been written” (120).

2048 is an easy read, aimed at a wide audience. Many of the author’s personal stories give it a homey feeling. It is very optimistic, advocating for every reader’s participation in the process. But as such it is light in analysis and downplays the challenges, making it easy to criticize, as seen in the following two examples. (1) On the surface, the European Convention on Human Rights appears to be a wonderful instance of what the 2048 project hopes to achieve globally. However, this is overly optimistic, considering that the Convention is part of a much larger European Union apparatus. The EU is first and foremost an economic union, and membership in it requires adopting the Convention. Can the proposed International Bill of Human Rights take hold without leveraging a similar economic union? Could it stand alone against the onslaught of World Trade Organization regulation? Perhaps the new Bill needs to be integrated into the WTO. (2) Boyd asserts the “1% solution” – one percent of global GNP – will not require a new tax but can be a re-allocation of a portion of the current global defense budgets. Not only is this a massive economic dislocation for workers, but opposition from well-funded lobbies of the military industry would make it a most daunting task.

And yet…. The idea that human rights might become legally enforceable anywhere in the world is a heady notion. It is a project that we should support, even just by learning about it through reading Boyd’s book. The real challenge is to go beyond easy criticisms and begin thinking about solutions. The 2048 project website is a venue to air suggestions. Together, we might indeed be able to create the International Bill of Human Rights.


Michael Hunter, Master’s degree student, University for Peace, San José, Costa Rica