Extraterrestrial Human Rights
In The Space Review this week, Michael Huang worries about efforts "to ban humans from Mars and other places" and calls for a declaration that, "[a]ll human beings have the right to exist at any place beyond Earth" or, perhaps a broader proclamation that, "[h]uman beings beyond Earth have the same rights as human beings on Earth." Michael wants to ensure "the hard-won rights that humans have achieved on Earth -- including, of course, the right to exist -- would apply to people in space."
No objections here. Naturally, human rights matter, both on and off Earth. (ET rights? Alas, no human has met an extraterrestrial, and our law does not address whether theoretical beings have rights, or a right to exist, here or elsewhere. Not yet anyway.)
As a matter of law on the home planet -- at the national as well as international level -- human beings enjoy many rights. But despite its name, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, may not apply throughout the universe. This document, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations December 10, 1948, presumably addresses the rights of humans at home. It certainly makes no mention of any human right to exist, say, on Mars.
Of course, when it comes to rights in space, the big topic of the new commercial space age has been property rights (-- that is, real estate as well as intellectual property,) not human rights.
The idea of a declaration of human rights in space is relatively new. It came up, among other places, at the Space Generation Forum at UNISPACE-III in 1999, and in 2000 at the UN/European Space Agency symposium on youth in space activities, in Graz, Austria. (See, #9 on this list of draft recommendations of the Space Generation Forum.)
But the matter of human rights per se is not addressed in the international treaties and principles governing outer space, nor is it exactly big on the agenda of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space's Legal Subcommittee. Perhaps COPUOS would like to take up the issue in coming sessions?
(That is, if no Martians object.)
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Image: 2001: A Space Odyssey; MGM 1968