Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights

sophont rights
Image from Bernd Helfert

Ancient declaration of rights from the First Federation era. Whilst made obsolete by advances in ethical and legal ontology (notably sophont interaction protocols) the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights is a foundation for modern civilised society. The spirit of its acts are still respected across many cultures.


Movements advocating for universal cross-clade sophont rights date back to the AI-liberation, splice and provolve citizenship movements of the late information and early interplanetary ages. The foundations of these movements can be traced further back to animal liberation, animal rights, and primate citizenship activism of the early to middle information age. Up until that time human rights groups were concerned with rights and equality for all human beings, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or religion.

When only baseline humans were involved the situation was relatively simple, although taking many decades to realise, and involving extending basic rights from the ruling minority to a previously oppressed class; for example the movement for the abolition of slavery industrial age, the women's suffrage movements of some decades later, and land rights for indigenous peoples during the late atomic and early information ages. But attempts at extending rights to non-humans created controversies and resistance.

The emergence of superturing AI and, later, several individuals, during the early interplanetary made the need for a universal, trans-species sophont rights document all the more pressing, since now there existed non-human species and clades in a position of power. Behind the scenes the first hyperturings were working to keep a low profile, consolidating their positions in secret. But by the middle and later interplanetary period many had emerged more openly, and the emergence of a number of posthuman Belter and Jovian League clades added to the confusion. Increasing instances of conflict between human and non-human clades made it difficult for sophont rights movements, particularly after cases such as the infamous Magon Affair, or the Autonomous Hyperturing Node 0481 who killed the entire population of Rhea City during a construction project. Centralist AI, in consultation with superbright humans and political/corporate powers, attempted to mitigate the problem through various memetic campaigns.

The real problems of inter-clade conflict were not so easily resolved, and despite local attempts at regulation and safeguarding the well-being of subsingularity sophonts by pro-human centralist hyperturings, the situation remained dubious. Tensions were especially high in the Mars Orbitals, the Belt, the outer solar system and various free zones, and some of the outsystem Colonies, in all of which regulation was difficult or impossible to enforce.

During the dark ages the pro-human centralists managed keep terragen civilization alive and to pull together enough resources to establish the First Federation; a feat made easier by the earlier migration of the anti-human and isolationist transaps outsystem, establishing the Diamond Belt. It was widely believed among human clades at the time that the lack of transapient conflict regarding this was due to a "rational partitioning of resources" among pro- neutral- and anti-human transaps. However transapient historians posit that this was not the case, although some aspects of their accounts of Solsys era inter-transapient diplomacy remain incomprehensible (some say deliberately obscure) to ordinary sapients to this day.

Much of the credit for the establishment of the First Federation was due to libertarian and centralist transapients and a number of human superiors, although the style and much of the details were due to human popularist baselines, such as the incorporation of pop-Techist and Neo-extropian fashions in style and architecture. As well as establishing a common protocol for the diverse clades and cultures that constituted the Federation, the founders also realised the importance of a common cross-species sophont rights document. Not having to contend with the baselinocentric memes that ruled pre-singularity humanity, they formulated a number of important and interlinked documents, including the Ceres Protocol, the Tycho City Convention, and the Ganymede Declaration of Sentient Rights. These culminated in the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights, ratified by most of the polities of the time in 939 AT. (several ai, cyborg, and biont factions who were invited - such as the nascent Backgrounders and several benign solipsist groups - didn't ratify it but their low numbers had a negligible effect on wider society).

The document is exceedingly long with multiple formats clarifying the intentions of the document, providing protocols for interpretation and decision trees for managing conflicts of rights. The core rights however were kept short and easy to comprehend by any sophont. They are:

  • (I) Right to recognition of sophonce
Any being claiming sophonce is entitled to be treated as such until such time as they are unambiguously determined not to be.

  • (II) Right of equality
All sophonts regardless of origin, clade, sex, faction, biology or mechology, cognition, ideology, orientation and toposophy are regarded as equal beings before the law and are to be treated accordingly.

  • (III) Right to life
All sophonts have the right to be free from arbitrary or unjust murder, bodyloss or stasis.

  • (IV) Right to liberty
Each sophont is entitled to control over their own life within the law and cannot be forcibly owned, detained or otherwise coerced with the exception of those assigned a guardian whose rights will be limited in this regard.

  • (V) Right to die/Right to mortality
In a civilization of immortals and near omni-capable medical tech, the right to terminate one's existence at a time and place of one's choosing, or to refuse longevity treatments is to be assured.

  • (VI) Right of bodily sanctity
The physical form of sophonts, be they real or digital, are to be held sovereign. No one can arbitrarily or unjustly alter, augment, harm, maim or otherwise inflict pain on another.

  • (VII) Right to cognitive consistency
No sophont shall be forced to have their mind drastically and forcibly rewritten, edited or otherwise changed in a manner that destroys their personhood.

  • (VIII) Right to reproduce/replicate
No sophont may be arbitrarily denied the right to reproduce themselves including the right to create static or active copies. Population control policy must be fair and unbiased.

  • (IX) Right of identity
Every sophont has the right to their own identity and may not, in the case of copies, claim another's or have another's forced upon them without consent.

  • (X) Right to transcend one's condition
No sophont being is to be unreasonably denied, through either intrinsic or extrinsic force, the capacity to alter one's self physically or mentally, through natural or artificial means.

  • (XI) Right of prosperity
No sophont can be unjustly denied access to the resources required for them to live full lives. Nor shall they be denied access to the means to ethically increase their personal wealth.

  • (XII) Right of expression
Sophonts are to be allowed to express themselves in any reasonable manner without censure, attack or otherwise inhibition. This includes but is not limited to public speaking, published opinions, religious expression, bodily form and chosen garments.

  • (XIII) Right of association
All sophonts are to freely be allowed to associate in whatever family, network or organisation in any consensual manner.

  • (XIV) Right to relocate
No sophont may denied the right to move to a new location, polity, or metaempire of their choice.

The Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights has remained the foundation of civilized galactic society ever since.

That does not mean its rulings have been everywhere upheld. Polities have long had different interpretations of the rights, sometimes leading to very different laws and customs. In some situations polities explicitly disregard one or more of the rights claiming it conflicts with local culture.

With each singularity giving rise to greater topsophic beings, culminating with the Archailect led-empires, there have been concerns that sophont rights could be disregarded without consequence. Given the vast nature of higher toposophic beings compared to lower questions can be asked as to why these beings should care about the rights of those below? To be sure in some polities this is the case but for much of the civilised galaxy Transapient and Archai rulers back sophont rights in word and deed. In many cases transapients have claimed that the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights is but a single dimension of a much larger set of principles practiced by transapient culture concerning their interactions with each other and lower beings. Sephirotic transapients have on occasion suggested that the spirit of these protocols are comparable, even if the letter is incomprehensible.

Despite being a cornerstone of modern civilisation across time and space there have has been certainty of fair treatment. Subtle anti-vec prejudice during the middle First Federation led to the establishment of Cog and the emergence of Silicon Generation on the one hand, and the breakaway Metasoft House on the other. Splices, Erotoginis, and Bionoids are often abused and treated as sex-slaves, especially away from the more civilized centers. Human baselines may be badly treated or used as dedicated slaves by hyperturings, squid provolves may use other sophonts for food, and so on. And regulation of such sophont-rights violations is often difficult.

In addition each Sephirotic empire has its own noetic archetype, and its own memetic principles, religions, and ideology. In the Negentropy Alliance the Declaration is respected, but is still secondary in importance to the Principles of Negentropy. The Solar Dominion has the God Emperor's own rulings, which (so they claim) are far more profound and far reaching, and close several inconsistencies in the greater declaration (incidentally, no independent first toposophic researcher has found inconsistencies, but the Solarists claim they are glaringly obvious to their second toposophic documenticians, and other second toposophic remain noncommittal or ambiguous, or disagree among themselves, at least as far as their baseline-filtered communications go). The Terragen Federation, the Sophic League and the Utopia Sphere all give the Declaration full support and approval, although Communion of Worlds insists on their own Empai-protocol revision. The TRHN finds the Declaration (and its variants) amusing, the NoCoZo claims it is centralist interference and unnecessary though the sentiments are maintained by market forces, and the Keter dominion considers it irrelevant. Other minor empires give it partial, nominal, arbitrarily varying support.

Despite this, even as the memetic-noetic divergence of Terragen civilization continues, with empires and archailect dominions increasingly going their own way, the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights — in all its passive or dynamic text, interactive virch, turingrade, superturing, and hyperturing versions — continues its quixotic role of safeguarding the rights of sophont beings.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev, John B
Updated by Ryan_B (2016)
Initially published on 01 March 2002.