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Pope calls for universal respect for human rights

Pontiff rallies society, cites victims of enforced disappearances with message on Human Rights Day
Pope calls for universal respect for human rights

Pope Francis stands during the annual feast of the Immaculate Conception at Piazza di Spagna in Rome on Dec. 8. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Published: December 11, 2018 05:19 AM GMT
Updated: December 11, 2018 05:35 AM GMT

The fundamental rights of all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, must be respected and protected in every situation, Pope Francis wrote on Dec. 10 in a message marking Human Rights Day.

"While a part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees their dignity denied, ignored or infringed upon, and their fundamental rights ignored or violated," he wrote.

Such a contradiction leads one to ask "whether the equal dignity of all human beings — solemnly proclaimed 70 years ago — is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every circumstance," he added.

The message was read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, during a two-day conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University from Dec. 10-11.

Topics included the "achievements, omissions and negations" found among various groups in the context of human rights.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 10, 1948. It detailed core principles that guaranteed the fundamental rights of every person.

In his message, Pope Francis said, "numerous forms of injustice" still exist in the world, which seems to have no qualms about exploiting, rejecting and even killing human beings.

Those whose basic rights continue to be violated include the unborn, who are "denied the right to come into the world"; those who lack the means to live a decent life; and those who are denied an adequate education, he said.

Appearing on the same list are those who lack work or who are forced to work in slave-like conditions; those who are detained in inhumane conditions, who are tortured or are denied the possibility of redeeming their lives; and victims of "forced disappearances" and their families.

In addition, he said, there are those who live "in an atmosphere dominated by suspicion and disdain, who are the targets of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence because of their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion."

"Finally," the pope wrote, "I cannot forget all those who are subjected to multiple violations of their fundamental rights in the tragic context of armed conflict while the unscrupulous merchants of death get rich off the price of their brothers' and sisters' blood."

All of society must play their part "with courage and determination" in stopping these violations of people's basic rights and promoting respect for all, "especially those who are 'invisible,' those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, foreign or detained, those who live on the margins of society or are rejected."

In his message, Pope Francis appealed to all world leaders "to put human rights at the center of their policies," including those concerning development, "even when that means going against the tide."

Speaking at the conference, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, said the declaration was intended to "combine the values of humanity with the formulations of rights" to prevent violence and eliminate inequality.

"It is not just a question of defining rights on the basis of abstract peaceful coexistence or environmental or climate-based sustainability, but of reflecting on the basic criteria for coexistence between people," Cardinal Parolin said.

However, he said, there are signs that the shared values that were once the fabric of the document are unraveling, so the world must have "the courage to rewrite legislation to bring values back to the center."

The cardinal, like other Catholic commentators on the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration, noted the current push for the recognition of new rights, such as abortion or euthanasia.

Perhaps, he said, what is needed is more dialogue about values.

"Words like dignity, liberty and responsibility are already in the language and aspirations of the human family; in fact, without them, it is not possible to speak of human rights" or hope for the conditions of peace, security, development and cooperation that should flow from a universal recognition of human rights.

"Perhaps the time has come to launch a broad reflection and consultation in the Church on human rights, indeed I would say almost on the future of humankind, becoming aware that the classic question, 'Who are you?' has been replaced by the highly insidious one: 'What rights do you want to have?'" Cardinal Parolin said.

In Brussels, Pax Christi International marked the anniversary of the human rights' declaration, saying now is the time to celebrate its achievements while examining the challenges in its implementation.

"We have become acutely aware from our partners and friends that human rights and those who seek to protect them are increasingly under attack," a statement from the Catholic peace organization said.

"The tireless guardians of these universal rights are faced with a shrinking space in which to do their work."

Despite the challenges, the organization said it remained optimistic because human rights defenders and people working to protect the environment and toward disarmament "remain steadfast in their non-violent struggle."

The anniversary gave Pax Christi the opportunity to reiterate its calls to end violence and conflict in a bid to curb human rights violations; eliminate nuclear weapons; demand better safeguards in the mining of vital metals and fuels; support civil society in their nonviolent struggle for human rights; and support the 2030 time frame for the sustainable development goals as a key factor in advancing human rights.

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