How the Vatican Views Meeting of U.N. Rights Panel

Interview with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 19, 2002 ( Two topics are grabbing the attention of the U.N. Human Rights Commission at its annual meeting.

One is the Middle East, and the other is how to strike a balance between fighting terrorism while at the same protecting human rights.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Vatican permanent observer at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, told Vatican Radio what is at stake at the meeting, which opened today in Geneva.

Q: What will be the most complex issues?

Archbishop Martin: Obviously, the situation in the Middle East will be a difficult question to address, but the follow-up to the Durban conference against racism will also be a delicate issue. Moreover, there are many topics that will be addressed, which affect United Nations procedures and mechanisms.

Q: It is commonly affirmed that the Sept. 11 attacks have profoundly modified the scale of priorities at the global level. Isn´t there a risk that this new international situation will damage the defense and promotion of human rights, especially in some difficult areas of the planet?

Archbishop Martin: It should be recalled that the struggle against terrorism represents a struggle for the state of law. Therefore, it should be a struggle for the full extension and full respect of human rights.

These tensions in the community of nations have manifested themselves since Sept. 11. The struggle against terrorism is necessary and must be carried out with vigor and force, but respect for the rights of individuals involved in this situation is also necessary.

Q: For the first time, the United States has not been elected a member of the Commission on Human Rights. What repercussions could this exclusion have on the work of that institution?

Archbishop Martin: It certainly is possible that some resolutions, which in the past were sponsored by the United States, will not have the same support. In any case, I think the United States should be present in a Commission on Human Rights. Its contribution is important.

Q: What are the fundamental points to which the Vatican will be committed in this working session of the Geneva Commission?

Archbishop Martin: Traditionally, we have addressed the issue of religious liberty, which is even more important this year, precisely after Sept. 11, in part to try to foster dialogue between religions.

We have always started with a topic related to poverty, as we believe that people who live in conditions of poverty are not able to realize themselves completely and to fully exercise their rights. I would also like to emphasize the issue of emigrants, because emigration is increasingly a natural element in a global society.

However, in the present situation, the condition of emigrants is still very vulnerable, even in those places where they make an essential contribution to the economic and social growth of the country in which they have been received.

Q: Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced that she will not be available again for a new mandate. How do you evaluate the work done over these years by the former Irish president?

Archbishop Martin: I think she has done a very solid job. The media highlights the way in which she has struggled with force, even against powerful countries. However, the silent work she has done daily, reinforcing the structures of her institution, as well as the structures of different countries where problems have been registered, must not be forgotten.

I think Mrs. Robinson is leaving her successor a much stronger, more prestigious and more effective institution.

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