What's at the Heart of Human Rights? Holy See Reminds the UN

«Even though the reports prepared for the Third Committee’s current session recognize this fundamental right, it continues, alas, to be ignored or minimized»

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Here is the Oct. 31 statement by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, at the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, on the Promotion and protection of human rights

Madam Chair,
I would like to extend my delegation’s appreciation for the continued dialogue over these last couple of weeks with the Special Rapporteurs and Special Mandate holders on the promotion and protection of human rights. It is my delegation’s hope that through such meaningful dialogue we can gain deeper understanding and come up with holistic responses to the global human rights challenges we face today.
At the heart of human rights is the recognition that all people are born with inherent equal dignity and worth and have a fundamental right to life, which should be upheld and protected at all stages, from conception to natural death.
Even though the reports prepared for the Third Committee’s current session recognize this fundamental right, it continues, alas, to be ignored or minimized. The right to life of the unborn, of migrants in search of safety, of victims of armed conflicts, of the poor, of the elderly and the right to life of those facing the death penalty continues to be ignored, dismissed and debated rather than prioritized.
In this regard, my delegation welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living[1], and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, which recognizes that the right to life concerns not only direct acts or omissions by States to deprive individuals of life but also requires that States address the “systemic deprivations of the right to life tied to poverty, grossly inadequate housing and homelessness,” thereby recommending “a discussion on the relevance and importance of the right to life for those living in grossly inadequate housing conditions and for those who are homeless.”
The growing global consensus on the need to eliminate the use of the death penalty is also a welcome step towards protecting life. As Pope Francis stated in his video message to the Sixth World Congress against the death penalty, which took place last June in Oslo, Norway, “nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance.”
An integral understanding of human rights and human dignity also requires recognition of the social, cultural, political and spiritual rights of all people. A constitutive element of these rights is the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This freedom goes beyond simple toleration and is not limited merely to the private sphere. It includes, as the above mentioned Article 18 affirms, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Madam Chair,
As the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief[2] highlights, freedom of religion and belief is being trampled upon and ridiculed in many parts of the world, even as we speak. People continue to be persecuted, imprisoned and at times killed purely for their religious beliefs. In some corners of the world, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities has risen to such an extent that it constitutes a serious violation of international human rights law. In other parts of the globe, religious minorities are discriminated against for their clothing or are forced to choose between their beliefs and their employment.
Religious communities themselves are not immune to the temptation to violate the freedom of religion and belief of others. Intolerant interpretations of certain religious beliefs have led to much religious persecution. Religion becomes a source of discrimination when it is used and abused to define national identity and unity. In certain cases, a misinterpreted religion becomes an accomplice of State-induced discrimination and stigmatization in education, health-care provision and family law, and inspires bureaucratic harassment and burdensome administrative stipulations to limit the freedom of other religious groups.
Given all these forms and manifestations of violations of freedom of religion or belief, my delegation fully agrees with the conclusion of the interim report of the Special Rapporteur, that, inter alia, “the full scope of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is often underestimated, with the result being an inadequate awareness of the broad range of violations that take place in this area.”[3] Renewed and sustained attention and action to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief is therefore of fundamental importance if we are to make meaningful gains in human rights protection and promotion.
Thank you Madam Chair.
1. A/71/310
2.  A/71/269
3.  A/71/269 n. 73.

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