Holy See’s Address to New Human Rights Council

“The Holy See Believes in Man”

GENEVA, JUNE 26, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, delivered June 20 to the new U.N. Human Rights Council.

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Mr. President,

I wish first of all to express my congratulations on your election to the directorship of the present session of the Human Rights Council, in a particularly significant moment for the life of the United Nations organization, whose objective is directly linked to the respect and safeguarding of human rights.

The new Human Rights Council constitutes an important stage in the struggle oriented to placing man at the center of all political activity, national and international. We have arrived at a key moment: The international norms of human rights, which already recognize the essential elements of man’s dignity as well as each of the fundamental rights that derive from it, now seek the creation of procedures in view of guaranteeing the effective enjoyment of these rights.

The Holy See wishes to contribute to the present debate, in keeping with its nature and specific perspectives, always in view of offering an essentially ethical reflection, which helps in decisions of a political order that must be made here.

In the law and conscience of today’s international community, the dignity of man is manifested as the seed from which all rights are born and substitutes itself to the sovereign and autonomous will of states as the ultimate foundation of all juridical systems, including the international juridical system. It is an irreversible evolution but, at the same time, it is easy to see that in many countries the realization of this supreme principle has not been accompanied by an effective respect of human rights.

On the contrary, a bird’s-eye view of the world shows us that the situation of human rights is worrying. If we consider the whole of the rights enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in international treaties relative to economic, social and cultural rights, in civil and political rights, as well as in other instruments, there is not one that is not gravely violated in numerous countries, unfortunately also in some of the members of the new council.

What is more, there are governments that continue to think that power determines, in the last instance, the content of human rights and, therefore, consider themselves authorized to take recourse to aberrant practices. To impose birth control, to deny the right to life in certain circumstances, to attempt to control the conscience of citizens and access to information, to deny access to a public judicial process and the right to self-defense, to repress political dissidents, to limit immigration without distinctions, to allow work in degrading conditions, to accept the discrimination of woman, to restrict the right of association, are some examples of the most violated rights.

Importance of the new council

The new Human Rights Council is called to close the breach between the whole of the enunciations of the system of conventions of human rights and the reality of their application in the different parts of the world. All the member states of this council should assume individually and collectively the responsibility of their defense and promotion.

At the same time, the hierarchical organization of the most important bodies of the United Nations manifests clearly the desire of the organization to renew its credibility in the eyes of world public opinion. In fact, the council can and must be the instrument that orients all international and national policies towards what, according to the desire of a Pope who always supported the great cause of the United Nations, constitutes its raison d’etre: “Service to man, the assumption, full of solicitude and responsibility, of the problems and essential tasks of his earthly existence, in their social dimension and scope, on which at the same time the good of each person depends” (Cf. John Paul II’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, Oct. 2, 1979, no. 6).

Right to life, to freedom of conscience and of religion

Mr. President:

If the principle of the inalienable worth of the human person is — as we believe — the source of all human rights and of the whole social order, allow me to underline two essential corollaries:

The first is the affirmation of the right to life from the first moment of human existence, that is, from conception until its natural end: Man and woman are persons by the simple fact that they exist, and not because of their more or less developed capacity to express themselves, of entering into relationships or of making their rights count. A government, a group or an individual can never arrogate to itself the right to decide on the life of a human being, as if he were not a person; otherwise, he is reduced to the condition of object to serve other ends, no matter how great or noble they are.

The second corollary affects the rights of freedom of conscience and of religion, as the human being has an interior and transcendent dimension, which is an integral part of his very being. To deny such a dimension is to attempt gravely against human dignity; it means to deny the freedom of the spirit; I would even say: It is to attempt against human existence itself, as it implies transforming man into a simple cog in a plan of social organization.

Only thanks to freedom of conscience man is able to recognize himself and his neighbor in his transcendent dimension, thus transforming himself into a living element of social life.

For its part, religious freedom, in its personal and community dimensions, private and public, allows man to live the most important relationship of his life: The relationship with God, in a pure manner free from hypocrisies which are unworthy of him and even more unworthy of God. This is the intimate and fundamental space of freedom that state authorities must safeguard and not trample, respect and not violate. In this area, every violation by force is a violation of the domain reserved to God.

Of course, just as happens with any other freedom, religious freedom must be harmoniously integrated in the context of all human liberties. It cannot become arbitrary: It must also develop in a harmonious manner, in particular, carefully respecting the other’s religious freedom, in the framework of the laws valid for all.

The state must be at the same time the promoter and guarantor of this general climate of responsible freedom.

Attitude expected of the Human Rights Council

No country, regardless of the circumstances of level of economic development, can exempt itself from the strict obligation to respect all human rights. The latter cannot be more ample in certain countries than in others, as there are no countries in which the men and women have an inferior degree of human dignity to that of men and women of other countries.

The Holy See launches an appeal to all countries called to form part for the first time of the Human Rights Council. First, it expects an exemplary attitude from them, which is concretized in a sincere and profound examination of the unjustly imposed limits to human rights — first of all within their own territory — and asks that they commit themselves to reestablish these rights in their fullness, following the impartial orientation of the international community.

The rich countries must understand that the human rights of all the inhabitants of a country, including immigrants, are not opposed to the maintenance and growth of the general well-being or the preservation of cultural values. Developing countries must understand that the processes of economic development and the promotion of justice and social equality will be much more effective and rapid if human rights are fully recognized, instead of not respecting them for utilitarian motives. The Holy See believes in man. Faith and confidence in every man and woman never defrauds.


Mr. President:

The response that the Human Rights Council gives to the challenges of freedom in numerous countries of the world — beginning by the council’s members themselves — puts into play the credibility of the United Nations and of the whole international juridical system. The Holy See will follow its work with careful attention and sympathy. From its position of observer to the United Nations, the Holy See is ready to offer its total collaboration so that the action of the Human Rights Council will allow for the effective respect of the dignity of every man and woman.

Thank you very much for your attention.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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