Here is a statement from the Irish bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace.
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The 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 1963 Encyclical Letter from Pope John XXIII Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), both celebrating significant anniversaries this week – on 10 and 11 April respectively – underline the crucial role of human rights in ending violent conflict. The timing of these two anniversaries, one day apart, offers a crucial opportunity for reflection on the causes and consequences of violent conflict, on both a local and global level.
The approach to groups and communities affected by violence, nationally and globally, needs to shift from containment to one of positive engagement. Only long-term solutions, founded on the values and approaches outlined in Pacem in Terris – dialogue, respect for human dignity, promotion of human rights and acceptance of our corresponding duties – can bring hope to those people in Ireland and throughout the world who are suffering as a result of violent conflict.
Notwithstanding the significant progress of the Irish Peace Process, we cannot fail to recognise that there are more peace walls in Northern Ireland now than existed in 1998. Those communities worst affected by the violence continue to experience the highest levels of socio-economic deprivation, unemployment, anti-social behaviour, drug abuse and suicide among young people, in addition to the on-going threat of paramilitary violence. This situation is mirrored in the most deprived communities in the Republic, where the threat of violence and a lack of hope for the future are part of the daily reality of too many young people.
A reflection on these anniversaries should prompt us to ask ourselves if we are at risk of becoming desensitised to violence. Today, only the most shocking acts of violence receive in-depth coverage by the media, while whole communities, invariably in the poorest and most deprived areas, are struggling to survive against the constant threat of violence, seemingly forgotten by the rest of the world. Elsewhere, pre-emptive violence and further arms proliferation are advocated as responses to conflict, continuing the destructive cycles indefinitely.
A striking parallel can be noted between the backdrop against which Pope John XXIII published on 11 April 1963 – six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis and with war on-going in Vietnam – and the threats to global peace dominating the news today, including tensions in the Korean peninsula and on-going conflict in the Middle East. In the midst of the heightened global tensions of 1963 Pope John’s encyclical was welcomed by leaders from both sides of the political divide and from other faiths and cultures. In contrast to military strategies founded on the premise of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, Pope John XXIII was appealing for dialogue across the boundaries of ideology and culture, on the basis of a shared concern for the dignity and wellbeing of the human person.
A crucial pre-requisite for this dialogue, as frequently emphasised by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is an education which promotes the values of justice and peace. Education is a life-long process which provides an essential foundation for a culture of respect of rights and responsibilities in society. Conversely, educational disadvantage is a major causal factor in socio-economic exclusion and, consequently, in violent crime – as evidenced by statistical analyses of the prison population.
The treatment of human rights in Pacem in Terris has particular significance in the context of a global economic crisis, which has brought with it significant threats to peace and social cohesion throughout the world. The presentation of rights in the encyclical is a challenge to the growing individualism that was one of the principal causes of the current crisis. For every right, there is a corresponding duty (Pacem in Terris, 30) and a powerful appeal to solidarity: “For example, it is useless to admit that people have a right to the necessities of life, unless we also do all in our power to supply them with means sufficient for their livelihood” (Pacem in Terris, 31).
Responses to the present economic crisis have been characterised, on the one hand, by an appeal for greater attention to be given to social ethics and, on the other, challenges to the concept of human rights, particularly socio-economic rights. Pacem in Terris firmly underlines the importance of socio-economic rights in the quest to achieve peace, drawing on the principles of human dignity, equality and the common good. More recently, this crucial connection was vividly conveyed in the homily given by Pope Francis at the Mass for the inauguration of his Pontificate (19 March 2013): “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
Ireland has rightly achieved the reputation of global leadership in the field of peace-building as a result of the Irish peace process and the contribution of Irish troops to peace-keeping missions throughout the world. Now, in the context of the new challenges arising from the global financial crisis, Ireland, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU, has the potential to show leadership once again through our response to the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which entered into force on 5thMay 2013, providing an opportunity for governments to make a firm, international commitment to accountability in this crucial area. Ireland has signed this Protocol, but it has not yet been ratified.
In our efforts to secure a more peaceful and economically sustainable future, there is a clear need to examine the current balance between investment in arms and military technology vis-à-vis investment in community development. The recent UN Global Arms Trade Treaty, aimed at ensuring arms will not be supplied to areas where there is a danger of human rights abuses, is a crucial step in the right direction. Further international cooperation and leadership will be required if we are to shift the balance of spending in the direction which offers hope for the future, rather than the promise of further death and destruction.
1 See Ethna Regan, Theology and the Boundary Discourse of Human Rights (Georgetown University Press, 2010), pp. 29-30.
2 Text available from www.vatican.va.
3 See, in particular, Message for World Day of Peace 2012, Educating Young People for Justice and Peace (www.vatican.va).
4 For instance, the most recent figures from the Irish Penal Reform Trust indicate that the majority of Irish prisoners have never sat a state exam and over half left school before the age of 15, while four in ten children in custodial demand have a learning disability.
5 19 March 2013: Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate (www.vatican.va).
6 See, for example, Opportunity Costs: Military Spending and the UN’s Development Agenda. A view from the International Peace Bureau. (Geneva: International Peace Bureau, 2012).