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50th Anniversary of Declaration of Human Rights

Bombardment of Human Rights Issues Dulls Conscience

John Paul II: Human Rights, More Than a Declaration

PARIS, DEC 7 (ZENIT).- The international commemoration of the 50th

anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights got under way at

UNESCO headquarters in Paris this morning, where French President, Jacques

Chirac, opened the first forum of what will be four days of debates,

activities and events to observe the half century of the signing of this

international document and to discuss the actual state of Human Rights

throughout the world.

Joining U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and High Commissioner for Human

Rights, Mary Robinson, will be numerous heads of state, several recent

Nobel Peace Prize winners and more than 1,000 Human Rights activists from

over 100 countries who will take part in the events.

On Thursday, December 10, the actual anniversary of the document, delegates

and guests will attend a special commemorative ceremony in the Chaillot

Palace where the Declaration was signed in 1948.

During these next few days, numerous parallel activities will accompany the

central festivities and memorial events. Among others, U.N. Secretary

General Kofi Anan will address the French Parliament to speak of Human

Rights and Amnesty International is organizing a music concert over the

weekend with a cast of star-studded, world-renowned performers.

In spite of the festive atmosphere, many delegates remind those present

that there is still a great deal to be accomplished in order to guarantee

the practical implementation of the articles of the Declaration.

In a recent symposium at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, on the

theme of the 50th anniversary, Human Rights' Commissioner, Mary Robinson,

commented that, in the light of so many violations of Human Rights on such

a worldwide scale, "I don't see much to celebrate about." Instead of

promoting celebrations, perhaps "we should reinforce our sense of

solidarity," she concluded.

In fact, even some of the Nobel Peace prize winners will be conspicuous by

their absence. One of them is Aung Sung Suu Kyi (Peace Prize, 1991) --

Democracy leader of Myanmar -- who is restricted in her movements by the

military government there, highlighting just one part of the world where

Human Rights, freedom of expression, association and movement are still not

part of daily life.




Giorgio Filibeck, of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

VATICAN CITY, DEC 2 (ZENIT).- On December 10, fifty years ago, the

representatives of fifty governments, as well as eight divisions of the

United Nations, and hundreds of non-governmental agencies, approved the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Five decades later, the fulfillment

of the objectives expressed in that declaration still seems very distant.

ZENIT interviewed Giorgio Filibeck, official of the Pontifical Council for

Justice and Peace and expert on human rights issues.

ZENIT: Although it is true that the United Nations Charter has contributed

to awakening human consciousness as regards the rights of man, we constantly

witness systematic violations of these rights. In this twilight zone, how

does the Church assess the situation?

FILIBECK: Unfortunately, although on one hand it is true that over the

last fifty years there has been greater sensitivity on the part of public

opinion regarding offenses committed against the dignity of a person, on the

other hand there seems to be an exactly opposite current, as if consciences

were hardened and incapable of reacting to the massive display of

information and images which relentlessly document the violations of the

rights of man all over the world, but at times have become commonplace in



At this moment in time, special clarity and commitment are necessary to

avoid 'regression' in the area of sensitizing and pressuring for genuine

defense and promotion of human rights. We are faced, yet again, with the

need to educate at a deep level; here the Church can make a significant

contribution, in light of her rich teaching on social issues.

ZENIT: What is the contribution of the Church, and of John Paul II in

particular, to the promotion of human rights?

FILIBECK: The rights of man are based on the dignity of each person: the

proclamation of this dignity is critical to the Christian message. Although

reflection on human dignity has evolved from the early days of the Church,

it is only recently that the pontifical Magisterium has addressed the topic

of the rights of man. In the atmosphere of conflict of the French

Revolution, these rights were seen, sometimes with good reason, as an

instrument against the Church; but, once the immediate historical moment

passed, the connection with the dignity of the person has been restored;

thus human rights have become one of the most important chapters in the

social doctrine of the Church.

John Paul II hoped to offer a synthesized and essential vision of human

rights in the encyclical 'Centesimus Annus' (May 1, 1991). "Among the

principal rights, it is important to single out the right to life, and that

of the child to grow in the mother's womb after conception; the right to

live in a united family in a moral atmosphere favoring the development of

the personality; the right to grow in intelligence and freedom through the

search for, and knowledge of, the truth; the right to work to value the

goods of the earth and to obtain sustenance for oneself and one's loved

ones; the right to create a family, to welcome and educate children, and to

use sex responsibly. Source and synthesis of these rights is, in a certain

sense, religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of

faith and in conformity with the transcendental dignity of the person"

(number 47).

The Holy Father hoped to remind us of human collectivities with rights.

First and foremost among these is the family. Reference should be made to

the Letter on the Rights of the Family, published by the Holy See in October

1983, and the rights of minorities, to which the Pope dedicated the theme of

the World Day for Peace in 1989; human communities, whose rights to

development are stressed in the encyclical 'Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.'

Moreover, John Paul II has paid special attention to the rights of

indigenous peoples, with whose representatives he has met frequently during

his trips. Finally, the Holy Father reminds us of the rights of nations: in

his address to the general assembly of the United Nations on October 5,

1995, he proposed the elaboration of a Charter of Rights of Nations.

ZENIT: In addition to the violations of human rights, we must add the

'Babel of rights.' Many pressure groups invent their own rights according to

their special social needs. We run the risk of not knowing what is meant by

'rights' of man. What is the Church doing in this regard?

FILIBECK: The question certainly highlights the drama of the rights of

man; the image of the 'tower of Babel' of rights is very apt. But, what

rights are we talking about? To answer this question we must have a clear

anthropological profile of the one who has such rights. Too often one hears

with bewilderment the controversial debates which pretend to consecrate a new

'right' to abortion or euthanasia. In 1949, the proclamation of the Universal

Declaration happened thanks to a common conscience that the moral and

material devastation of the Second World War demanded a radical change in

mankind. Today, fifty years later, it is urgent that consciences be awakened

from the 'slumber' that prevails, which could pave the way for new and more

subtle forms of persecution and totalitarianism which, seconded by

technological development could destroy the progress made to date. We need

to reassert the absolute and transcendent value of the human person,

created in the 'image of God' and redeemed by Christ, without any

discriminations. Starting from the principle of human dignity, the

Magisterium of the Church agrees with the United Nations in the definition

of human rights as universal and indivisible.

ZENIT: What is your opinion about the establishment of an International

Tribunal for Human Rights?

FILIBECK: For the time being, I think it would be difficult for such an

entity to be established, given the laborious path in the creation of the

International Penal Court whose statute was adopted by the diplomatic

Conference held in Rome last June and in which the delegation of the Holy

See played an active part. When it begins to operate, this Tribunal will be

competent to handle a long list of "crimes against humanity" in the context

of hostilities directed against civilian populations, flagrant violations of

human rights. According to John Paul II, the international community has

given itself a new institution destined "to watch over the culture of human

rights worldwide" (July 4, 1998).



John Paul II Denounces Multiplicity of Violations

VATICAN CITY, DEC 6 (ZENIT).- Solidarity is also a natural right. In fact,

"it is in the realm of solidarity, that a right is expressed which is not an

arbitrary instrument in the hands of the strongest, but a sure means of

justice." John Paul II spoke these words yesterday to the Union of Italian

Catholic Jurists, when he received them in audience on the fiftieth

anniversary of the Union's foundation.

The Holy Father expressed his satisfaction over the "considerable and

qualified" road "covered in these decades." We must thank God, he said, for

"the commitment and competence with which the Union of Italian Catholic

Jurists has supported the primacy of the person and the need for the common

good, in the evolution of society and of juridical history over the past

half century."

In fact, the Pope emphasized, "the common concern of jurists today consists

in giving fullness and actuality to human rights, in face of grave

violations registered in various parts of the world, notwithstanding solemn

pronouncements to the contrary." But unless "there is full and universal

consensus on this principle" he concluded, "it runs the risk of achieving

only modest results or of confusing genuine rights with subjective and

egotistical claims."