Measure of Human Rights Is in Actions, Not Words

Article excerpt

Dec. 10 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in response to the atrocities of the Second World War.

The document represented a high achievement and offered great promise. The declaration sets down the human rights considered fundamental to the dignity and development of every human being. These range from economic rights, such as the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living, to political rights, such as freedom of opinion, expression and association. They include civil rights, such as equality before the taw, and social or cultural rights, such as the right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community.

In effect, the nations' leaders promised one another to work toward a world without cruelty and injustice; a world without hunger and ignorance; a world of justice and reconciliation.

Much has been achieved in the last half century. Struggles against colonialism and apartheid have changed the map of the world. Mass movements against race and gender discrimination have transformed societies. The principles enshrined in the declaration have become a rallying cry for activists and ordinary people worldwide.

Unfortunately, for many mom millions the declaration remains little more than platitudes. It is, at best, an unfulfilled promise for the 1.3 billion people who struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day; for the 35,000 children who die of malnutrition and preventable diseases every day; for the billion adults who cannot read or write; for jailed prisoners of conscience; for murdered catechists; for torture victims; for inmates lingering on death rows.

Vatican statements have long focused on the essential importance of human dignity. Religious orders have been exemplary in advocating human rights throughout the world. Differences between the Vatican and the United Nations on abortion and population issues have the fact that for 50 years the Vatican and the United Nations have largely advanced the same social and economic agendas.

Ambassadors from the Holy See were present at the adoption of the universal declaration. The Vatican has repeatedly affirmed its support for the subordinate agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO and the several entities related to refugees. …