September 26, 2018
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Prevention Tool to achieve Peace and Sustainable Development

Statement by H. E. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher
Secretary for Relations with States,
Head of the Delegation of the Holy See
to the Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly

at the High-Level Side Event entitled “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
A Prevention Tool to achieve Peace and Sustainable Development”

United Nations, New York, 26 September 2018


Mr. Chairperson,

Over the last 70 years, we have seen in time and in practice that the founding pillars of the United Nations are not only interconnected, but also mutually reinforcing. Today we reflect on this important fact and take a further step by considering how human rights contribute to the achievement of lasting peace and sustainable development.

Human rights and human dignity can never be allowed to become empty words, uttered and affirmed simply to assuage our collective conscience, in what Pope Francis has called “declarationist nominalism.”[1]

To avoid this, we must remember that rights always imply responsibilities, and responsibilities are fulfilled through concrete commitments and actions. As the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms, our “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” also reflects our “determination to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”[2]

For this reason, a functioning international human rights framework requires that society not only recognize the human rights of its people but be resolute in meeting their basic needs and promoting their integral human development. This includes the commitment to securing civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, a crucial dimension of human expression and fulfillment.

These commitments, owed to each person, must not be based on narrow self-interest, or on merely achieving a balance between competing rights. Rather they must be founded  on the principles of justice, solidarity and the common good, principles that require addressing inequalities and creating healthy environments that allow all people to become protagonists of their own development, and ultimately of society at large. This is the real foundation of lasting peace.

Therefore, when viewed together, the UN’s foundational pillars form a virtuous cycle. Where human rights are respected and fulfilled development leaves no one behind. When development embraces all of society and everyone is given the opportunity to flourish, peace becomes sustainable.

In conclusion, difficulties in respecting and implementing international human rights laws are no excuse for ignoring them. On the contrary, they must lead to an even greater effort to factor these considerations into an operational reality. To narrow the gap between theory and practice: this is what is urgently needed to advance the cause of human rights today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
1. Pope Francis, Address to the United Nations General Assembly, 25 September 2015.
2. Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.