OCtober 17, 2018
Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee
Agenda Item 74 (a, b, c): Promotion and protection of human rights

New York, 17 October 2018

Mr. Chair,

This seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an opportune time to recall and reemphasize its fundamental assertion that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This important anniversary equally offers a favorable occasion [1] to renew our shared commitment, not just in words but also in actions, to those rights that flow from every person’s inherent dignity.

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.”[2]

In order to avoid this, we must reaffirm the centrality of the human person in every aspect of our work and ensure that human rights always imply responsibilities, which are fulfilled through concrete commitments and actions, not just through ideas or words. 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.”[3]

For this reason, a functioning international human rights framework requires that society not only recognize the human rights of its people but also 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, religious, social and cultural rights.

Earlier this year, in his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis noted some trends that, in the very name of the promotion of human rights, are in fact undermining the enjoyment of those rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. He noted that, “debatable notions of human rights have been advanced that are at odds with the culture of many countries.”[4] He cautioned that this trend portends the “risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.”[5]

In this regard, the Holy See remains concerned about the increasingly narrow interpretation of the right to life, both on the level of states and at the level of the treaty bodies and other human rights mechanisms. That tendency is particularly apparent within a current of the human rights discourse that refuses to recognize the inherent value and dignity of human life at every stage. That ideological approach seeks to create a hierarchy of human rights, by relativizing human dignity, assigning more value and even rights to the strong and healthy, while discarding the weak. Such an ideology, unfortunately present in various parts of the UN human rights system, leads to some grave inequalities and injustices, often ignoring children in the womb and treating the lives of the elderly, migrants or people with disabilities, as expendable or indeed as a burden to society.

Mr. Chair,

We must ensure that this approach, which reduces a person’s dignity to his or her capacity for self-affirmation and focuses on achieving a balance between competing rights, does not become the defining logic of the human rights project moving forward. Instead, we must promote principles of justice, solidarity and the common good, principles that promote the good of the entire human family which necessarily has as its starting point the dignity of every human person, no matter how vulnerable.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

1. Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2. Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization,
New York, 25 September 2015.
3. Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4. Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See for the Traditional Exchange of New Year’s Greetings, 8 January 2018.
5. Ibid.