Statement to the UNGA 78 – Third Committee
Agenda item 71: Promotion and protection of human rights
New York, 18 October 2023
The 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action provide an appropriate occasion to reflect on the foundation of human rights and respect for them in the contemporary world in order to renew commitments in favor of the defense of human dignity.
The roots of human rights lie in the dignity that belongs to every human being. This dignity, inherent in human life and equal in all persons, is perceived and understood primarily by reason. The natural foundation of rights appears all the more solid when, in the light of the supernatural, it is considered that human dignity is given by God. The ultimate source of human rights is not to be found in the mere will of man, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God, his Creator. In this sense, human rights are not a concession by a State or government, but it is their duty to promote and protect human rights, in particular by respecting the inherent dignity of each person.
This dignity is the foundation of our fundamental equality, as also recognized in the UDHR. Every member of the human family is priceless, and a failure to respect and safeguard anyone undermines the very foundations of human society. The right to life is at the heart of respect for the equal value of every person, without which no other rights can be exercised or enjoyed. In this regard, Pope Francis has appealed to the consciences of men and women of good will to strive to safeguard the rights of those who are weakest and to combat the throwaway culture that affects the unborn, the sick, the disabled and the elderly.
“Human rights are to be defended not only individually but also as a whole: protecting them only partially would imply a kind of failure to recognize them. They correspond to the demands of human dignity and entail, in the first place, the fulfilment of the essential needs of the person in the material and spiritual spheres.”
Respect for dignity cannot exist without the guarantee of fundamental freedoms. The “reason and conscience” with which every human being is endowed can only develop in conditions that allow them to pursue the truth. Respect for these rights is necessary for the flourishing of every individual. In this regard, the Holy See stresses that the true litmus test for the protection of human rights is the degree to which people in a country enjoy freedom of religion or belief. As Pope Francis has said, “Governments have the duty to protect this right and to ensure that each person, in a way compatible with the common good, enjoys the opportunity to act in accordance with his or her own conscience, also in the public sphere and in the exercise of their profession.”
Inextricably linked to the notion of rights is the question of the duties incumbent upon each and every human being. It goes without saying that rights and duties are not only complementary but indissolubly linked, especially in the human person who possesses them. This bond also has a social dimension in human society, that is, the right of one person corresponds to a duty on the part of all others: the duty to recognize and respect the right in question. In fact, it is a contradiction to affirm rights without acknowledging corresponding responsibilities. Therefore, those who claim their own rights but completely forget or neglect their corresponding duties are people who build with one hand and destroy with the other.
The solemn proclamation of human rights 75 years ago is unfortunately still contradicted by a painful reality of violations, lack of religious freedom, wars and violence of all kinds, especially genocides and mass deportations, the spread of new forms of slavery on a virtually global scale, such as trafficking in human beings, child soldiers, the exploitation of workers, illegal drug trafficking, prostitution. Even in countries with democratic forms of government, these rights are not always fully respected. Our common mission is to ensure that these universal human rights are enjoyed by everyone, everywhere, at every stage of their lives.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 Cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, 154.
 Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arts. 1, 2.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 9 January 2023.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, 154.
 Pope Francis, Address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 9 January 2023.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, 156.