Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Third Committee of the 70th Session of the General Assembly
Agenda Item 72 (b,c): Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
New York, 30 October 2015
At the outset, I would like to thank the various Special Rapporteurs and other human rights mandate holders for their Reports and for their continued dialogue with States to promote and protect human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In the same vein, Pope Francis, in his Address to the General Assembly on September 25, reminded us that at the foundation of integral human development lies the “right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”
Yet, around the world, this very foundation of human rights continues to be challenged, ignored and even despised. The dire situations of the most vulnerable members of our society – the unborn, the elderly, the handicapped, the victims of war and violent extremism, the migrants and refugees, the women and girls who are victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, and the extremely poor who are deprived of their rights – calls us to renew our commitment to foster and promote the right to life.
The renewal of a human rights framework that restores the right to life at its foundation presupposes a society whose understanding of the common good includes the protection and promotion of the right to life for all. The common good requires not only juridical protection for all life from conception until natural death, but also requires a sound juridical and political system capable of protecting the environment and providing for the essential needs of persons, such as food, housing, work, basic health care, education and the protection of religious freedom.
A renewed international human rights framework rooted in protecting life requires a society capable of meeting the needs of people. International human rights mechanisms must not de-emphasize universal and fundamental human rights in order to advance “new” categories and definitions of “rights”. A selective prioritization of human and civil rights often clouds our discussions and comes at the expense of those whose fundamental rights are being trampled upon.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights further affirms that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Yet, the most heinous crimes against religious freedom are being committed even as we speak, including executions, forced conversions, egregious “religious taxes” and confiscation of properties as “penalties” for professing another religion. Religious and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by these abuses perpetrated by violent non-state actors who are clearly intent on destroying religious, cultural and ethnic diversities.
The 2014 International Religious Freedom Report says that the commission of these crimes is partly due to government failure, delay and inadequacy in combatting violent non-state actors. The Report also says that in 2014 there has been “a continuation of many restrictive governmental policies affecting religious freedom including laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, the threat and enforcement of blasphemy and apostasy laws, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, and stringent or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations.”
An even more extensive Report sadly confirms that acts of violence committed in the name of religion are not only widespread but are on the increase. In almost every country where a change in the status and condition of religious minorities has been recorded, that change has been for the worse, sometimes due to legal or constitutional discrimination, or to sectarian hostilities often linked to racial or tribal tensions and, in some cases, due to one religious group oppressing – or even trying to eliminate – another.
My delegation wishes to reiterate its appeal to this institution and to all people of goodwill to heighten their attention and strengthen their efforts in promoting and protecting fundamental human rights, especially in times of evident deterioration in the respect for such rights.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 3, 1948.
 Art. 18.
 US State Department. The 2014 International Religious Freedom Report, 14 October 2015.