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Human rights are not novelties

NEW YORK (SE): Human dignity and human rights are getting a tough time today, the permanent observer from the Holy See to the United Nations (UN), Archbishop Bernardito Auza, said at a debate on the nature of a human right marking the 70th anniversary of the formation of the UN and the 50th anniversary of the formation of human rights covenants at the organisation’s headquarters in New York in the United States of America on July 13.

In addressing the assembly, Archbishop Auza said, “This debate comes at a particularly tumultuous time in which human dignity and rights are being denied, suppressed and violated in various ways across the globe.”

He added that civilians are being targeted in war and armed conflict; persons are being trafficked for slave labour, sex or organs; ethnic and religious minorities are being singled out for persecution and annihilation; and human beings deemed unwanted or useless are being discarded in what Pope Francis has termed the throwaway culture.

The Filipino archbishop diplomat stated that hundreds of millions of peoples risk their lives to flee from persecution and extreme poverty, and countless individuals are becoming victims of various forms of discrimination and prejudice.

Archbishop Auza said that this emphasises the importance of addressing the human rights issue in a compelling manner that can truly challenge nations that blatantly violate them, often in the name of national security, especially since many of them are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition, he pointed out that what he termed novel rights are constantly coming onto the horizon that are far removed from both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other conventions that form and are the basis of international law.

He said that this emphasises the importance of defining and describing a human right in such a way as to be clear on what is genuinely human, otherwise the term is set to be abused and stretched to embrace passing tastes and whims, becoming nothing more than a rhetorical catch-all.

“Such an elastic approach would discredit and undermine the very concept of human rights. A responsible exercise of human rights necessarily implies a faithful fulfilment of their corresponding responsibilities,” the archbishop said.

“This reciprocity of rights and responsibilities does not only apply at the level of individuals, but it also informs the relationship of civil, legislative and judicial authorities with citizens and civil society institutions and groups,” he continued.

He concluded by saying that today more than ever, human rights as articulated in the UN convention and various other agreements must be presented forcefully so as to represent a shared patrimony that demands universal respect and observance.

“Wherever it exists, respect for human dignity and human rights is a moral achievement that must continually be received with gratitude, solidified with perseverance and built upon in the concrete decisions that persons, societies and states make,” Archbishop Auza stressed.

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