Justice is founded on respect for human rights - Jean-Louis Tauran
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The signs of hope: peace

Jean-Louis Tauran

The theme which emerges clearly from Pope John Paul II's Message for World Peace Day 1998 is to give an ultimate goal to justice and at the same time search for its bases. The message focuses on respect for human rights, of individuals and of peoples, founded on the principle that «every human being is a person, namely, endowed with intelligence and free will… and therefore has rights and duties» (Pacem in Terris). Recognition of justice and its realization in society rest on these elements and not on a sterile claim to rights and freedom.
In the second paragraph of the message ample space is given to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, fifty years ago, recognized the «same rights belong to every individual and to all peoples». The Church, as the Pope implies, has always appreciated this juridical instrument judging it to be a privileged means for «path to peace» (Pope Paul VI). The present Pope defined it «one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our times», on the occasion of his last visit to the United Nations, on October 5th 1995.

Pope John Paul II affirms that «the philosophy» of the Declaration has contributed to diffusing a spirit which places liberty, justice and peace as priorities in human action and in the choices made by those in government. Therefore it is ever more painful to see that human rights, so well expressed, continue to be ignored and violated. The Holy Father himself in his first address to the United Nations on December 2nd 1978, said that unfortunately «we are forced to observe an apparently increasing divergence between the significant declarations of the United Nations and the increase, at times massive, of violation of human rights».

To promote or to re-establish peace, it is necessary to re-establish justice: the justice of truth, the justice of social equality, the justice of fraternal solidarity. These moral values are strong because they derive from «the notion that human dignity which is the basis of any right». In 1993 in Vienna the international community strongly affirmed that the fundamental rights of the human person are indivisible and universal because they are not conceded by anyone: they stem from the unity of human nature and from the equality of persons, whose rights and freedoms, rooted in human dignity, precede the positive right which expresses them. Therefore the rights and freedom of the person are inscribed within human nature, and they are not an expression of culture, although they have need of the latter in order to be historically integrated into the life of a society.

For the Church therefore, the rights and freedom of the person, one and inseparable are recognized before society and the state. They are inseparable because they are not linked to the different stages or the different conditions of human existence (youth, old age, sickness …) or the person's different social roles (worker, student parent…) This the reason for the Holy Father's insistence that the distinctive features of fundamental rights be «strongly reaffirmed»: each right must refer to the human person and human dignity is not confined by a geographical area or a cultural experience.

Justice however is not perfect without love and Pope John Paul II adds that «it is important to consider also the promotion of human rights: this is the fruit of love for the person as such, since "love goes beyond what justice can provide». For Christians the «metanoia» of humanity is achieved only by living the commandment of Christ «Love one another as I have loved you» (Jn 13,34) and the incarnation of Jesus renders all the more urgent this call to brotherhood. It is the task of the Church and every Christian to seek this «justice, an active and life-giving virtue» (Message n.1) so that the world will believe in man and continue to hope!