The Holy See
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Tuesday, 20 June 2006


Mr President,

I would first like to offer you my congratulations on your election as Chairman of this meeting of the Human Rights Council at a particularly important moment in the life of the United Nations Organization, whose purpose is directly linked to respecting and safeguarding human rights.

The new Human Rights Council constitutes a crucial milestone in the struggle that aims to place the human being at the centre of all political activity, national and international.

We have reached a key moment: the international norms of human rights that already recognize the essential elements of human dignity as well as each one of the fundamental human rights that derive from it, are now directed to creating procedures with a view to guaranteeing the effective enjoyment of these rights.

The Holy See desires to contribute to the current debate in accordance with its specific nature and perspectives, always with the purpose of offering an essentially ethical reflection as a help in making the political decisions that must be taken here.

In law and in the moral conscience of today's international community, human dignity is manifested as the seed from which all rights spring and replaces the sovereign and autonomous will of States as the ultimate foundation of every juridical system, including the international juridical system.

It is an irreversible development, but at the same time it is easy to see that in many countries, the realization of this supreme principle has not been accompanied by an effective respect for human rights.

On the contrary, a panoramic view of the world shows us that the human-rights situation is a cause of concern. If one considers the series of rights set down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Treaties concerning economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights and other instruments, there are none that are not seriously violated in numerous countries, and unfortunately also in some of those that are Members of the new Council.

Furthermore, governments exist that continue to believe that it is power which determines in the final analysis the content of human rights.

Consequently, they believe they are authorized to have recourse to aberrant practices. Imposing birth control, denying the right to life in certain circumstances, claiming to control the awareness of citizens and their access to information, denying access to a public judiciary process and to the right to assure one's defence, repressing political dissidents, limiting immigration without distinction, permitting employment in degrading conditions, accepting discrimination against women, limiting the right of association: these are but a few examples of the rights most frequently trampled upon.

The importance of the new Council

The new Human Rights Council is called to fill the gap between the pronouncements of the system of the conventions on human rights as a whole and the reality of their application in the different parts of the world. All Member States of this Council must individually and collectively assume responsibility for their defence and promotion.

At the same time, the hierarchical articulation between the most important bodies of the United Nations clearly expresses the Organization's desire to renew its credibility in the eyes of world public opinion.

Indeed, the Council can and must be the instrument that directs all international and national policies to what, according to the wishes of a Pope who always upheld the great cause of the United Nations, is its raison d'être: "service to man, concerned and responsible attention to the essential problems and duties of his earthly existence in its social dimension and significance, on which also the good of each person depends" (John Paul II, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, 2 October 1979, n. 6; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October, p. 8).

The right to life and to freedom of conscience and religion

Mr President,

If the principle of the inalienable value of the human person is - as we believe - the source of all human rights and every social order, allow me to emphasize two essential corollaries:

The first is the affirmation of the right to life from the first instant of human existence, that is, from conception to its natural end; men and women are people for the simple reason that they exist and not because of their greater or lesser capacity to express themselves, to enter into a relationship or to assert their rights.

A government, a group or an individual can never arrogate to themselves the right to decide on the life of human beings, as if they were not persons, except by relegating their condition to objects to serve other ends, however great and noble these may be.

The second corollary concerns the rights to freedom of conscience and religious freedom, because human beings have an inner and transcendent dimension which is an integral part of their being. To deny such a dimension is a serious affront to human dignity; it is equivalent to denying freedom of spirit. I would say even more: it is an attack on human life itself, because it means turning human beings into mere cogs in a project of social organization.

It is only through freedom of conscience that human beings are able to recognize themselves and their neighbour in their transcendent dimension and thereby transform themselves into living members of social life.

As for religious freedom in its personal and communal, public and private dimensions, it enables human beings to live the most important relationship of their life - their relationship with God - purely and without putting up any pretences that are unworthy of them and even more, unworthy of God.

This is the intimate and fundamental place of the freedom that State Authorities must safeguard and not hold up to ridicule, must respect and not violate. In this area, every form of violation by force is a violation of the domain reserved for God.

Of course, like every other freedom, religious freedom must fit harmoniously into the context of all human freedoms. It cannot become arbitrary. Thus, it must also develop harmoniously and, in particular, with attentive respect for the religious freedom of others in the context of laws that apply to all. The State must at the same time promote and guarantee this general atmosphere of responsible freedom.

The attitude expected of the Human Rights Council

No country, whatever its circumstances and degree of economic development, can shirk the strict obligation to respect all human rights. This respect cannot be more widespread in certain cultures than it is in others, for there is no country where men and women have a lesser degree of human dignity than men and women in other countries.

The Holy See is appealing to all countries called to belong for the first time to the Human Rights Council. In the first place, it expects of them an exemplary attitude that is put into practice by a sincere and deep examination of the limits unjustly imposed on human rights - first of all within their own territory -, and it also expects them to work to re-establish these rights in their integrity, following the impartial guidelines of the International Community.

The rich countries must understand that the enjoyment of human rights by all the inhabitants of a country, including immigrants, is not in opposition to the maintenance and growth of general well-being nor to the preservation of cultural values.

The developing countries must understand that the process of economic development and the promotion of justice and social equality would be far more effective and rapid if they fully recognized human rights instead of failing to respect them for utilitarian reasons.

The Holy See believes in the human being. Faith and trust in each man and each woman will never disappoint.


Mr President,

The response that the Human Rights Council will make to the challenges of freedom in numerous countries of the world - starting with the members of the Council themselves - challenges the credibility of the United Nations and of the entire international juridical system. The Holy See will follow its work with attention and interest.

From its position as Observer at the United Nations, the Holy See is prepared to offer its full collaboration, so that the action of the Human Rights Council will enable the dignity of every man and of every woman to be effectively respected.

Thank you for your attention.