Vatican – UN: pandemic threatened human rights

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Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States

The Vatican Secretary for State Relations addressed the UN in a video message highlighting the nature of human rights that must be fully respected also in relation to measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benedict Majaki SJ – Vatican City

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher spoke at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is taking place these days in a virtual mode in Geneva due to the health emergency. The hierarch noted that for more than a year, the coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of life, claimed many human lives, and also called into question the effectiveness of the current economic and public health system, including the commitment of states to protect and promote universal human rights. This is a pressing challenge, since recognizing the dignity of each individual enables us to “contribute to the revival of the universal desire for brotherhood”.

The hierarch referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which “the recognition of the inherent dignity of all members of the human family and their equal and inalienable rights is the basis of freedom, justice and universal peace.” Likewise, the UN Charter expresses the desire of nations “to affirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human person, in the equality of men and women and in the equality of large and small nations.” These two documents, the representative of the Vatican noted, recognize the objective truth: each person is by nature and everywhere endowed with human dignity. This truth is “not conditioned in any way by time, place, culture or context.” While acknowledging that this solemn commitment is “easier to pronounce than to fulfill and to fulfill,” the archbishop expressed regret that these goals “are still far from being recognized, respected, protected and promoted in any situation.”

Monsignor Gallagher noted that the real advancement of fundamental human rights depends on the foundation on which they are based. Therefore, any practice or system that treats rights in an abstract way – in isolation from pre-existing and ubiquitous values ​​- risks undermining their raison d’être, and in such a context, human rights institutions succumb to “prevailing fashions, attitudes or ideologies. “

The Vatican Secretary for State Relations also warned that in such a context of rights devoid of value, systems may impose obligations or sanctions that were never envisaged by the state, which could conflict with values ​​that should be promoted. There is a risk of “creating so-called ‘new’ rights that do not have an objective basis”, as a result of which there is a risk of “moving away from the goal of serving human dignity.”

Describing the inseparability of rights from values ​​using the example of the right to life, the Vatican diplomat welcomed the fact that the content of this right “is gradually expanding to combat torture, enforced disappearance and the death penalty; to protect the elderly, migrants, children and motherhood ”. These changes are a sensible extension of the right to life because they anchor their fundamental foundation in the good inherent in life, and because “life – before being right – is the preferred good to be loved and protected.”

The prelate further stressed that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the measures taken by public authorities to protect public health hinder the free exercise of human rights. “Any decision on the implementation of human rights in the context of protecting the health of citizens must proceed from a situation of extreme necessity. A number of vulnerable people – for example, the elderly, migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons and children – have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis. ”Amendments of this type“ must be commensurate with the situation, apply in a non-discriminatory manner, and only be used when no other means is available ”.

Archbishop Gallagher reaffirmed the urgent need to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, noting, in particular, that “religious beliefs and their expression are at the heart of human dignity, in his conscience.” The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows that “this solid understanding of religious freedom has been blurred,” the Secretary for State Relations said. The Prelate reaffirmed the conviction of the Holy See – recognized in various human rights instruments – that “freedom of religion also includes its witness and expression, both individually and collectively, publicly and privately expressed through worship, observance and teaching.” To respect the intrinsic value of this right, the archbishop exhorts political authorities to engage with spiritual leaders, religious organizations and civil society leaders committed to promoting freedom of religion and conscience.

Monsignor Gallagher noted that the current crisis offers us a unique opportunity to approach multilateralism “as an expression of a renewed sense of global responsibility and solidarity based on justice, peace and unity in the human family, which is God’s purpose for peace.”

The prelate recalled the call of Pope Francis from the recent encyclical Fratelli tutti: that everyone should recognize the dignity of every person by promoting universal brotherhood. The Archbishop called on the UN states to be ready to go beyond what divides us in order to deal with the consequences of various crises. At the end of the video message, Monsignor Gallagher assured the UN of the commitment of the Holy See to this direction and readiness for cooperation.

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