The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 was a significant moment in history. It resulted from the experience of two world wars that horrified the planet. The influence of the Universal Declaration has been substantial over the past seven decades. It has promoted respect for human rights and the dignity of all human beings.
On 13 December 2018 Caritas staff attended a celebration of the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Geneva. The event brought together young people to reflect on how human rights affect the lives of the young around the world. They gave speeches and showed videos. They spoke about about how human rights are being threatened by climate change, among other things.
Continuation of human rights violations
The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been incorporated into almost all constitutions of the UN Member States. They have been an inspiration for all major human rights instruments. But have we really learned from the past. Human rights violations are widespread and people continue to suffer from conflict, inequality and persecution.
Pope Francis has spoken about a “Third World War”. He said, “instead of happening all at once, this war is coming in stages” and in all parts of the world. We see conflict everywhere from the Middle East and Asia (such as the recent Rohingya crisis) to Africa (with crises in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Congo). The numbers of refugees and displaced people fleeing from persecution has sharply increased over the past decade.
Reflection on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a moment for the Caritas family to reflect on its responsibility to promote human rights and human dignity. We must address root causes of conflicts and transform unjust and unequal social and economic systems.
In 1972, Saint Pope Paul VI said, “if you want peace, work for justice”. This short but profound quote captures what the mission of Caritas is about and it is at the very heart of the Catholic social teaching. It reminds us that we are at the service of the voiceless. Bringing back the central value of the person and promoting its integral human development is central to the Caritas mission.
Other popes have constantly spoken out on the need for world peace. 30 years ago Saint Pope John Paul II also stressed the importance of respecting human rights.
The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us of the importance of human rights and dignity in the pursuit of peace. It renews our engagement in working for justice. Peace flourishes when human rights are fully respected but when they are violated this generates war and more violence.
We hope this anniversary is seized on as an opportunity for the international community to rediscover solidarity and brotherhood. It is a chance to address today’s new challenges and threats to human family. We owe it to future generations.