Holy See: Base of Human Rights Is . . . Being Human

Rights Do Not Come From the Group One Belongs To
The UN Must Affirm Rights of Every Person

GENEVA, MARCH 17, 2008 - It is important to clarify and identify the source and foundation of human rights, since experience and cultural traditions often affect the understanding of this concept, the Holy See affirmed.

Professor Notes Gaps in
Basic Concepts About Person

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, affirmed this March 5 at the 7th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, under way through March 28.

The prelate contended that a correct understanding of human rights comes from the expression itself: "human" rights, since they deal "exactly with what is 'human,' that is the common link among every person and the foundation of human rights."

Archbishop Tomasi said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, elaborated 60 years ago, was in large part the cause of a "great progress achieved in articulating human rights and in improving their application."

In that declaration, he continued, "the universal value of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person was deliberately agreed upon as the cornerstone of all rights.

"Avoiding a purely collectivist or individualistic approach to human rights, this historical document sets out rights as well as duties and thus it establishes a range of connections between the individual, community and society. In this way, rights attributed to groups or collective entities are rooted in the dignity inherent equally in each of their individual members," the archbishop added. "This approach cannot be turned upside down by deriving fundamental rights of persons from the community to which they belong as if it were the subject of basic rights. If the latter were the case, the whole architecture of human rights would crumble."

The prelate went on to say that "human rights are universal, interdependent and indivisible: civil, political, economic, social and cultural, and all require effective implementation through an engagement at various levels of social life, of the village, the city, the nation and the international community through its institutions."


Archbishop Tomasi added that an "essential expression of human dignity is the right to freedom of religion."

"With his fundamental rights, starting with that of religious freedom, the individual person contributes to defend the identity and the freedom of the organized form of his religion and develops harmoniously in relation to others," he said.

The archbishop continued: "Respect of the human person from conception to natural death is the only measure to judge any policy, be it the fight against terrorism or the fight against hunger and underdevelopment. Dialogue and interaction become possible when our common human dignity is the guiding value.

"On its part, the state does not have the power to create human rights by enacting a law, but it has only the capacity to recognize and discipline their existence and ensure their protection, specifically in case of discrimination."

He finally referred to a hope expressed by Pope John XXIII, that "the United Nations Organization may be able progressively to adapt its structure and methods of operation to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks. May the day be not long delayed when every human being can find in this organization an effective safeguard of his personal rights; those rights, that is, which derive directly from his dignity as a human person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable."

"The [Human Rights Council], as the other organs of the United Nations, are called to realize this wish in our time," Archbishop Tomasi affirmed. "The human family and the peoples of the United Nations cannot wait another 60 years."

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