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The UDHR: 60 Years of Struggling for Dignity and Justice
Volume 22 Number 4
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 15:15
On December 10 the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is the fundamental document that serves as the internationally accepted standard as to how the different States in every country of the world should fulfill its obligation to respect, promote, and protect the rights and welfare of its citizens.

What is remarkable about the UDHR is the fact that the then 58 member States of the United Nations who have ratified this document in December 10, 1948 represented a range of political ideologies, political systems and religious and cultural backgrounds, and level of economic development – yet they managed to come to an agreement about what constitutes the fundamental rights of every human being. The UDHR is universally accepted by virtually every nation in the world, and it has been translated into nearly 350 national and local languages, and is the best known and most frequently cited document in the whole world. The UDHR also forms the foundation of international law and serves as the model for various international treaties and declarations and is incorporated in the laws and constitutions of different countries.
The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church and the UDHR

For the Church, the roots of human rights can be found in the inherent dignity that belongs to every human being since we are created in the image and likeness of God.  In this sense the promotion and protection of human rights becomes more than just a legal concept; more importantly it becomes a moral imperative underscoring the social doctrine of the Church.

The social doctrine of the Church clearly recognizes the profound links that clearly exist between evangelization and human promotion. As Pope Paul VI in his Evangelical Letter Evangelii Nuntiandi states: “Nothing that concerns the community of men and women - situations and problems regarding justice, freedom development, relations between peoples, peace – is foreign to evangelization, and evangelization would be incomplete if it did not take into account the mutual demands continually made by the Gospel and by the concrete, personal and social life of man.”

It is for this reason that the Church has always noted the positive value of the UDHR. In his address to the United Nations in October 2, 1979, the late Pope John Paul II said that the UDHR is a true milestone in the path of humanity’s moral progress and that it remains as one of the highest expressions of the human conscience in our time.

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council also recognizes the importance of human rights in its Dignitatis Humanae which states that, “the movement towards the identification and proclamation of human rights is one of the most significant attempts to respond effectively to the demands of human dignity”. The same Council in its Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes sees that affirmation of human rights as an opportunity to effectively recognize human dignity and universally promote it as a characteristic inscribed by God the Creator in his creature.
It should also be noted that the Church concurs with the principles of universality, interrelatedness and indivisibility of rights that the UDHR espouses. According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, human rights are universal, inviolable, and inalienable and should be defended not only individually but also as a whole. The Compendium further states that the integral promotion of every category of human rights is the true guarantee of full respect for each individual right, and that the universality and indivisibility are distinctive characteristics of human rights.

The Current Human Rights Situation and the Challenge Facing the Church in the Philippines

The current human rights situation in the country has taken a turn for the worse. Under the present administration there has been a rise in cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture and other forms of human rights violation.

One such example that could illustrate the gravity of human rights violations in the country is the case of Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo. The two brothers were abducted by the military on February 14, 2006 and were held incommunicado for about a year and a half. The two brothers were also tortured and during their captivity the brothers saw and talked with other victims who were also tortured and abducted by the military. The problem is as with other cases of human rights violations, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice or convicted. This situation has led to a growing culture of impunity which undermines democratic processes and replaces the rule of law with the rule of fear and terror.

Another issue that must be addressed is the issue of corruption, the lack of transparency and accountability of public officials, and the worsening poverty that further widens the gap between those who have and have not.

Efforts to search for truth behind the allegations of fraud stemming from fraudulent deals such as the ZTE Broadband deal, and the Fertilizer Scam involving former Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary JocJoc Bolante have ended in naught due to the efforts of this administration to stonewall the truth.

Such a situation has led the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP), in accordance with the pastoral exhortation of the Bishops to discern, held its own truth festival in order to enjoin people to watch, pray and act so that the truth may surface and the clamor for justice be realized.

In the light of these different social issues facing the Filipino people there is no other recourse for the Church but to act in accordance with its essentially religious mission including the defense and promotion of human rights.

The Church’s pastoral commitment should mean proclaiming the Christian foundation of human rights through discussions that would guide the faithful to reflect and discern the role they would play in social transformation. In concrete terms this means incorporating human rights in the discussions and orientations of the Basic Ecclesiastical Communities (BECs) and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to document cases of human rights violations.

This pastoral commitment also urges us to speak out and denounce violations of human rights which in the words of our good Bishops in their Pastoral Letter on Social Concerns fulfill the duty of the Church "to denounce when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it".

We denounce all forms of human rights abuses because as the Pastoral Letter puts it: “In this way the Church's social doctrine defends human rights "especially those of the poor, the least and the weak."

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