Vatican Address at U.N. on Religious Freedom

"Religions Play an Essential Role in Ensuring Security"

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NEW YORK, NOV. 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is the statement by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, before the third Committee of the General Assembly last Friday on "Human Rights Questions, Including Alternative Approaches for Improving the Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms."



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Mr. Chairman,

The universality of human rights springs from the unquestionable truth that all human beings are equal in nature and in dignity. It is for this reason, the Holy See has consistently defended and promoted respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all peoples. These rights and freedoms are not contingent upon the State or upon its recognition of any particular right. Rather, they are intrinsic to human nature itself and to what is essential to this nature.

Among the fundamental freedoms of every human being is the freedom of religion. This freedom lies at the foundation of the edifice of human rights because it affects the primordial relationship of the human being with the Creator.

A right social order requires that all, as individuals and community, should be able to profess their religious faith and conviction with full respect for others. Countless examples in our modern times show and confirm for us that when religious faith is freely chosen and lived in a coherent way, religions play an essential role in ensuring security and in promoting peaceful coexistence of peoples, a condition for any effective conflict prevention and a powerful tool for the building of a lasting peace.

Religious freedom also contributes decisively to develop citizens who are genuinely free and helps them fulfill their duties with greater responsibility. The exercise of religious freedom generally cultivates a sense of the other thereby enabling the individual who professes the faith to live with the neighbor in a right relation characterized by an objective rather than subjective standard. It is also an important means of strengthening a people's moral integrity. Civil society can count on believers who, because of their deep religious convictions, will not succumb readily to dominating ideologies or trends but will endeavor to act in accordance with their inner aspirations to all that is true and right, an essential condition for securing peace.

The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on Freedom of Religion or Belief has often reminded authorities in various countries of the laws and administrative practices that continue to limit or violate the rights of individual believers or religious groups formally recognized by their Constitutions. In his latest report, he expresses apprehension about a new upsurge in administrative regulations on freedom of religion, referring in particular to the compulsory discriminatory registration of religious groups and the imposition of specific regulations in certain countries in order to curtail, in violation of the international standards, the right to religious freedom.

In some countries, manifestations of religious intolerance still exist, such as, serious prohibitions to religious instruction of children and young people; restrictions in the concession of visas to religious personnel; lack of freedom in the use of mass media and other means of social communication for religious purposes; denial of permits to build new places of worship; hate propaganda; misleading statements at times even by public authorities against other religions; destruction and irreparable damage of holy sites; religious "apartheid" in certain professional activities; prohibition to conduct public worship; violence against religious minorities, including killings of religious leaders and pilgrims. It is regrettable that certain national legislations deprive their citizens of the freedom to change their religion, even when they decide to do so after having honestly, freely and responsibly sought the truth, according to the dictates of their conscience. These and other subtle forms of religious intolerance and discrimination cause suffering and hardship for millions of believers.

Every violation of religious freedom, whether overt or concealed, does fundamental damage to the cause of peace. This year, as we observe the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us not forget that people are being victimized for their religious convictions in various parts of the world. In this regard, my delegation shares the view that dialogue and cooperation with religions can contribute to the efforts of the United Nations and other international, regional and national organizations in achieving peace, harmony and understanding around the world.

The wholesome implementation of religious freedom can help strengthen international peace and ensure the common good of each nation, of each society. For when individuals know that their fundamental rights are protected, they are better disposed to work for the common welfare. Therefore, the Holy See firmly hopes that the international community will continue to safeguard the freedom of individuals and of communities to profess and practice their religion, also as an essential tool that fosters peaceful human coexistence and enhances social harmony and universal brotherhood among nations and peoples.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

[Text distributed by Holy See mission]