Pope Benedict XVI today stressed the United Nations' major role in seeking a better world as he highlighted, during an address to the General Assembly, the need to protect human rights, ensure development, security and reduce local and global inequalities.
“The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security,” he told the 192-member body in a half-hour speech that was greeted with a standing ovation.
“Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peaces,” he added speaking in French and English.
Pope Benedict called the UN the embodiment of aspirations for a “greater degree of international ordering” in response to the needs of the human family.
“This is all the more necessary at a time when we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world's problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community,” he said.
Introducing the Pope, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said the visit provided “a unique occasion to remind ourselves of our noble mission” to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.
“Let me express my high appreciation for the valuable contribution of the Holy See to the work of the General Assembly and in particular for your important role in promoting social justice, providing education and alleviating poverty and hunger around the world,” he added.
Speaking immediately before the Pontiff, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted common ground between the Catholic Church and the UN. “In so many ways, our mission unites us with yours,” he said, citing Benedict's call to fight poverty, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the need to protect the weak, and the critical importance of water resources and climate change.
Pope Benedict called for international leaders to act jointly and in good faith on issues of security, development, reduction of inequalities, protection of the environment and resources, global warming, and on promoting solidarity with the planet's weakest regions.
“I am thinking especially of those countries in Africa and other parts of the world which remain on the margins of authentic integral development, and are therefore at risk of experiencing only the negative effects of globalization,” he said.
He praised the recent explicit inclusion of the responsibility to protect people from crimes against humanity such as genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, adopted by a UN world summit in 2005, although he noted that this was implicitly included at the UN's founding in 1946.
“If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with juridical means provided by the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments,” he said.
“The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage,” he added, calling for a deeper search of ways to pre-empt conflicts.
The Pope devoted a large part of his speech to the various aspects of human rights, stressing their universality and dismissing a “relativistic conception” under which the meaning and rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.
But he emphasized that human rights must include the right to religious freedom. “The activity of the United Nations in recent years has ensured that public debate gives space to viewpoints inspired by a religious vision in all its dimensions, including ritual, worship, education, dissemination of information and the freedom to profess and choose religion,” he said.
“My presence at this Assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the Organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family.
“It also demonstrates the willingness of the Catholic Church to offer her proper contribution to building international relations in a way that allows every person and every people to feel they can make a difference.”