The theme for this meeting at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg was “The Challenge of Universality” and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher on Monday ascended to the platform to speak about, “Integral Human Development and the Universality of Human Rights in the Multilateral Context”.
In his address to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Archbishop focused on three major challenges which he said, “in the present historical context, threaten the recognition of the universality of human rights, and then look for possible paths of response.”
The first challenge to the universality of human rights, he noted, “comes from the model of social development that we are pursuing, both at the level of advanced economies and at the global level.” Archbishop Gallagher went on to say that in recent years, Western societies were succumbing to a greater breakdown of the social fabric, due, he said “to multiple factors such as the growth of inequalities, the impoverishment of some sectors of the population, job insecurity, as well as the drastic downsizing of social protection systems.”
Even on a global level, he added, “despite the overall growth of the world economy, entire populations remain in poverty…”
A second challenge to the universality of human rights, underlined the Secretary for Relations with States, “derived from the growing cultural pluralism that we experience within our societies.”
The third, the Archbishop noted, “arose from the instability of the international order and the growing threats to peace.”
In response to these challenges, Archbishop Gallagher offered some possible solutions from the perspective of the Holy See.
With regard to the first, he stressed that it was fundamental “to return to an essential aspect of the Universal Declaration: namely, the simultaneous affirmation of “political and civil” rights together with “economic, social and cultural” rights.”
He went on to say that “this vision fully reflected what, from the perspective of the Church’s Social Teaching, is called “integral human development”.
Turning to the second challenge, that of a growing cultural pluralism, the Archbishop said that he believed, “an answer must be sought in the robust affirmation of the right to freedom of religion, which is a condition for mutual respect and for real equality in the context of a pluralist society.”
Finally, in response to the third challenge, the Archbishop underlined that if the dignity and rights of others are disregarded or trampled underfoot, then even one’s own dignity and rights are in jeopardy.
This, he continued, “ is what we are witnessing more and more frequently: grave economic and social injustices that affect most of humanity have also a direct impact in Europe. The migrant and refugee crisis has taught us, among other things, this very point.”
Everything is interconnected
More than fifty years ago, Archbishop Gallagher pointed out, Pope Paul VI said that “development is the new name for peace”. This teaching, he went on to say, “is also clearly expressed by Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si', where he constantly stresses that “everything is interconnected”.”
This phrase, said the Archbishop, “could be another way of expressing the universality of human rights.”
Concluding his address, Archbishop Gallagher commented that “ultimately, the universality of human rights rests on the universal character of the human person, which is intrinsic to it by reason of its natural openness to a truth that transcends itself." It is precisely, he said, “upon this common openness that the universality of the human family is founded.