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Holy See: Religious freedom is violated in one third of the world

Addressing the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva urges for renewed international efforts to address the ongoing violations of human rights, including freedom of religion.

By Lisa Zengarini

Human rights, including those against freedom of thought, conscience and religion, continue to be violated on an alarming scale across the globe, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva said on Wednesday.

Discrimination and persecution of believers are on the rise

Speaking at the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council, which kicked off on  February 26, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, remarked that discrimination and persecution of believers are on the rise worldwide.

He cited the data from the Pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need which show that religious freedom is violated in almost one third of the world’s countries, affecting around 4.9 billion people.

The  former Nuncio to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC) also lamented that in some Western countries, “religious discrimination and censorship are being perpetrated under the guise of ‘tolerance and inclusion’.”

“Legislation originally aimed at combatting ‘hate speech’, is often instrumentalised to challenge the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, leading to censorship and ‘compelled speech’.”

International cooperation to protect the dignity of the human person

Regarding the general topic discussed at the session, Archbishop Ballestrero underscored that in pursuing “a more effective” international cooperation, as called for by Pope Francis to address the current challenges in a multipolar world, “especially in order to consolidate respect for the most elementary human rights”, the focus must remain of the dignity of the human person, which is the foundation of peace, as stated in 1948 by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

To improve multilateral diplomacy, he said, it is therefore important “to uphold values that are rooted in human dignity”.  This requires in turn “rebuilding a shared vision of our inherent nature.”

“We cannot separate what is good from what is true and what is deeply rooted in our human nature.”

AI and the protection of fudamental human rights

Human dignity, continued the Vatican Observer, must become the guiding principle also in the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Advancements in this field should respect fundamental human rights and ought to serve, not compete with, our human potential”, he said. “The development of artificial intelligence can only be considered successful if we act responsibly and uphold fundamental human values.”

“Respect for human dignity requires that we reject any attempt to reduce the uniqueness of the human person to be identified or reduced to an algorithm or to a set of data, and that we do not allow sophisticated systems to autonomously decide the fate of human beings.”

Archbishop Ballestrero went on to remark that many of the challenges we face today stem from “a lack of respect for human dignity and a failure to recognize our interconnectedness.”

"New rights" threaten human dignity and fraternity

He recalled the attempts to introduce so called “new rights” that question the sacredness of every human life, and “not always consistent with what is truly good for the human person”.

These “new rights”, said the Nuncio, have lead to what Pope Francis has termed as an  “ideological colonisation” that undermines human dignity, as well as human fraternity,  as they create “divisions between cultures, societies, and States, rather than fostering unity and peace.”

“Our societies ‘must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.’”

“Universal fraternity is an essential condition for the full realisation of human rights in today’s world”, the Vatican Observer concluded. “When we fail to acknowledge that we are all interconnected, we all suffer.”


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29 February 2024, 14:13