WASHINGTON (December 8, 1998) -- Great strides have been made in the half century since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but much work remains to be done, according to the Chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark marked the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration with a statement today, in which he hailed the charter as "providing the basis and impetus for the growing promotion and observation of human rights during the past half century."
The Declaration, which is based on the seven fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in the United Nations Charter, was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, 1948, "as a standard achievement for all peoples and all nations." Pope John Paul II has praised it as "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience in our time." Its 30 Articles define civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights.
"The cornerstone of the Universal Declaration is the acknowledgment of human dignity," said Archbishop McCarrick.
While noting the great strides which have been made in the last half century in terms of promoting human rights, Archbishop McCarrick warned against complacency.
"Grave violations of fundamental human rights, often on a massive scale, still routinely occur in all too many places, especially during armed conflict," he said. "A very few examples include denial of self-determination in East Timor; employment of child labor under appalling conditions in Vietnam; political repression and religious persecution in China; use of torture and enforced starvation in Sudan; sexual exploitation of women and girls in East Asia; mistreatment of refugees in Africa; and widespread denial of the right to flee persecution and to seek the protection of asylum elsewhere."
Among the efforts for continued improvement cited by Archbishop McCarrick is the need for a greater recognition and promotion of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. While the recent enactment of the "Freedom From Religious Persecution Act" is a positive step, he said, "similar steps need to be taken to promote respect for the full range of human rights, with greater attention paid to the category of social, economic, and cultural rights than has been the case in the past."
The Church will continue to support efforts to codify in international law the rights enumerated in the Declaration, and to press for their enforcement, Archbishop McCarrick said.
"The shared acknowledgment of human dignity as the basis for human rights ... has fostered increasing collaboration among groups of otherwise differing views," Archbishop McCarrick said. "This collaboration has in turn promoted a growing moral consensus that fundamental human rights are indivisible, inviolable, and universal."
Citing Pope John XXIII's 1965 encyclical Pacem in Terris, Archbishop McCarrick said there is increasing recognition that "respect for human rights is essential for peace."
"Regrettably, the journey toward Pope John XXIII's vision of a more just and peaceful world remains unfinished," Archbishop McCarrick said. "As we work and pray for its completion, however, this anniversary is also a fitting moment to acknowledge the sacrifices of so many of the generation that suffered and fought to secure the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration."