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Human Rights Are More Than Just Words

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In his recent speech at UN headquarters in New York, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at length about the importance of human rights. That's all well and good, and I'm sure that the pope is genuinely concerned about many of the human rights issues that currently exist in the world. But when one stands on a soapbox for human rights, it may seem hypocritical if one's own human rights record is questionable. To be an honest advocate for human rights, one should embrace all human rights, not just the convenient ones. To be an honest advocate for human rights, one should embrace the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. According to Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." But the Catholic Church has been fighting hard to deny that right to Catholic school teachers. To be an honest advocate for human rights, one should apply those rights to all human beings, not just the ones who think and act the way you want them to. According to Article 2 of the UDHR, "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." That means everyone, including gays and lesbians. Yet this notoriously homophobic pope has repeatedly instituted and enforced Church policies and practices that deprive non-heterosexuals -- and those who sympathize with them -- of their jobs, their dignity, and their right to fully practice their faith. To be an honest advocate for human rights, one should stand up for the right of sexual abuse victims to obtain justice. According to Article 3 of the UDHR, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." That's everyone, including the victims of clergy sex abuse. That subject received a lot of lip service recently, with the pope's repeated call for healing in the wake of the Church's clergy sex abuse scandal. But actions speak louder than words. You see, we learned three years ago that this current pope, in his previous role as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, worked to obstruct inquiries into clergy sex abuse. It is amazing how one's views can suddenly change so drastically when the spotlight goes on and political goals are at stake. Or else it's just doublespeak. Like when George W. Bush talks up human rights even as our prisoners are being tortured. Human rights are more than just words. We're talking about people here. We're talking about real human beings. But, given the rhetoric vs. actions of the powers that be, you wouldn't know it.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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