COMMENTARY: Human Rights: A Catholic Perspective

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(Excerpts from the talk given by Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR during the Human Rights Day celebration of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) held in Cotabato City on December 10. The forum was  organized by the Regional Commission on Human Rights)

MANILA (MindaNews / 12 December) — “Everyone, regardless of gender, color, race or creed, class – whether communist or criminal – has the same right to life.” A suspected criminal or even a condemned criminal does not lose his right to life. No one – whether a government official or police or an ordinary citizen – has a license to kill suspected criminals. Extra-judicial killing is a violation of the right to life, as well as the right to due process. It is murder…

Peace and order must be grounded on the respect for human rights – especially the right to life. It is saddening and sickening when, out of frustration due to criminality and corruption and the inefficient judiciary and law-enforcement, government officials with the support of many people would be willing to sacrifice or suppress human rights and the rule of law, for the sake of peace and order, for the sake of national security, for the sake of fighting criminality and corruption, or reforming society. That would be tyranny. There is nothing benevolent about dictatorship.

A peace that is maintained by extrajudicial killings and ignoring the right to due process and the right to life is the peace of the cemetery. It is not genuine and lasting peace. Order that is maintained through murder leads to greater disorder and chaos. It leads to abuse. This is what happened under the Marcos dictatorial era and this is what could happen again. I say NEVER AGAIN.”

Introduction

It is an honor and a pleasure to be part of the ARMM celebration of the International Human Rights day. This gathering is a proof of the ARMM’s commitment to promote and uphold human rights in this region. I was wondering why I – a Christian and a priest- was invited to give a talk on human rights in the predominantly Muslim region.

Let me hazard a guess. In the ARMM, although the majority are Muslims, there are also a good number of Christians – mostly Catholics.

Mindanao is the homeland of Muslims and Lumads. This has also become the home of Christian settlers coming from various parts of Visayas and Luzon. My grandparents came here in 1914 and my father was born in Dansalan, Lanao Sur in 1921.

As a little boy, I remember accompanying my father (an engineer and contractor) to his projects in Masiu and Ramain, Lanao Sur, building bridges. My aunt married a Maranao – so I have a Muslim uncle and cousins. I also have Muslim neighbors in Iligan and friends in Davao.

The history of Muslim-Christian relations has often been characterized as conflictive – Muslims versus Christians. But that is not entirely true because from my own experience, it has also been a story of kinship and friendship. Building bridges instead of walls, this for me is a symbol of Muslim-Christian relations in Mindanao. We all desire to live in peace and harmony with each other and engage in inter-religious dialogue. I hope that this opportunity to share with you a view of human rights from a Catholic perspective can contribute to the ongoing dialogue in the region which can lead to greater mutual understanding, harmony and peace among us.

At the outset I would like say that I share my thoughts on human rights not only as a Catholic priest but also that of a victim of human rights violation. (I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for seven months under the Marcos dictatorship) and also as a human rights advocate/activist (During the last years of Martial Law, I preached about Human Rights and condemned human rights violation. In recent years, I biked for life and peace and campaigned against abortion and extra-judicial killings).

Let me now present to you the Catholic Perspective of Human Rights. The key document which is the basis for the Catholic perspective on Human Rights is Pacem in Terris (Peace in the World) written by Pope John XXIII in 1963.

This was released at the height of the Cuban missile crisis which almost triggered the 3rd World War between US and Soviet Union. This crisis was resolved thru the mediation of Pope John XXIII. Although this document is mainly a peace document – the early section is focused on human rights. The presupposition of Pacem in Terris: freedom, justice and peace in the world can only be attained and maintained when this is founded on the recognition and respect for human rights. This is the same presupposition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.

When we compare this document with the Universal Declaration of Human rights, we find a lot similarities. This document actually affirms and echoes all of the rights mentioned in the 1948 UDHR declaration as well as anticipate the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights in 1966.

It is as comprehensive, covering the broad range of rights – from the basic right to life, to rights pertaining to the social, cultural, religious, economic and political dimensions of life. In this talk, I would like dwell on the religious foundation of human rights and after presenting a summary of the broad range of rights discussed I would like to focus on the most fundamental right – the right to life and other rights related to it.

The foundation of human rights asserted in UDHR: is echoed and also developed in Pacem in Terris:

          “Whereas the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of                    the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

          “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and  n        conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The key ideas of the statement above is echoed and developed in Pacem in Terris. Accordingly, all human beings are created equal in dignity. We possess intellect and freedom, and from this flows human rights which are universal, inviolable and inalienable.

The source of human dignity and human rights is God who created human beings in his own image and likeness. This image and likeness is manifested in intellect and free will which is inherent in each human being.

Pacem in Terris therefore, provides a theological or religious basis for human rights. Human beings have inherent dignity and rights because of God who created them.

It is God who is the source and guarantee of human dignity and human rights, not the state nor other human beings.

From a Catholic perspective the right to life is the most basic, the most fundamental, most supreme right. (The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights also affirmed this).

All have equal right to life – from the moment of conception up to its natural end. This is a universal, inalienable right. No one can be deprived of this right. Thus, the church looks at abortion, murder, extrajudicial killings, capital punishment, euthanasia as violation of this right to life. The unborn inside the mother’s womb has the same right to life as those who are grown up. A woman’s so-called right to her body does not give her the right to choose whether that human life within her womb may live or die. Abortion is therefore murder. The so-called reproductive rights associated with so-called abortion rights violate the right to life of the weak and defenseless unborn who needs the protection of the state.

Everyone, regardless of gender, color, race or creed, class – whether communist or criminal-have the same right to life. A suspected criminal or even a condemned criminal does not lose his right to life. No one – whether an ordinary citizen or a government official or police – has a license to kill suspected criminals. Extra-judicial killing is a violation of the right to life, as well as the right to due process. It is murder.

The Church promotes peaceful resolution of conflicts to avoid war. She does not condone violence or terrorism as a means for transformation or to attain justice and peace.

The right to life is connected to the right to bodily integrity. No one should be subjected to physical violence that leads to injury: beatings, torture, loss of any part of one’s body. The right to life is connected to the right to be provided the basic necessities to sustain life – food, shelter, clothing, medicine, etc.

This is also linked with the right to be looked after in event of ill health, disability stemming from one’s work, widowhood, old age, enforced unemployment or deprived of means of livelihood In recent decades the right to life has been linked to a consistent ethic life by the Catholic Church. This was promoted by Cardinal Bernardin and later John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae – the gospel of life. In this document, John Paul II affirmed the value and the sacredness of life from the moment of conception to its natural end.

John Paul II warned against the culture of death that dominates the world manifested in abortion, murder, poverty, drugs, war, extrajudicial killings, corruption, the destruction of the environment, euthanasia, etc. All these cause suffering and death and must be opposed. To struggle for life is promote a culture of life, to promote and defend human rights – starting with the right to life – this means opposing abortion and its legalization, promoting poverty alleviation because poverty kills, working for peace and justice, opposing capital punishment, extrajudicial killings, euthanasia, and working for the defense of the environment.

Pope Francis recently reminded us of the effects of environmental destruction and climate change which can destroy all life on earth. The right to a clean, green and sustainable environment should be adopted as part of the right to life.

I have been involved in many advocacies: for peace, for life, for the environment, for poverty-alleviation, against abortion, against extra-judicial killings. I have always regarded all of these as connected to my human rights advocacy.

A few years ago, a local government executive berated me in his TV program for my stand against the extra-judicial killings of suspected criminals by death squads. He said that I was more concerned about human rights while his priority is peace and order. In a later interview he said that Human Rights is a Western invention and should not be applied in the Philippines.

I never had the chance to respond but this is what I would say to him: It is not an either or proposition. There is no need to choose between the two. Peace and order must be grounded on the respect for human rights – especially the right to life.

It is saddening and sickening when, out of frustration due to criminality and corruption and the inefficient judiciary and law-enforcement, government officials with the support of many people would be willing to sacrifice or suppress human rights and the rule of law, for the sake of peace and order, for the sake of national security, for the sake of fighting criminality and corruption, or reforming society. That would be tyranny. There is nothing benevolent about dictatorship.

A peace that is maintained by extrajudicial killings and ignoring the right to due process and the right to life is the peace of the cemetery. It is not genuine and lasting peace. Order that is maintained through murder leads to greater disorder and chaos. It leads to abuse. This is what happened under the Marcos dictatorial era and this is what could happen again. I say NEVER AGAIN.

The UNDHR reminds us that:

          “ disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

           “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

This is what Pacem in Terris also affirmed: “Justice, Freedom and Peace in the World is founded in the recognition and respect for human rights.”

Thus, if we want freedom, justice and peace to prevail in our country and here in ARMM we must promote, respect and defend human rights. I hope that the vision of the Human Rights Commission of the ARMM will be realized:

           “A peace, just and empowered Bangsamoro society that is free from fear and want, where human rights are promoted, protected, upheld and fulfilled for the achievement of sustainable development.”

God willing, In’shallah. [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, is executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Basic Ecclesial Communities (CBCP-BEC). Committee, Pro-Life and Human Rights Activist. Picardal was former spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) in Davao City. He was a former political detainee under the Marcos dictatorial rule and a victim of human rights violation.]

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