Meeting of Religious Leaders to the United Nations on the
Occasion of the Special Session on Children
INTERVENTION BY CARDINAL ALFONSO LÓPEZ-TRUJILLO
Tuesday, 7 May 2002
There are certain truths in the world to which everyone adheres and which
continue to be validated through empirical data, such as mathematical facts and
scientific certainties. These truths continue to direct learning and knowledge,
unlocking even greater discoveries and secrets.
At the same time, there are certain universal truths regarding mankind and
society that have been likewise recognized or established as unquestionable,
which are the foundation of human rights declarations and international law and
which have been enshrined in a document that for this reason bears the title the
"Universal Declaration of Human Rights". What is striking is how in fact, this
universality is afterwards not recognized. Thus in Article 3 of the Declaration,
the defense of the right to life is affirmed, but then in various ways is
rejected, especially regarding the crime of abortion.
In this dialogue involving religious leaders, it seems appropriate then to
ask why those social truths, truths that are considered as real and concrete as
any mathematical proof or scientific fact, appear to be so often ignored,
questioned or challenged, especially within the work of the United Nations.
For example, the Charter of the United Nations states that, "We the
peoples of the United Nations determined... to reaffirm faith in fundamental
human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights
of men and women and of nations large and small...". The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, in its first Article, proclaims, "All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...". Yet too many
delegations refuse to speak of this human dignity with which we have all been
endowed and in which we all share. This truth, this fact is not only the very
cornerstone of the human rights outlined by the United Nations, but the very
cornerstone of humanity itself. It is the recognition of our human dignity that
helps bind us together and calls us to care and concern for each other. Why then
is it ignored?
The Declaration on the Rights of the Child recognizes that, "...
the child by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special
safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as
after birth" (Preamble) and "... every child has the inherent
right to life" (Article 6). Yet, many delegations and governments refuse to
recognize that fact; that right to life and the truth that life does indeed
begin at the moment of conception. Delegations and governments refuse to affirm
that every child has a right to protection and special care by the fact of the
dignity with which he or she has been endowed by God, and that such protection
is owed to the child before birth as well as after the child is born.
It is bewildering to think that many of those same delegations that refuse to
recognize the human dignity of the unborn child claim to speak for the dignity
of the oppressed, or those who suffer from discrimination. Such a selective,
superficial or distorted recognition and understanding of human dignity is truly
a denial of one of those social truths that should never be questioned or
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also declares that, "The family
is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to
protection by society and the State." (Article 16) That same sentiment is
found in the Preamble to the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, and
has been repeated again and again in various United Nations Plans and Programs
of Action. Still, it seems that in almost every debate in which the role of the
family is discussed, this basic and recognized truth is challenged, and too many
delegations attempt to change the understanding of the make-up and role of the
family in society and in the life of the child.
Children have the right to live in a family, to be protected and provided for
by loving and caring parents or guardians. Everyone understands the importance
of the family and the role that parents play in the lives of children.
At the same time there is a denial of parents' rights, there is a denial of
their religious or social background as well as their heritage. And in those sad
times when the structure of the family and the role of parents have broken down,
those same people who profess the best interests of the child too often abandon
their responsibilities to provide a loving, secure and nurturing environment for
children and, as a principle, these best interests of the child are not
observed. Another basic truth is pushed aside in the name of progressive
thinking; tradition is broken down and society begins to crumble.
Everyone has the right to access to education, yet we see a continued gap
between rich and poor, and between the percentages of boys and girls who are
allowed to attend school, and complete a course of education.
Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Can the
world say that its people have enjoyed that right? Too many people, far too many
children die each day because they do not have access to the most basic of
medicines or health care. Too many people suffer because they do not have clean
water to drink or because they live in environments that are unsafe.
Everyone has the right to adequate shelter, yet too many children are
homeless and too many people live in overcrowded homes in overcrowded cities.
This hard-won right is another that is very often denied.
These are not purely religious issues but rather social issues. Nevertheless,
it is the obligation of religion, which deals with the spiritual relationship
that we have with God and with one another, to point out when and where the
political and the secular arenas have strayed from their true path.
The purpose for the establishment of the United Nations Organization was
clearly defined in its Charter. Over the course of fifty-six years, the United
Nations has struggled with making that stated purpose a reality in the world.
The principles set forth in the charter were more than simply ideals. They
continue to guide the concrete actions of the international community towards
making the world a better place for the children of today and tomorrow.