Recovering or Denying Human Rights?

By Xavier Jeyaraj SJ, Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology

Recover Better – Stand up for Human Rights is the theme chosen by the United Nations for Human Rights Day on 10 December this year. It relates to the pandemic COVID-19 and focusses on the need for building a better future ensuring the rights of all citizens. Unfortunately, we have witnessed the failure of our systems and abdication of duty by elected leaders in many parts of the worldduring this difficult and challenging year.

More than the systemic failure, the pandemic has exposed ‘the false securities’ that we have developed ingovernance over the years. It is only “by acknowledging the dignity of each human person,” as Pope Francis says, that “we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to Fraternity” (FT 8).

When the United Nations Organisation was created in 1945 after World War II, the leaders set the goal for establishing ‘Peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet’. On 10 December 1948, when the UN General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Assembly acknowledged that no matter who we are, where we live, orwhat is our financial situation, we benefit from the same human rights: all must respect and treat everyone equally, with dignity.

There is a need for introspection after 72 years of that collective declaration: have we improved in deepening our commitment or have we relapsed to our basic instincts? Have nations moved from declaration to commitment with accountability?

Although theUN has played an important role in confronting humanitarian emergencies and has set goals and targets to achieve over the decades that followed, like the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG), I wonder whether this has remained an unfulfilled dream or a flight that has not taken off. The studies and the data clearly reveal that there is increasing inequality, poverty and denial of human rights all over the world. We still find millions, particularly the poor and vulnerable, denied of their basic human right to live a dignified life. In the name of development, vulnerable people especially the migrants, refugees, indigenous people, and farmers are denied their right over land, water, forest and livelihood. Economic interests and profit seem to drive everyone.


Many governments today speak of national sovereignty and ‘national’ interests at the expense of humanity and the environment, as a whole. Governments vote on laws that are repressive in nature, denying the rights of individuals and communities. If anyone, with the interest of helping the poor vulnerable communities speak of people’s rights or dignity, and call for accountability and transparency from the governments, their freedom is suppressed. Phil Lynch, Director of International Service for Human Rights, said on 20October, the day of the 75th anniversary of the UN: “Unfortunately, some governments – concerned about facing criticism – try to lock human rights defenders out of the conversations. Worse still, insome countries, the government or groups with powerful stakes harass or discredit people who defend human rights. In some countries, they are beaten up,imprisoned and even killed.”

This is what we are witnessing in many countries in Central America, theMiddle East, North Africa, East Asia and South Asia. The arrest and incarceration of an 83 year old Fr. Stan Swamy - who suffers from Parkinson’s disease - since 9 October in India along with many others, who stood with vulnerable indigenous people and spoke for their rights, are seen as enemies of the rulers and branded as anti-nationals.

Celebrating what we have notionally accepted for 72 years is fine. But when will we be able to make that a reality with concrete actions, accountability and transparency among other mechanisms? Aslong as theUN remains a ‘tiger without teeth’ and a puppet in the hands of a few powerful nations and leaders, such celebrations will remain merely a hoax on the majority on the peoples of the world.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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