As the world marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, different groups are using the opportune moment to push the United Nations and governments to make religious freedom and the protection of family higher priorities.
U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release International and the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is joined together on Dec. 10 - the anniversary of the UDHR - in calling on the British prime minister to improve international efforts to protect freedom of religion and belief.
In the letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the three groups affirmed Article 18 of the UDHR – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and remarked that today international mechanisms and government action still do not reflect the centrality of this right.
“The anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR reminds us of the distance the international community still needs to go to protect and uphold human rights. Freedom of religion is in many senses a 'first among freedoms,' a cornerstone for a number of other rights and freedoms within the UDHR,” said CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas.
He went on to say that religious freedom is “marginalized at best” and is now even attacked, including at the United Nations.
“CSW and our partners call on the British government to implement the recommendations outlined in the letter and to accord freedom of religion and belief the importance it deserves,” Thomas said.
The three religious freedom advocacy groups challenged the British government to “redouble” its efforts to promote freedom of religion by making three changes: appointing an Ambassador-at-Large for Freedom of Religion and Belief; providing training within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on freedom of religion issues; and allocating of international financial and technical support to enable better protection of freedom of religion and belief.
The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 after World War II. It clearly lays out rights and freedoms that everyone in the world should enjoy and has since become the basis of many international laws while also providing moral and legal support for U.N. action against human rights violators.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the human rights document is needed now as much as when it was drafted.
“The challenges we face today are as daunting as those that confronted the Declaration’s drafters,” Ban said in a statement.
Food emergency, the global financial crisis, and political repression in “too may countries” continue to put the world’s most vulnerable “on the frontlines of hardship and abuse,” he said.
Ban urged those who have greater freedom to not “turn a blind eye” to rights abuses in other parts of the world.
“The cascading effects of abuse and indifference can eventually engulf the entire planet,” warned the U.N. general-secretary.
In addition to the freedom of religion and the right to food access, some groups are using the human rights day to wage a battle over abortion.
The United Families International (UFI), along with a coalition of social conservative groups from around the world, will present a petition of 340,000 names at the United Nations to urge that all member nations and states interpret the UNDHR to mean that:
The right to life, liberty and security is for every person; that each child born or unborn, has the right to birth and a full, natural life. That a child has the right to a mother and a father, of full age, within the bonds of marriage defined as between a man and a woman. And, that the parents have the right to raise and educate their children without any limitation due to race, religion, culture or nationality.
UFI and other pro-family groups organized the petition in response to an opposing petition effort by abortion rights groups International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, which demanded that the UNDHR be interpreted to mean access to abortion is a human right.
“During a time when family values are under attack in nations and states across the globe, tomorrow should be a celebration of the family, freedom of religion, and marriage between a man and a woman,” said Beverly Rice, president of UFI, ahead of the UNDHR anniversary.
“Tomorrow we should all feel safe that life, our families, marriages and religions will be protected because of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said. "But, instead, we fear tomorrow will just be another day on the battlefield, another day when those who wish to destroy the family will make another attempt. They will use deception as their weapon. Their desire is to create a genderless society that is run by the state – void of religion, marriage and parents."
UFI will be joined by Pro-Life Federation of Poland, the Institute of Family Policy of Spain, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and U.S.-based Concerned Women for America for their private meetings with Ambassadors from several U.N. missions on Wednesday.