Maureen Byrnes of Human Rights First
We take seriously our responsibility to hold our own government responsible. In advocating against policies of use of torture we have in a spirit of partnership reached out to a group of retired military generals and admirals in common cause to oppose the use of torture.
It is people who are fundamentally at the heart of public policy. The people in this room have risked their lives in defense of human rights. People here risk imprisonment when they return home. Some people cannot even be here with us because they gave their life in the name of human rights.
You are sending a message to the international community. Officials from the UN, governments, NGOs and faith-based organizations have come together here.
Do we or don’t we come into compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yes or no? It is a very simple question.
This is the only forum in which I stay the whole time. I would consider this to be the high point of my life. This is our fourth annual session. It has brought a new dimension. It opens up a tremendous amount of new potential.
The potential of a marriage between the secular human rights groups, and new groups of faith. There is a lot of compatibility between the religions in our commitment to the basic principles of life. But there is a threat to us. I think in the last few years we have seen not any progress but deterioration in the global commitment to the protection of human rights. We have gone backwards. That is a tragic thing.
It would be impossible today for the UN assembly to draft the Universal Decaration of Human Rights.
The US and Israel and other nations profess to observe this declaration. Article 5 says no torture. Article 9 says no arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Article 10 calls for full and fair trial and public hearing. Article 15 everyone has a right to a nationality.
I get emotional when I read these words, almost as I do when I read the Bible. We say we are all honoring the Univ Declaration but we are not. And we are too reticent about demanding that our own governments comply with these basic principles
Religions are some of the greatest perpetrators. Among the fundamentalists who deprive fellow worshipers of their speech and basic rights. They are not giving women their rights, among the Taliban and others. We human rights spokespersons avoid criticizing. In my own denomination – I’m one of the 21 million – among the other 16 million there are new policies that a woman has to be subservient to her husband, a woman cannot teach men, cannot be a chaplain for her own services. This is the intrusion of fundamentalism in the United States in recent years, and into our own government. When we deliberately say that the Geneva Conventions is no longer applicable to the US.
Quoted someone, “Extremist fundamentalist religion may well have a greater hold on the public in the US than in Iran.”
We need to guard against the expansion of fundamentalism – when a small group of leaders profess to speak for God and believe they are absolutely right, and others are inferior, that is a root cause of human rights violations.
We must reach out to bring in as our new ally those religious groups that agree with us.
The four freedoms – from fear, from want, of expression, of religion
In my opinion freedom of religion like the linked conscience and belief belong in the private sphere, they enter the public domain when freedom of expression, etc. Creation of Jewish state, Islamic governments, self-declared Christian nations, government’s that assert themselves on the basis of their religious identities, enacting laws that are unimpeachable because they claim declared by God. Religion hijacked by states and therefore perverting completely its mission.
Action by a faith-based group can be a positive or a negative force. The test will be how these initiatives will be addressed by religious groups.
Will we see Jewish or Christian based groups call for self-examination?
Nothing happens without people but nothing lasts without institutions. I ask for your continued faith in the UN. We have an institution in which it is very unlikely the Universal Declaration would be passed today. Nothing happens without people reinventing their institutions. There will be a review conference, an arena for confrontation where religion will play a very dominant role. Soon the general assembly will decide whether the Human Rights Council will become a regular part of the UN. There is a very tall challenge ahead of us but I feel energized and hopeful. Thank you.