Human Rights Day: The Struggle Continues

closeup of nelson mandela
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”– Nelson Mandela

Today – Human Rights Day – offers an opportunity for reflection on a number of pressing global issues related to human rights.  My mind first turns to Nelson Mandela’s passing last Friday.  I, like many others around the world, was incredibly saddened when I heard the news that we had lost one of the greatest human rights defenders of our time.  Madiba dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of all South Africans, a fight that transcended those borders to influence the path toward social justice all over the globe.  In him, we are reminded of the power of each individual to change the world, to make a positive impact, and to further the rights of the marginalized and disadvantaged.

Human Rights Day commemorates the December 10, 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document that affirms the inalienable rights of people everywhere and upholds basic freedoms such as speech, assembly, association, and worship.

I hosted a meeting last week to bring together Vatican officials and NGO representatives to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).  Those present talked about the massive slaughter of innocents and the internal state of civil war.  Everyone agreed that security is needed as a first step to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

The United States co-sponsored last week’s UN Security Council resolution that gives MISCA (the African Union-led stabilization mission in CAR), and French forces in support of MISCA, Chapter VII authority to restore security and bring peace to a people that have suffered for too long.  The United States also intends to provide $40 million in equipment, training, and/or logistical support to MISCA to strengthen its capacity to implement this mandate, and we stand ready to assist our African Union partners and French allies as the need arises.

We believe this resolution sends a forceful message to all parties that the violence must end.  I have heard reports that approximately 1.1 million people face moderate or severe food insecurity in CAR, and another 500,000 are in need of immediate food assistance.  These numbers remind us how access to food is increasingly important in promoting human rights for all.

I will participate this morning in a global “Wave of Prayer” service organized by Caritas Internationalis as part of a worldwide campaign to end hunger.  Caritas is launching their campaign – “One Human Family, Food for All” – on Human Rights Day to emphasize that adequate food is one of the most fundamental human needs.

The food in the world is enough to feed everyone and yet almost one billion people (842 million – to be exact) are hungry.  The Wave of Prayer is a moment to reflect on why and how we can start to tackle the issue of hunger and create a plan for action.

Great strides have been made worldwide to protect human rights for everyone, and continued dedication is needed to fight for those unable to fight for themselves.