- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

NEW YORK — Pope Benedict XVI on Friday morning praised the United Nations’ role in protecting human rights around the globe, urging the world body to do even more to guarantee the freedoms of those living under oppressive governments.

In a lengthy address to diplomats and the governments they represent, the pope firmly placed the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the center of the on-going struggle to guarantee freedom, security and development all people.

The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security,” he said. “Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace.”

The pontiff declared that all countries have a responsibility to step in and protect civilians when their own governments cannot or will not — a controversial theory advanced that challenges notions of national sovereignty and is only gingerly embraced even by its supporters.

This is the fourth visit by a Roman Catholic pope to the United Nations, and by far the most enthusiastic.

“My presence at this assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between states and an instrument of service to the entire human family,” Pope Benedict said. “It also demonstrates the willingness of the Catholic Church to offer her proper contribution to building international relations in a way that allows every person and every people to feel they can make a difference.”

Looking somewhat tired on his third full day in the United States, the pontiff spent three hours at the United Nations where he greeted diplomats and staff members, and stressed a message of universal respect for human dignity and the need for a global effort to alleviate poverty and respect the rule of law.

His address pointedly did not refer to the specific political and military crises that concern the United Nations: The grinding war in Iraq, the violence in Darfur and Somalia, nuclear proliferation or even terrorism.

Indeed, the pope’s remarks, in English and in French, were a broad appeal to respect “the human family” and spread the benefits of globalization to all corners, especially the most marginalized countries in Africa.

He frequently returned over his 20-minute remarks to the obligation of governments to protect and support their citizens, permitting them to excercise their innate freedom to worship, and to live in peace and security.

“Each state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made,” the pontiff said. “If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments.”

When legitimate, he said, these interventions “should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”

Speaking slowly and in a slightly hoarse voice, the pope urged diplomats to use morality as a guide in their decision-making and not to “fall back” to a consensus position that is “minimal in content and weak in its effect.” At the same time, he warned against allowing action to be “subordinated to the decisions of a few,” a possible reference to Iraq. The pope cut an electrifying figure Friday, his white satin robes and zuchetto, or skullcap, atop thick gray hair reflecting the flashbulbs of hundreds of U.N. staff and dignitaries who lined up to meet him. The United Nations, Mr. Ban noted Friday, has six official languages but no official religion. “But if you ask those of us who work for the United Nations what motivates us, many of us reply in a langugae of faith. We see what we do not only as a job, but as a mission,” he said to the pontiff in his introduction. “In so many ways, our mission unites us with yours.”


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