Religion and Human Rights
Mirror of Justice has an interesting post on an essay in the Human Rights Watch’s 2005 World Report on the “growing conflicts between religious communities and the human rights movement.” The HRW essay on religion and human rights can be found here.
Following is an excerpt (footnotes omitted) from the Preface of the Human Rights Watch essay entitled “Religion and the Human Rights Movement”:
“Fifty years after its proclamation,” writes Michael Ignatieff, “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the sacred text of what Elie Wiesel has called a ‘worldwide secular religion.'” The growth of the human rights movement has given it the confidence to take on controversial issues and extend the promise of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) in areas that it had previously neglected.
This “new frontier,” however, is colliding with the “return of the religious” in many societies, with what French political scientist Gilles Kepel has called “God’s Revenge,” featuring the reassertion of more dogmatic or conservative forms of beliefs inside and outside of mainstream religious denominations.
While it would be inappropriate for the human rights community to advocate for or against any system of religious belief or ideology and wrong to judge or interpret the principles of any religion or faith, it would be equally mistaken for the human rights groups to turn away from human rights violations or appeals for discrimination made in the name of religious principle or law.
Defining how to engage with religious communities thus has become one of the major challenges for the human rights movement. To paraphrase Ignatieff, human rights cannot truly go global unless it goes deeply local, unless it addresses plural philosophies and beliefs that sometimes collide with or appear to resist its appeal to universal norms. If international human rights standards have a claim to universality their relevance must be demonstrated in all contexts, and especially where religion determines state behavior.
This essay argues that the human rights movement needs to be able to provide clearer answers to the hard questions presented by the demands of believers and by religious organizations seeking direct political influence.