Religion and Human Rights

by Chris Borgen

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.


http://opiniojuris.org/2005/01/24/religion-and-human-rights/

One Response

  1. Very interesting. As a law student at St. John’s, and a person who’s firmly on the right of the political spectrum, I found Kenneth Roth’s (bio here http://www.hrw.org/about/bios/kroth.htm) recent screed in HRW’s latest report (available here http://www.humanrightswatch.org/wr2k5/wr2005.pdf) to be sadly indicative of the pernious BSE-like effects that moral relativism ultimately can have on one’s cognitive processes.

    Human Rights Watch has devolved into little more than a left-wing advocacy group, for as Dennis Boyles at the National Review’s always on target EuroPress Review, notes:

    “[I]f HRW was sincerely interested in any “betrayal of human rights principles” it wouldn’t be doing its gratuitous Yank-bash-for-cash thing for the millionth time. It would be over in Turtle Bay whipping Kofi Annan and the U.N., because wherever there are blue helmets, there’s hell to pay. No place is this more true than in the U.N.’s biggest “humanitarian” mission, MUNOC, the fiasco in eastern Congo, where, as yet another BBC report notes, ‘UN peacekeepers working in DR Congo sexually abused girls as young as 13.’”

    In our Founders view, our “inalienable rights” flowed out of our existence as Gods’ creations. The secularists “rights” conversely has little to pin its hat on except for some nebulous “human rights” bestowed with a nod by the State — unfortunately, though, once one roams too far afield from an underlying foundation of natural law what the state can grant, the state can take away.

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