The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1945, and adopted by all the 192 member States of the United Nations affirms that "the inherent dignity of and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Since 1945, and using the declaration as its foundation, a coherent system of norms, widely accepted by States, has developed into a universal allied "international human rights law.”
The biblical convictions regarding God, humanity, and particularly humanity's creation in God's image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1), had a prominent role in contributing to drafting the declaration and in establishment of the international human rights regime.
Despite all this, the flagrant abuse of human rights continues to occur, all around the world, marking our failure as societies to enforce human rights. In this season of advent, on Human Rights Day, and the critical times in which we are living, the holy Scripture calls us to be alert, awake and responsive to this foundational challenge to God and humanity (Mark 13:24-37). Faith communities have a crucial role in ensuring that respecting and ensuring human dignity and rights becomes a norm in the world.
Seeing God in the other
Success in establishing a just and peaceful world impinges on how we perceive the ‘other.’ Do we identify with the 'other' who experiences a different context, who looks, behaves, and believes differently from ‘us?' Do we see the presence of God and the divine in the ‘other,' even our enemy? Do we consider serving the vulnerable and needy as serving God (Matthew 25:40)? In communion with the triune God, each person attains an understanding of his or her true humanity. In relationship with the ‘other’ we, in turn, recognise the dignity of humanity that is created in the image of the God. This relationship constitutes the basis of a spiritual imperative for human beings to live in mutual respect and in community with one another.
Each person entitled to the love of God
Do we believe that Christ's gift is the fullness and abundance of life to which every human being is entitled (John 10:10)? Do we believe that God fully satisfies every need of all, according to God’s riches in glory (Philippians 4: 19)? Do we believe that Christ has set ‘me’ and the ‘other’ free and challenges us all not to submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1)?
Are we convinced that neither death, nor life, nor the norms and ideals we aspire for, nor the decision makers or the laws that guide them, nor the current situation each of us find ourselves in, nor things to come, will be able to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39)?
Each individual is entitled to the love of God, as an infant is entitled to its mother's milk. The entitlement to live a dignified life, is a manifestation of this love of God. The right of a girl child to live with confidence and to have access to nutritious food and education, is to experience the love of God. The right of a person living with HIV to have access to comprehensive HIV prevention, care and treatment is to experience the love of God. Any person, system or institution that prevents a person from experiencing the love of God, acts against the will of God. So let us together work for human dignity and rights to become a norm in the world as a forceful expression of our faith and hope in God.
Repentance: Returning to the Lord
Reflecting on the situation that many people and communities are going through, it is clear that much needs to be done. Let us reflect how we as individuals and as faith communities are contributing to human rights abuses because of our silence or inability to challenge injustices or even directly perpetuating the abuse of the dignity and rights of vulnerable individuals and communities. If we are part of movements and campaigns challenging and bringing about transformation, how can we strengthen our actions and advocacy?
This is a moment to repent as individuals and as communities (Isaiah 55:7). The Hebrew word for ‘repent’—teshuvah—implies ‘to return,’ to acknowledge the wrong path and to turn around.
In Greek, the word for repentance is ‘metanoia,’ which indicates a fundamental change in thinking and living and a transformative change of heart.
Let us strive for the rights and dignity of the other. May we tap into the divine power that gives us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge and living presence of God amongst us (2 Peter 1:3-4).
· Barnett B, Bucar E M (editors), Does Human Rights Need God? (The Eerdmans Religion, Ethics, and Public Life Series) William B. Eerdmans-2005.
· Birdsall J (2005) Divine Roots of Human Rights, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 3:3, 53-56.
· Langan J, Hennelly A, Defining Human Rights: A Revision of the Liberal Tradition, Human Rights in the Americas 69, 70 (Georgetown U Press, 1982)
· Villa-Vicencio, C. (2000). Christianity and Human Rights. Journal of Law and Religion, 14(2), 579-600.