Human Rights Day: Statement by HG Bishop Angaelos

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Human Rights Day 2016

Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

10 December 2016

As another year draws to a close and we mark Human Rights Day 2016, the importance of the sanctity of every human life remains challenged in far too many places in our world. This is despite various charters and conventions put in place to safeguard the lives of all. While humanity is seen to be rapidly advancing in many areas we are, as a global community, guilty of neglecting and even forsaking basic God-given rights and freedoms which were bestowed indiscriminately upon all; rights that must continue to underpin our values and choices if we seek to preserve justice, peace and freedom.

Human Rights Day commemorates the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] in 1948, which set out to provide a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations to be universally protected.

Among the various safeguards outlined in the Charter, yet clearly still violated across our world today, is Article 3, which states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” This is sadly in stark contrast to the way in which many are forced to exist in parts of our world. Likewise, Article 14 outlines that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” a right now threatened by vast global displacement that has in part resulted from the overlooking of gross human rights violations over decades against those who now seek refuge. On the matter of Religious Freedom in particular, Article 18, a right still grossly violated in many countries states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” This of course is starkly different from the reality that 5.3 billion people, representing 76% of the world’s population, live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion[2]. Other articles within the Charter deal with education, legal representation, quality of life, and other key issues, yet how many of the countries that subscribe to this charter truly abide by it in its entirety?

We should not forget however, that so many within the religious, civic and political spheres work tirelessly to advocate for the protection of these basic human rights, and their efforts must be supported and praised. We owe a great debt of gratitude to countless religious leaders, advocates, lawyers, politicians, healthcare professionals, aid workers, volunteers, and so many more who risk their lives for the sake of others.

Whether speaking of religious freedom, freedom of thought or conscience, asylum, education or any other right outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must realise that all of these rights are fundamental, as without them we allow for inequality, injustice, marginalisation, and oppression. We must also remember that to protect the rights of others is to protect our own.

Remembering that there is a foundation for our actions that pre-exists this and similar charters, the Christian message calls us to live as the image and likeness of God, and if we are to do so faithfully, the Scriptures provide a model for us to follow in the way that He Himself has dealt with humanity, saying “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

We pray that those who work tirelessly to safeguard the rights of others are supported in their continuing and faithful work, and that more commit to the active promotion and safeguarding of these basic human rights that protect us all. We also pray for all those deprived of their basic human rights across our global community, that they find comfort and peace, knowing that many around the world still work tirelessly to alleviate their pain.