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A Time to Pray for Human Rights comment (0)

December 5, 2013

By Bob Terry


A Time to Pray for Human Rights

Guinness World Records calls it the “Most Translated Document” in the world, but it is almost unknown in the United States. It serves as the foundation for a growing number of national and international laws and treaties and provides a foundation for institutions around the world protecting and promoting human rights. Yet this nation seldom references it at all. 

During World War II, the Allies rallied around the famous Four Freedoms as their basic aims of the war. For people everywhere, the allies pledged to provide freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want. But after the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became apparent to the world, it was the consensus that a universal declaration that specified the rights of individuals everywhere was necessary. 

The result was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by 50 nations Dec. 10, 1948. The hope was that the new statements would have similar impact on global society as the Declaration of Independence had made in the U.S. 

The Preamble of the UDHR echoes American political thought. In part, it reads, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, (and) Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind … .” The preamble also declares equal rights for men and women.

Article 3 states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person;” Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” Article 7, “All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration.”

In Article 18, one reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”  

A clearer statement of religious freedom can hardly be imagined. Unfortunately the freedom declared in the UDHR is not found in many countries, including some that signed the UDHR or one of the human rights covenants based on it. 

Regularly The Alabama Baptist publishes stories documenting that Christians continue to be the most persecuted faith group in the world. One scholar recently wrote, “Beheadings, torture, rape, kidnappings, mass killings, forced starvation, imprisonment and even crucifixions attest that the persecution of Christians did not end at the foot of the cross or the closed gates of the Roman Coliseum.”  

A report presented in March to the United Nations in Geneva by the World Evangelical Alliance estimated that more than 200 million Christians (about 10 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians) in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. 

In the homeland of Christianity (the Middle East), Christianity is facing elimination. In 1990 there were more than 1.2 million Christians in Iraq according to the broadest definition of the faith. By 2003 that number had fallen to about 500,000. Now there are fewer than 200,000. 

Rupert Short, author of “Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack,” attributed the intolerance and violence toward Christians to increased militancy in Islamic dominated countries. Some of the oppression is government sanctioned and some government permitted, he writes. Most is government ignored.

In Saudi Arabia, called by one writer “the global fountain of religious bigotry,” churches are banned as is Christian worship, the Bible, even the sale of Christmas cards. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are forbidden from holding certain political offices, attending certain universities and face restrictions in military service. Practice keeps Coptic Christians out of many commercial positions as well. In Pakistan a Muslim can testify against a Christian in court but a Christian cannot testify against a Muslim. In some Muslim-majority countries Muslims are subject to death for converting to Christianity but Christians are encouraged to convert to Islam. 

That minority Christian populations routinely experience violations of the UDHR is commonly acknowledged. Yet most governments say very little and do even less about these violations.

As Islamic militancy increased, Islamic states, through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), issued their own human rights declaration called the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The document outlines the “freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah.” 

The Cairo document has been heavily criticized. One report said it “undermines equality of persons and freedom of expression and religion by imposing restrictions on nearly every human right based on Islamic Sharia law.” Another said the Cairo document “introduces intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women” and “reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms.” 

Some may say that Sharia law is intended only for Muslims but official OIC statements and the overwhelming practice of Muslim states question that conclusion.

Still OIC is not hesitant to intervene for the rights of minority Muslim populations. In mid-November a Saudi Arabia-based OIC delegation visited Myanmar to protest the treatment of an ethnic Rohingya Muslim group. The delegation asked the Myanmar government to “put an end to all acts of violence, protect the civilian population from violence and ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” for the Rohingya Muslims, according to a press release. 

What the OIC delegation asked for Muslims, it is not willing to grant to minority Christian groups in their own countries. How is that anything but hypocrisy? Muslims have a right to be protected from Hindu-majority violence. Christians also have a human right to be protected from Muslim-majority violence.

Ironically the same day the OIC delegation was in Myanmar (Nov. 15), Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the British government’s minister for faith, who is a Muslim, challenged Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world. Religious freedom must not be an “add on” to foreign policy, she said in a speech at Georgetown University. She said freedom of religion should be a cornerstone of foreign policy. 

December 10 is the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a good time for Christians everywhere to pray that the freedoms outlined in the UDHR become realities for people everywhere, including Christians living under persecution by other faiths. It is a good time to pray that governments throughout the world will recognize the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” promised in the UDHR and will act to protect those rights domestically and abroad.

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