of His Holiness Pope John Paul II
For The Celebration of the World Day of Peace
January 1, 1999
Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace
Respect for Human Dignity, the Heritage of Humanity
3. The Universality and Indivisibility of Human Rights
4. The Right to Die
5. Religious Freedom, the Heart of Human Rights
6. The Right to Participate
7. A Particularly Serious Form of Discrimination
8. The Right to Self-Fulfillment
9. Global Progress in Solidarity
10. Responsibility for the Environment
11. The Right to Peace
A Culture of Human Rights, the Responsibility of All
13. A Time of Decision, a Time of Hope
Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace
In my first Encyclical Redemptor Hoyninis, addressed
almost twenty years ago to all men and women of good will, I stressed the
importance of respect for human rights. Peace
flourishes when these rights are fully respected, but when they are violated
what comes is war, which causes other still graver violations.
At the beginning of a new year, the last before the Great
Jubilee, I would like to dwell once more on this crucially important theme with
all of you, the men and women of every part of the world;
with you, the political leaders and religious guides of peoples;
with you, who love peace and wish to consolidate it in the world.
Looking towards the World Day of Peace, let me state the
conviction which I very much want to share with you: when the promotion of the
dignity of the person is the guiding principle, and when the search for the
common good is the overriding commitment, then solid and lasting foundations for
building peace are laid. But when
human rights are ignored or scorned, and when the pursuit of individual
interests unjustly prevails over the common good, then the seeds of instability,
rebellion and violence are inevitably sown.
Respect for Human Dignity, the Heritage of Humanity
The dignity of the human person is a transcendent value,
always recognized as such by those who sincerely search for the truth.
Indeed, the whole of human history should be interpreted in the light of
this certainty. Every person,
created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn. 1:26-28) and therefore
radically oriented towards the Creator, is constantly in relationship with those
possessed of the same dignity. To
promote the good of the individual is thus to serve the common good, which is
that point where rights and duties converge and reinforce one another.
The history of our time has shown in a tragic way the
danger which results from forgetting the truth about the human person.
Before our eyes we have the results of ideologies such as Marxism, Nazism
and Fascism, and also of myths like racial superiority, nationalism and ethnic
exclusivism. No less pernicious, though not always as obvious, are the
effects of materialistic consumerism, in which the exaltation of the individual
and the selfish satisfaction of personal aspirations become the ultimate goal of
life. In this outlook, the negative
effects on others are considered completely irrelevant.
Instead it must be said again that no affront to human dignity can be
ignored, whatever its source, whatever actual form it takes and wherever it
The Universality and Indivisibility of Human Rights
The year 1998 has marked the fiftieth anniversary of the
adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Declaration was intentionally linked to the United Nations Charter,
since it shares a common inspiration. As
its fundamental premise, it affirms that the recognition of the innate dignity
of all members of the human family, as also the equality and inalienability of
their rights, is the foundation of liberty, justice and peace in the world .
the subsequent international documents on human rights declare this truth anew,
recognizing and affirming that human rights stem from the inherent dignity and
worth of the human person.
The Universal Declaration is clear: it acknowledges the
rights which it proclaims but does not confer them, since they are inherent in
the human person and in human dignity. Consequently,
no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these
rights, since this would do violence to their nature.
All human beings, without exception, are equal in dignity.
For the same reason, these rights apply to every stage of life and to
every political, social, economic and cultural situation.
Together they form a single whole, directed unambiguously towards the
promotion of every aspect of the good of both the person and society.
Human rights are traditionally grouped into two broad
categories, including on the one hand civil and political rights and on the
other economic, social and cultural rights.
Both categories, although to different degrees, are guaranteed by
international agreements. All human
rights are in fact closely connected, being the expression of different
dimensions of a single subject, the human person. The integral promotion of every category of human rights is
the true guarantee of full respect for each individual right.
Defense of the universality and indivisibility of human
rights is essential for the construction of a peaceful society and for the
overall development of individuals, peoples and nations.
To affirm the universality and indivisibility of rights is not to exclude
legitimate cultural and political differences in the exercise of individual
rights, provided that in every case the levels set for the whole of humanity by
the Universal Declaration are respected.
With these fundamental presuppositions clearly in mind, I
would now like to identify certain specific rights which appear to be
particularly exposed to more or less open violation today.
The Right to Die
The first of these is the basic right to life.
Human life is sacred and inviolable from conception to its natural end.
“Thou shalt not kill” is the divine commandment which states the
limit beyond which it is never licit to go.
“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is
always morally evil.”
The right to life is inviolable.
This involves a positive choice, a choice for life.
The development of a culture of this kind embraces all the circumstances
of life and ensures the promotion of human dignity in every situation.
A genuine culture of life, just as it guarantees to the unborn the right
to come into the world, in the same way protects the newly born, especially
girls, from the crime of infanticide. Equally,
it assures the handicapped that they can fully develop their capacities, and
ensures adequate care for the sick and the elderly.
Recent developments in the field of genetic engineering
present a profoundly disquieting challenge.
In order that scientific research in this area may be at the service of
the person, it must be accompanied at every stage by careful ethical reflection,
which will bring about adequate legal norms safeguarding the integrity of human
life. Life can never be downgraded
to the level of a thing.
To choose life involves rejecting every form of violence:
the violence of poverty and hunger, which afflicts so many human beings;
the violence of armed conflict; the
violence of criminal trafficking in drugs and arms;
the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.
In every circumstance, the right to life must be promoted and safeguarded
with appropriate legal and political guarantees, for no offense against the
right to life, against the dignity of any single person, is ever unimportant.
Religious Freedom, the Heart of Human Rights
Religion expresses the deepest aspirations of the human
person, shapes people's vision of the world and affects their relationships with
others: basically it offers the
answer to the question of the true meaning of life, both personal and communal.
Religious freedom therefore constitutes the very heart of human rights.
Its inviolability is such that individuals must be recognized as having
the right even to change their religion, if their conscience so demands.
People are obliged to follow their conscience in all circumstances and
cannot be forced to act against it.
Precisely for this reason, no one can be compelled to accept a particular
religion, whatever the circumstances or motives.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that
the right to religious freedom includes the right to manifest personal beliefs,
whether individually or with others, in public or in private.
In spite of this, there still exist today places where the right to
gather for worship is either not recognized or is limited to the members of one
religion alone. This grave
violation of one of the fundamental rights of the person is a source of enormous
suffering for believers. When a
State grants special status to one religion, this must not be to the detriment
of the others. Yet it is common
knowledge that there are nations in which individuals, families and entire
groups are still being discriminated against and marginalized because of their
Nor should we pass over to silence another problem
indirectly linked to religious freedom. It
sometimes happens that increasing tensions develop between communities or
peoples of different religious convictions and cultures, which, because of the
strong passions involved, turn into violent conflict.
Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of
the very teachings of the major religions.
I reaffirm here what many religious figures have repeated so often: the
use of violence can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the
growth of true religious feeling.
The Right to Participate
All citizens have the right to participate in the life of
their community: this is a conviction which is generally shared today.
But this right means nothing when the democratic process breaks down
because of corruption and favoritism, which not only obstruct legitimate sharing
in the exercise of power but also prevent people from benefiting equally from
community assets and services, to which everyone has a right.
Even elections can be manipulated in order to ensure the victory of
certain parties or persons. This is
an affront to democracy and has serious consequences, because citizens have not
only the right but also the responsibility to participate: when they are
prevented from exercising this responsibility, they lose hope of playing any
effective role and succumb to an attitude of passive indifference. The development of a sound democratic system then becomes
In recent times various measures have been adopted to
ensure legitimate elections in States which are struggling to move from a
totalitarian form of government to a democratic one.
However useful and effective these may be in emergencies, such
initiatives cannot dispense from the effort to create in the citizens a basis of
shared convictions, thanks to which manipulation of the democratic process would
be rejected once and for all.
In the context of the international community, nations and
peoples have the right to share in the decisions which often profoundly modify
their way of life. The technical
details of certain economic problems give rise to the tendency to restrict the
discussions about them to limited circles, with the consequent danger that
political and financial power is concentrated in a small number of governments
and special interest groups. The
pursuit of the national and international common good requires the effective
exercise, even in the economic sphere, of the right of all people to share in
the decisions which affect them.
Serious Form of Discrimination
One of the most tragic forms of discrimination is the
denial to ethnic groups and national minorities of the fundamental right to
exist as such. This is done by
suppressing them or brutally forcing them to move, or by attempting to weaken
their ethnic identity to such an extent that they are no longer distinguishable.
Can we remain silent in the face of such grave crimes against humanity? No effort must be judged too great when it is a question of
putting an end to such abuses, which are violations of human dignity.
A positive sign of the growing willingness of States to
recognize their responsibility to protect victims of such crimes and to commit
themselves to preventing them is the recent initiative of a United Nations
Diplomatic Conference: it specifically approved the Statute of an international
Criminal Court, the task of which it will be to identify guilt and to punish
those responsible for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of
war and aggression. This new
institution, if built upon a sound legal foundation, could gradually contribute
to ensuring on a world scale the effective protection of human rights.
Every human being has innate abilities waiting to be
developed. At stake here is the
full actualization of one's own person and the appropriate insertion into one's
social environment. In order that
this may take place, it is necessary above all to provide adequate education to
those who are just beginning their lives: their future success depends on this.
From this perspective, how can we not be concerned when we
see that in some of the poorest regions of the world educational opportunities
are actually decreasing, especially in the area of primary education? This is
sometimes due to the economic situation of the particular country, which
prevents teachers from receiving a proper salary.
In other cases, money seems to be available for prestigious projects and
for secondary education, but not for primary schools.
When educational opportunities are limited, particularly for young girls,
there will surely arise discriminatory structures which adversely affect the
overall development of society. The
world could find itself divided according to a new criterion: on the one side,
States and individuals endowed with advanced technologies;
on the other, countries and people with extremely limited knowledge and
abilities. As one can easily guess,
this would simply reinforce the already acute economic inequalities existing not
only between States but also within them. In
developing countries, education and professional training must be a primary
concern, just as they are in the urban and rural renewal programs of more
economically advanced peoples.
Another fundamental right, upon which depends the
attainment of a decent level of living, is the right to work.
Otherwise how can people obtain food, clothing, a home, health care and
the many other necessities of life? The
lack of work, however, is a serious problem today:
countless people in many parts of the world find themselves caught up in
the devastating reality of unemployment. It
is urgently necessary on the part of everyone, and particularly on the part of
those who exercise political or economic power, that everything possible be done
to resolve this difficult situation. Emergency
interventions, necessary as they are, are not enough in cases of unemployment,
illness or similar circumstances which are beyond the control of the individual,
but efforts must also be made to enable the poor to take responsibility for
their own livelihood and to be freed from a system of demeaning assistance
Progress in Solidarity
The rapid advance towards the globalization of economic
and financial systems also illustrates the urgent need to establish who is
responsible for guaranteeing the global common good and the exercise of economic
and social rights. The free market
by itself cannot do this, because in fact there are many human needs which have
no place in the market. “Even
prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice
appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is
than, by reason of his lofty dignity.”
The effects of the recent economic and financial crises
have had heavy consequences for countless people, reduced to conditions of
extreme poverty. Many of them had
only just reached a position which allowed them to look to the future with
optimism. Through no fault of their
own, they have seen these hopes cruelly dashed, with tragic results for
themselves and their children. And
how can we ignore the effects of fluctuations in the financial markets? We urgently need a new vision of global progress in
solidarity, which 'will include an overall and sustainable development of
society, so as to enable all people to realize their potential.
In this context, I make a pressing appeal to all those
with responsibility for financial relations on the worldwide level.
I ask them to make a sincere effort to find a solution to the frightening
problem of the international debt of the poorest nations.
International financial institutions have initiated concrete steps in
this regard which merit appreciation. I
appeal to all those involved in this problem, especially the more affluent
nations, to provide the support necessary to ensure the full success of this
initiative. An immediate and
vigorous effort is needed, as we look to the year 2000, to ensure that the
greatest possible number of nations will be able to extricate themselves from a
now intolerable situation. Dialogue
among the institutions involved, if prompted by a sincere willingness to reach
agreement, will lead—I am certain—to a satisfactory and definitive solution.
In this way, lasting development will become a possibility for those
Nations facing the greatest difficulties, and the millennium now before us will
become for them too a time of renewed hope.
for the Environment
The promotion of human dignity is linked to the right to a
healthy environment, since this right highlights the dynamics of the
relationship between the individual and society. A body of international, regional and national norms on the
environment is gradually giving juridic form to this right.
But juridic measures by themselves are not sufficient.
The danger of serious damage to land and sea, and to the climate, flora
and fauna, calls for a profound change in modern civilization's typical consumer
lifestyle, particularly in the richer countries.
Nor can we underestimate another risk, even if it is a less drastic one:
people who live in poverty in rural areas can be driven by necessity to
exploit beyond sustainable limits the little land which they have at their
disposal. Special training aimed at
teaching them how to harmonize the cultivation of the land with respect for the
environment needs to be encouraged.
world’s present and future depend on the safeguarding of creation, because of
the endless interdependence between human beings and their environment.
Placing human well-being at the center of concern for the environment is
actually the surest way of safeguarding creation;
this in fact stimulates the responsibility of the individual with regard
to natural resources and their judicious use.
The Right to Peace
In a sense, promoting the right to peace ensures respect
for all other rights, since it encourages the building of a society in which
structures of power give way to structures of cooperation, with a view to the
common good. Recent history clearly
shows the failure of recourse to violence as a means for resolving political and
social problems. War destroys, it
does not build up; it weakens the
moral foundations of society and creates further divisions and long-lasting
tensions. And yet the news
continues to speak of wars and armed conflicts, and of their countless victims.
How often have my Predecessors and I myself called for an end to these
horrors! I shall continue to do so
until it is understood that war is the failure of all true humanism.
Thanks be to God, steps have been taken in some regions
towards the consolidation of peace. Great
credit must go to those courageous political leaders who are resolved to
continue negotiations even when the situation seems impossible.
But at the same time how can we not denounce the massacres still taking
place in other regions, with the uprooting of entire peoples from their lands
and the destruction of homes and crops? Mindful
of the innumerable victims, I call on the leaders of the Nations and on all
people of good will to come to the aid of those involved-especially in Africa-in
cruel conflicts, sometimes prompted by external economic interests, and to help
them to bring these conflicts to an end. A
concrete step in this regard is certainly the eradication of trafficking in arms
destined for countries at war, and the support of the leaders of those peoples
in their quest for the path of dialogue. This
is the path worthy of the human person, this is the path of peace!
I think with sorrow of those living and growing up against
a background of war, of those who have known nothing but conflict and violence.
Those who survive will carry the scars of this terrible experience for
the rest of their lives. And what
shall we say about children forced to fight?
Can we ever accept that lives which are just beginning should be ruined
in this way? Trained to kill and
often compelled to do so, these children cannot fail to have serious problems
in their future insertion into civil society.
Their education is interrupted and their chances of employment are
stifled: what a terrible legacy for their future!
Children need peace; they
have a right to it.
To the thought of these children I also wish to add a
mention of the children who are victims of land mines and other devices of war.
Despite efforts already being made to remove mines, we are now witnessing
an unbelievable and inhuman paradox: with disregard for the clearly expressed
will of governments and peoples to put a final end to the use of such an
insidious weapon, mines are still being laid even in places which had already
Seeds of war are also being spread by the massive and
uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which it seems are
passing freely from one area of conflict to another, increasing violence along
the way. Governments must adopt
appropriate measures for controlling the production, sale, importation and
exportation of these instruments of death.
Only in this way will it be possible to deal effectively and completely
with the problem of the massive illegal traffic in arms.
A Culture of Human Rights, the Responsibility of All
It is not possible to discuss this topic more fully here. I would however like to emphasize that no human right is safe if we fail to commit ourselves to safeguarding all of them. When the violation of any fundamental human right is accepted without reaction, all other rights are placed at risk. It is therefore essential that there should be a global approach to the subject of human rights and a serious commitment to defend them. Only when a culture of human rights which respects different traditions becomes an integral part of humanity’s moral patrimony shall we be able to look to the future with serene confidence.
A Time of Decision, a Time of Hope
The new millennium is close at hand, and its approach has
filled the hearts of many with hope for a more just and fraternal world.
This is an aspiration which can, and indeed must, become a reality!
It is in this context that I now address you, dear
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, who in all parts of the world take the Gospel as
the pattern of your lives: become heralds of human dignity!
Faith teaches us that every person has been created in the image and
likeness of God. Even when man
refuses it, the Heavenly Father's love remains steadfast;
his is a love without limits. He
sent his Son Jesus to redeem every individual, restoring each one’s full human
With this in mind, how can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather, we
must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the
Eucharist—which is communion in the body and blood of Christ given up for
us—commits us to serve.
As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name,
and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, “in the stark contrast between
the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the
We too must be on this same side.
The third and final year of preparation for the jubilee is
marked by a spiritual pilgrimage to the Father's house: all are invited to walk
the path of authentic conversion, which involves rejecting evil and making a
positive choice for good. On the
threshold of the year 2000, it is our duty to renew our commitment to
safeguarding the dignity of the poor and the marginalized, and to recognize in a
practical way the rights of those who have no rights.
Let us raise our voices on their behalf, by living in its fullness the
mission which Christ entrusted to his disciples!
This is the spirit of the now imminent jubilee.
Jesus taught us to call God “Father,” Abba, thus
revealing to us the depth of our relationship with him.
Infinite and eternal is his love for every person and for all humanity.
Eloquent in this regard are God's words found in the book of the Prophet
a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the child of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.
See, upon the palms of my hands
I have written your name (49:15-16).
Let us accept the invitation to share this love!
In it is found the secret of respect for the rights of every woman and
every man. The dawn of the new
millennium will thus find us more ready to build peace together.
From the Vatican, December 8, 1998.
Cf. Redemptor Hominis (March 4, 1979),
17: AAS 71 (1979), 296.
Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble.
Cf. in particular the Vienna Declaration (June
25, 1993), Preamble, 2.
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
Vitae (March 25, 1995), 57: AAS
87 (1995), 465.
Cf. ibid., 10, loc. cit., 412.
Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration
on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 3.
Cf. Article 18.
Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
Article 25, 1.
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (May 1, 1991), 34: AAS
83 (1991), 836.
Cf. in this regard the Catechism of the
Catholic Church, 2307-2317.
Address to a group of representatives from the
Congress of the United States of America (August 21, 1945):
Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santit,i Pio XII, VII (1945-1946),
Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor
Hominis (March 4, 1979), 13-14: AAS 71 (1979), 282-286.
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1397.
John Paul II, Angelus Address, September 27,
1998, 1: L’Osservatore
Romano, September 28-29, 1998, p. 5.
Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio
Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994), 49-51: AAS
87 (1995), 35-36.