Pictured above: Participants of the Edmund Rice International Human Rights and International Advocacy Training with the Irish Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Ireland.
As told by MARY THERESE KRUEGER, PBVM
If you were asked “What are human rights?” could you provide an answer? Could you name 10 human rights? Most people will struggle to define and name specific human rights, however the majority of people would also advocate that human rights are to be respected, even if not all can be named.
As a result of the experience of people in World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly defining 30 human rights. The Preamble begins, “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.” This document has been translated into 80 languages and even into an illustrated version for children. Human dignity is not only an aspect of Catholic social teaching, but is discussed and defended at the international level.
This leads to the bigger question of, whose responsibility is it to ensure these human rights? It is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone has a duty to respect the rights of others and governments also have a particular responsibility to ensure, protect and uphold these rights for all people within and outside their country. This is where the United Nations (UN) is integral. The UN in Geneva, Switzerland, is known as the home of human rights. Why is this? Geneva is home to the Human Rights Council which includes committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.
The Human Rights Council oversees two important mechanisms for monitoring human rights, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Special Procedures. Special Procedures are when a special investigator examines and reports on the situation in a particular country or on a particular theme.
The UPR is a way of evaluating how a country has been ensuring every person’s human rights. Similar to how one might have a self-review and a peer review for a job evaluation, the UPR involves the particular government under review, civil society which includes all voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions that are part of society, as well as other governments. Every entity from their own perspective, can evaluate the country under review by providing data and stories from the grassroots, to demonstrate the ways that particular country is supporting human rights and where there is room for improvements.
The most unique aspect is that every country is equal in their review and has the same process. It does not matter if you are a richer, larger country or a poorer, smaller country, each has an equal voice in the evaluation of human rights of a country. The country under review is also required to meet with local organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to gain a wider perspective on their actions. The United States’ UPR is scheduled for May 2020.
This may seem like a foreign language and a system with which you are not familiar. Sister Mary Therese Krueger had never heard of an UPR or that each country was officially reviewed by one another in their actions towards human rights. Sister Mary Therese had the privilege of attending a training in Human Rights and International Advocacy and observed part of an UPR at the UN on January 26-30, 2020.
Through her position as programme action leader for the International Presentation Association (IPA), she was able to attend the training hosted by Edmund Rice International (ERI). ERI consists of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers around the world collaborating for justice and peace at the international level. Our Presentation connection to ERI is much richer than only both being religious communities working together internationally for justice.
Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers, was inspired by Nano Nagle, the foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation. Following Nano’s example of opening a school for the young girls in Waterford, Ireland, Edmund opened a school for young boys in Waterford. Nano and the Presentation Sisters’ approach to social justice was one that was attractive and replicated by Edmund Rice, not only in Waterford but continued through the actions of the Christian and Presentation Brothers.
“There was a profound blessing in being able to learn about international advocacy and human rights from the religious brothers whose roots were inspired by Nano,” states Sister Mary Therese.
Presentation connections were also evident as Sister Pushpa Lalitha Anthonymuthu, from the North India Providence of Presentation Sisters, was in attendance with Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers. There were 12 participants in total from different organizations, yet there was a tangible relationship in their approach to living out radical hospitality and their commitment to social justice. The training focused on learning not only from ERI, but also to discuss and learn from one another.
Sister Mary Therese comments, “I found a new sense of hope and a renewal of my commitment to advocating and working for justice through this opportunity. I’ve always had a passion for justice at the local level, but now I have a broader understanding and passion of working for change at the systemic, international level. The words of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Sí, continue to inspire me, ‘just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and inner peace.’”
In a world that seems to be faced with natural disasters, deaths, crime, discrimination, racism, systemic oppression, etc, it is easy to become downhearted. Sometimes working for justice feels like moving at a snail’s pace when the world is moving at the speed of light. However, Sister Mary Therese found renewed energy and motivation as she was reminded that inner peace comes from small actions toward respecting each person’s human dignity, honoring their human rights, and respecting the earth.
“With reflection on our day, on our actions and lack of actions, we will be able to see how each small step, even at snail’s pace, can make a global impact. This is the blessing of contemplation and action,” says Sister Mary Therese.
Every person, organization, and country have a role in safeguarding human rights for all. What will we do to promote and ensure human rights to every person, especially those most vulnerable as a Dubuque Presentation family, individually and collectively?