Human Rights Day Statement: Defending Civilian Rights in War and Conflict

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Every year on the 10th of December the international community observes Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948.

As violent conflicts and war flare around the world, we turn our attention to civilian victims. The human rights of people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, are violated with impunity. We recall Article 3 of the UNHDR, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” War puts an instant end to all this.

Around the world the Pax Christi International movement works to defend civilian rights in places of conflict. From the Holy Land, to the Great Lakes region of Africa, across Latin America, and in Myanmar, our members and partners are working for peace, resisting with nonviolence, and advocating at the highest levels for the rights of people facing threats of violence.

In Israel-Palestine, we have seen a rise in discrimination. On the night of 21 August, six headquarters of non-governmental organizations were attacked, their premises ransacked and their materials seized. These human rights organizations have all been accused of being “terrorist” organizations by the State of Israel. This has resulted in a loss of resources, including European Union funding due to the accusation of terrorism, impairing their ability to help people and defend human rights. Pax Christi International continues to act in solidarity with our partners in the Holy Land and the people of Palestine.

In the heart of Africa, the war in North Kivu has resumed in earnest after 20 years of dormancy. The people of the DR Congo have been suffering for almost thirty years from the presence of Rwandan genocidaires on their soil, exploiting their land and imposing terror through violence. The Bunagana-Rutshuru-Kiwanja region has been taken over by a group of Congolese M23 rebels. About 280,000 people had to leave their villages in Rutshuru, now made more difficult by the arrival of seasonal rains. Our members in the region continue to work for peace through training young people and religious sisters in nonviolence, and building stability within families, schools, and communities.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands, forced families apart, and destroyed cities. The people of Ukraine now face a deadly winter compounded by fuel shortages, destruction of infrastructure, and freezing temperatures. Since the war started, Pax Christi International members and partners have twice been able to participate in peace delegations to Ukraine to learn from activists and people engaging in nonviolent resistance in the middle of this war.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, human rights violations are often connected with extractivism and the exploitation of natural resources. The impact of these unsustainable practices is felt most deeply in Indigenous communities and by environmental defenders. Indigenous people are denied their right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, and are shown no respect for their cultures and their right to self-determination. Pax Christi International regional partners advocate for Indigenous rights and accompany them in their nonviolence civil resistance.

In Asia-Pacific, our members are advocate for the people of Myanmar as the continue to suffer under a military coup. Killings, dispossession, burning of villages, refugee movements internally and across the Thai border, attacks on freedom groups and their supporters, threats and intimidation, are just some of threats that engulf the people of Myanmar today. National and regional actions have taken place to lift up the voices of the people of Myanmar and pray for them as they remain threatened in their homeland or stranded in exile. Since the 1 February 2021 coup, Pax Christi members have coordinated petitions, public statements, contact with governments, links with democratic groups, and prayers services in solidarity with the people of Myanmar.

Let this day be an opportunity to highlight the human rights work carried out by our member organisations and partners around the world. As we conclude an international conference on the non-violent teachings of Pope Francis, let us emphasise the relevance of this path to growing in respect for human rights. Then every person can be alive, free and safe where they want to be.

Human Rights Day shines a spotlight on all those who bravely defend human rights around the world, including many people and communities within the Pax Christi movement. Through the promotion of just peace and nonviolence, we will continue along the path where all people enjoy their full human rights everywhere. Let us continue, as Pope Francis says, toward this “common horizon of hope.”