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Human Rights

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Before World War II began, human rights were viewed as a purely domestic decision; that each nation could decide what they perceived to be the entitled rights of their citizens. After the terrors of the Holocaust and the Nuremburg trials of the German army officers, it became clear that these human rights needed an international standard. On December 10, 1948, the United Nations issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this document created an agreement of the betterment of human rights in their individual nations, it does not always uphold in certain circumstances.

Pacem En Terris is an encyclical written by Pope John XXIII in April 1963. In this encyclical he divides human rights into three different categories: personal, social, and instrumental rights. Personal rights being those "which protect fundamental characteristics of the person" (Thompson, 100); social rights being those "which specify the positive obligations of society toward all its members for providing conditions that enable human beings to grow and thrive" (Thompson, 100); and instrumental rights, those which promote participation in forming the institutions that shape and structure human life" (Thompson, 100). Pope John XXIII states that we are entitled to rights under each of these categories, but there are instances in our world today where these rights are being violated.

A particular personal right being violated in our world today is the right to protection against torture and cruel and inhumane punishment. In many Islamic nations, one in particular being Afghanistan, women are treated as completely subordinate; they are innocently tortured and killed on a daily basis. They have duties as a mother and wife while home, but suffer under unlivable conditions at their homes; when they flee for refuge, if they are caught, their punishments are unthinkable. While we, as Americans, know this to be barbaric and horrific, the Islamic people follow these practices because they justify it with the traditional treatment of women. According to Asghar Ali Engineer from his essay, "Islam, Women, and Gender Justice":

What was thought to be just during the classical period of Islam is thought to be just even today. Because of this, some of the orthodox think the contemporary expression of the notion of justice is violative of divine will. It is this attitude that impedes a change in Islamic legislation so as to accord women equality with men (Gottlieb, 364).

It is because of this understanding of tradition and history in the Islamic culture that permits this unjust behavior. The violation of this right of Islamic women undermines the Catholic Social Teaching of the right to life and the dignity of the human person. This teaching states that, "each human life is sacred and the dignity of a person is the foundation of a moral vision for society." The abuse of women in Islamic nations threatens a woman's right to life, takes away that right to life, and strips them of their dignity. They are not treated as the precious beings that God intended them to be. It undermines imago dei in that God created us all in his likeness; there is no reason that women should be treated as lesser beings than men, because we were all created equal. The men of Islam would not treat their god (Allah) the way in which they treat women, so there is no justification in their cruel ways.

The second type of right explained by Pope John XXIII is a social right. A social right being violated by institutionalized discrimination today is the right to political participation, particularly in North Korea. The communist nation of North Korea, lead by Kim Jong-il, is a communist nation with many restrictions and rules. They are a very secretive nation; the government controls virtually all aspects of communication, as no citizens are permitted to leave and they have no freedom of speech or press. Any citizen that speaks out against the government is detained, and freethinking is quickly punished. The citizens of North Korea are being violated in their right to political participation because they have no way of changing their ill-fate. The people have no say in government and who is



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