Pope Francis Supports Human Rights Defenders

by Fr. Shay Cullen

“Pope Francis” | Photo by Monica de Argentina via Flickr/Creative Commons

Pope Francis’s strong words in solidarity and support for all the human rights defenders, environmental activists, social workers, and truth journalists on the front line and fighters for justice and equality everywhere have encouraged and inspired millions of people to reach out to help. Prayer is a public way for a Pope to make a social and political statement of great importance.

“We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, and even in democracies in crisis,” he said. Pope Francis is very aware of these dedicated human rights activists’ struggle and needs to fight for justice, peace, and human dignity. Those standing for racial equality in the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and those fighting for women and children’s rights in the “Me Too Movement.”

“We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, and even in democracies in crisis,” he said. Pope Francis is very aware of these dedicated human rights activists’ struggle and needs to fight for justice, peace, and human dignity.”

He addressed all people- Christians, non-Christians, people of all religious beliefs, or those with none at all- who have dedicated their lives serving humanity and giving unselfish service without seeking reward. They need and deserve our support when we can’t help the victims of abuse directly.

They do the vital work to defend victims of rights violations and courageously give their lives doing it. In the Philippines, 318 human rights workers and activists were killed between July 2016 and June 2020, and 110 lawyers had the same fate from 1972 to the present. Sixty-one of those killings have taken place since 2016. Also, 86 journalists and reporters have been killed since 1992.

They are accepting serious risks defending victims of abuse and violations of their human dignity and rights. They suffer hardship and abuse, rejection and imprisonment, and death because of their work for human rights in supporting the downtrodden and abused victims. They are survivors themselves. They have that most fundamental love of others to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being. Without those rights, we are just as animals are. We can see this spirit of sacrifice around the world. In Syria, the volunteers and medical workers in hospitals are being bombed by the cruel dictator Marshal Bashar al-Assad. They risk their lives every day defending and saving the wounded and sick in war-torn Syria.

Recently, Assad’s troops fired mortars on an underground hospital and killed a child and seven people. Assad, with Russian help, has destroyed Syria. He has arrested, murdered, and tortured to death thousands of Syrians and has driven 350,000 people into exile, among them courageous human rights workers. The number of dead vary between 388,650 and about 594,000 as of March 2021. On 23 April 2016, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria put out an estimate of 400,000 that had died in the war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 5.6 million Syrians have fled the eight years of war and live in tents in neighboring countries. There are 6.6 million internally displaced and another 2.98 million besieged and sheltering in remote areas.

“They are accepting serious risks defending victims of abuse and violations of their human dignity and rights. They suffer hardship and abuse, rejection and imprisonment, and death because of their work for human rights in supporting the downtrodden and abused victims. They are survivors themselves. They have that most fundamental love of others to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being.”

Many others have escaped to try and reach Europe in search of a new life. Pope Francis has prayed and appealed for European countries to open their borders to welcome the war refugees. Germany and some nations did. Canada has received thousands of refugees and many from Syria in recent years.

However, the anti-asylum people and Neo-Nazis of Europe rose and opposed any welcome, and right-wing political parties grew to stop it and largely succeeded. Some Catholic countries slammed shut their doors with dark compassionless hearts and built fences to keep the refugees, thousands of them homeless children. Too bad if Jesus of Nazareth and his parents were arrested at the Egyptian border and deported to the cruel baby-killer King Herod for a death penalty, there would have been no Christianity.

Under international law, a person fleeing persecution seeking asylum has a right to reach the country of destination and choice by any means available to ask for protection, shelter, and asylum. Many hard-hearted people see them as parasites, pests, and vermin to be rejected. The newly proposed UK asylum law suggests doing just that by declaring asylum seekers who reach the UK as “illegals.”

There can be no “illegal” entry to a country by an asylum seeker. Many Germans escaping East Germany seeking asylum in the West during the Cold War would have to be declared illegal entry and returned to the communist East if crossing the border seeking asylum was illegal. Such escapes were cheered and encouraged. The UK’s proposed law wants to make illegal what under international law is right and legal and just. According to some UK human rights lawyers, to deport an asylum seeker without due process and evaluation would be a violation of that refugee’s human rights.

More dictators and populist autocratic leaders have emerged in recent decades. Pope Francis’s prayer is desperately needed in Myanmar as the people have shown courage and bravery in facing down the military that staged a coup six weeks ago. The people and youth’s defiance and resilience are inspiring, and the military has killed as many as 260, thousands more arrested and detained.

According to escaped witnesses interviewed on world media, millions of Uyghurs are allegedly imprisoned in re-education camps by the communist regime, and women forcibly sterilized, raped, and killed.”

The cries and voices of the oppressed and imprisoned Uyghurs are being heard and supported by the human rights campaigners. They will be encouraged by the prayer and support of Pope Francis, a world-renowned voice for the voiceless and oppressed people. Many are calling for an end to what they call genocide. According to escaped witnesses interviewed on world media, millions of Uyghurs are allegedly imprisoned in re-education camps by the communist regime, and women forcibly sterilized, raped, and killed.

In every country where tyrants and dictators arbitrarily arrest and imprison their own people and kill them with impunity, we hear the voice of protest denouncing the evil deeds. We are all challenged to join Pope Francis’s prayer and thousands of human rights defenders to campaign on social media and sign petitions in their support. If ever the tyrant’s goons come for us, may we have human rights defenders at our side?

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