The decline of human fraternity: violations of human rights

JPIC Promoters with young people from Talitha Kum International at St Peters Square 04/02/2024


Thinking about human rights in the light of the Gospel, what comes to my mind is Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman, narrated in John 8:1-11. Jesus did not judge or condemn her. Instead, he confronted customary systems that were blind to the male misdeeds, but harsh to female shortcomings. He opted for the protection of human rights, particularly the life and dignity of the woman who was caught. Jesus’ ideal and attitude remain important to our contemporary human society. The present reflection is guided by four elements: my personal experience, the causes of human rights violations, the concept of human rights and its modern challenges, and the Church’s role in promoting human rights.

Personal experience of human rights violations

My experience of human rights violations is existential. Being born and bred in the Great Lakes Region, writing about the non-respect of human rights is not intellectual entertainment. It is an existential reality. For more than two decades, the mentioned region has been faced with unending war. Its impacts have directly or indirectly affected each individual. Cases of unprecedented massacres, rape, torture and images of mutilated bodies are beyond telling. I see human rights violations in the cry of women and children who are constantly abused by ruthless rebels. I see it in refugees whose rights to life, liberty and property are endangered. It always pricks my mind. I wonder if such human atrocities shall ever come to an end.

Currently, I am faced, not with the human rights violations per se; but rather with unjust systems. The recent changes in the legal frameworks of most countries, mediatic propaganda and populist ideologies are alarming. In the long run, they will affect the human rights of the most vulnerable groups, such as victims of human trafficking, migrants, refugees and political asylum seekers. The UK Illegal Migration Bill that led to the slogan of “Stop the boats”, is one of the challenges, most human rights defenders are faced with today.

Causes of human rights violations

There exist various causes of human rights violations. My observation is threefold: social, economic and political. The way society is organized sometimes oppresses vulnerable individuals. For instance, some customary laws violate the rights of women and children. The right to inheritance exists only for the male child, who eventually controls family wealth. Though women and girls actively participate in the family productive sector – ranging from working on the farm to office work – they do not control what the family produces. In most cultures, it is difficult for women to legally own property. The title deed must bear the husband’s name. Such a rule violates the woman’s fundamental rights of liberty and property.

Politics – of course, bad politics – is another cause of human rights violations. The politics that does not protect the natural rights of life, liberty and property is lethal. It tramples on the dignity of citizens. Recently, the world has seen selfish politicians waging unnecessary wars for economic reasons. It is believed that the real causes of such wars are kept secret within the world economic system.

Human rights: a fluid concept

The concept of human rights is becoming more and more fluid. The fluidity of its nature makes it difficult to define and grasp its meaning. For instance, the classical fundamental human rights of life, liberty and property are being merged with human sexual rights. LGBTQ+ rights defy traditional family norms and religious beliefs. Another challenge is the explicit non-respect of human rights, which enjoys a moral double standard within the corridors of the International Community. For economic and political interests, certain crimes against humanity do not attract global attention. The human atrocities in Ukraine, in Gaza, in the Sahel, the Great Lakes Region and other parts of the world, do not attract the same reprehension. Why? First, there is a remarkable decline in the human fraternity. Humans, when it comes to economic and political gains, hardly see each other as brothers and sisters. What matters most is wealth and power; not human life. Second, the political Manicheism – the politics of “good guys” and “bad guys”- is rendering obsolete the concept of human rights. Those, who worldwide are known to be the “good guys”, when they commit crimes, which are inherently crimes against humanity, they are quickly exonerated and protected by International Law. The turn of “bad guys” is a different story altogether. The harsh sanctions are quickly pronounced. This partial judgment itself points to the fluid nature of the concept of human rights.

Promoting human rights: the role of the Church

To face the challenges already mentioned, the Church needs to re-valorise her identity – being a moral authority figure – who does not command, but rather helps humanity to re-order itself when faced with moral impasse and political confusion. The evangelical virtues of protecting life, love and fraternity (cf. John 8:1-11; Luke 10:25-37), should truly guide the evangelizing mission of the Church.

As prophetic witnesses, first, we need to live and practice the love of the Good Samaritan. This kind of love is practical. It is not a fairy tale imagination; it is about life. Second, we need to revive the spirit of human fraternity. Loving and protecting our neighbour’s life is imperative. It calls us to notice the dire situation of our brothers and sisters and do something about it. Pope Francis reiterates this in Fratelli Tutti (2020). Like Saint Francis, he expresses “the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives”. (FT, 1).


Jesus, by his attitude, confronted systems that did not respect fundamental human rights. He was not blind; he saw the plight of the vulnerable within the human society. Existential realities of human rights violations are not far from us. They call for our prophetic responses. Increasing our awareness and knowledge of such violations is a key to our missionary endeavours, lived in the life of the Church.

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

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