June 2006 – The Holy See and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Working Toward

The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the Holy See’s perspective on the UDHR with the aspiration of promoting further study and development of an authentic perspective of international human rights and the family. While looking at human rights through an anthropological lens, the article will explore how the UDHR remains an important touchstone for international dialogue. To this end, the article will be divided into four parts.

Part I will consider the anthropology of the UDHR. It begins by summarizing Cardinal Trujillo’s key points on the anthropology of the family and marriage as set out in this symposium. This summary serves as a point of reference for a discussion of the UDHR. Then an historical overview of the UDHR is presented, which highlights the key protagonists, the overall process, and the UDHR drafters’ intentions that the UDHR proclaims rights, sets important limits, and be read as an integral whole. This discussion is followed by a review of the Holy See’s position on the UDHR as articulated in The Family and Human Rights. It does not purport to be an exhaustive discussion of this document since my examination will not, for example, address the right to work or the right to life as detailed therein. Parts II through IV illustrate the importance and impact of the UDHR for protection of the natural family. This serves to explain why the Holy See has devoted so much attention to the UDHR. Part II gives an overview of how the important language about the natural family, as articulated in the UDHR, has been adopted and even strengthened in the major human rights systems of the world. Part III considers the ideology of family diversity and how it challenges the continued recognition and protection of the natural family. Part IV argues that, notwithstanding the ideology of family diversity and recent trends to dilute the significance of the natural family, binding documents contain language pertaining to the natural family, as first proclaimed in the UDHR. States have objected when specific provisions in various conventions have strayed from this foundation, instead favoring the UDHR’s concept of the natural family as entitled to special protection and assistance. It is argued that due to the centrality of the UDHR in the international human rights system and the fact that it has been incorporated by reference in the preamble of almost every human rights document, all regional and international human rights documents ought to be read as an integral whole with reference to the anthropology contained in the UDHR.