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Bridging the divide:
why it is good to talk about human rights

Nikki Zalewski ©, 2021

Human rights defenders form a broad church including the state, civil society, business, activists and the arts. Today Europe’s religions make a case to be re-welcomed into that family and to have a voice.

Their representatives will be among those at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 debating the most pressing human rights challenges facing Europe today.

As Director of Dublin City University’s Centre for Religion, Human Values and International Relations, Philip McDonagh, is helping to unite different faiths to help improve rights for all.

The Irish poet and former diplomat explains: “Our centre is about values in society. There is a fear we are breaking into tribes that do not build bridges towards other groups for the purposes of dialogue. But dialogue can be the seedbed of real change.”

He continues: "We can start a conversation in which religion plays an important part.

“We are talking about people’s conscience and deepest sense of value. Churches and religions should be looking at climate issues, migration, questions of peace and reconciliation, the increasingly unequal conditions under which people live their lives.

“We’re looking at these issues through the lens of a religious view of life. We’re also looking at the ‘how’ of engaging with public authorities at different levels.”

Some human rights actors, including the religious ones, have been accused of violating people’s human rights. But Philip believes Europe’s great religions have the power to be a driving force for good in the field of human rights, by bridging the divide between communities and crossing frontiers.

He explains: “Religions have tremendous social capital. The manner in which authorities engage with them is important for delivering social objectives.

“Parishes, mosques and synagogues across European countries might become links in a social awareness movement. Could these religious communities become places of renewal for society?

“There can be great difficulty in reaching citizens with messages. Newcomers to society may not necessarily follow media sources in the same way longer standing residents do. But, their religions have a way of reaching them.”

Philip adds: “This sense of what human society is may be dropping out of the picture. By bringing in religion, you are ensuring that the debate goes back to first principles.

“Values are so important when it comes to the role of money, genetic engineering, weapons of mass destruction, a just transition in the face of climate change, and in so many other spheres.

“Just because you have a legitimate government, it doesn't mean you can do what you want. You're still bound by values which can be identified and recognised.”

Philip says: “Human rights ought to be about bringing us back to the human scale. It is important for faith communities to be involved. Religions do not live in bubbles.

“Coming together in a public sphere to discuss the direction of society is essential.

“We have far too many specialists who compartmentalise dialogues, because that is an easier way to do it. But, as soon as you compartmentalise you're missing part of the truth.

“The EU can become a leader in developing this holistic understanding of human rights.”

Participants at the Fundamental Rights Forum are among the first to hear the most powerful stories from the frontline of protecting rights.

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