Religion gives basis for human rights

February 15, 2005

GROESBEEK, Netherlands — The global community should look to the ethical teachings of the world religions as well as to international law to protect human rights, a keynote speaker told the European Baha'i Conference on Law.

Professor Brian Lepard of the University of Nebraska in the United States said that violations of human rights appear to be relentlessly increasing despite dramatic advances last century aimed at safeguarding them.

Professor Lepard was delivering the Dr. Aziz Navidi Memorial Lecture, which is named after a prominent Baha'i lawyer renowned for his courage and skill in defending persecuted Baha'is.

The conference held 9-12 December 2004, attracted participants from 10 countries and was organized by the Law Association of the Tahirih Institute, an educational institute of the Dutch Baha'i community.

"International law and world religions must form a new partnership, drawing on their mutual strengths if human rights are to become a living reality for human beings groaning under the yoke of oppression, tyranny, and deprivations of their most basic human needs," Professor Lepard said.

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Neysun Mahboubi delivering his address "The Oneness of Humanity as a Contemporary Legal Principle" at the European Baha'i Conference on Law.

Professor Lepard said that many human rights are not enforced internationally because there is no agreement on their moral basis. That shortcoming helps some governments and individuals justify their violation of human rights, he said.

States are beginning to recognize the moral bankruptcy of much of existing international law and are emphasizing the need for a moral foundation for legal norms, he said. In addition, enlightened religious leaders are showing a growing interest in modern-day human rights law.

Professor Lepard said the moral and ethical teachings of religions -- which underpinned international law at its historical formation -- give that moral foundation to human rights by declaring that they are God-given rights. They also help prioritize those rights, and they give recognition of individual duties to promote and protect the human rights of others.

"The ethical teachings of the world religions underscore that all human beings are members of one human family and are thus are entitled to the same fundamental human rights," Professor Lepard said.

Only the spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity will help people build bridges of friendship with those of other religions, nationalities or races and provide a firm foundation for respecting the rights of others, he said.

Among other papers delivered by Baha'i lawyers were:

  • "State and Religious Order in Baha'i Theology" by Tajan Tober (Germany).

  • "The Oneness of Humanity as a Contemporary Legal Principle" by Neysun Mahboubi (United States).

  • "The Place of Idealism in an Emerging International Legal Order" by Salim Nakhjavani (United Kingdom).

  • "From Empire to Empathy: Law, Spirituality, and the Oneness of Humankind," by Payam Akhavan.

Other contributions to the conference came from a legal officer with the International Criminal Court, Rod Rastan; two Dutch lawyers, Karlijn van der Voort and Nushin Milani; and Baha'i scholar and lawyer Susan Lamb.