Justice is one of God’s characteristics. He cares deeply about the life of every individual. We read of this concern throughout the Bible and of how God sent his son Jesus to bring justice. As Christians we need to share this passion for justice. God’s laws are unchanging. They are intended to ensure freedom and justice for each person – whatever their culture or situation. Churches need to share God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed. This Guide begins with an understanding of biblical teaching and our calling to challenge injustice, particularly when it affects people who are poor and vulnerable.
As Christians we should be motivated by love rather than the law. We are called to actively seek justice and uphold other people’s rights while at the same time we may be called to accept injustice against ourselves. This Guide seeks to help people to learn about their human rights and to discuss ways of promoting them in different local situations. Each topic includes Bible references that help us to understand God’s compassion and passion for justice. Human laws are rarely perfect – they continue to be changed and improved. This Guide can help us understand how to challenge unjust laws, to become familiar with our human rights and to promote and defend the rights of others.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
After the atrocities of the Second World War, particularly the deaths of six million Jews in prison camps, the world’s governments wanted to ensure these could not be repeated. They agreed that each person has rights that should always be respected and responsibilities towards others. These rights and responsibilities were set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) on 10 December 1948. Governments promised that they would tell their citizens about these rights and seek to protect and promote them.
This Declaration has since been called the world’s best kept secret. Few people know what it contains and even fewer people have seen a copy. Governments have not only failed to distribute the Declaration, some have even argued that it is not relevant to their country, culture or political situation.
Since then many other agreements have been made concerning human rights but this Declaration remains the standard reference on human rights. However, despite all these agreements, half of the world’s countries still imprison people solely because of their religious, political or social beliefs, or their race, gender or ethnic origin, and a third of the world’s governments torture their prisoners.
Agreements about human rights provide a basis for ordinary people to hold governments accountable for the way they treat people and to support the work of the thousands of human rights defenders around the world. The UN Universal Declaration and other documents can be used as a basis for challenging policy-makers and for lobbying governments to ensure that laws benefit the poor. They can be used as a basis for legal challenges when people’s human rights have been ignored.
Some situations can be transformed by community action. Some will require advocacy to encourage change to national law and policy. Some situations are so enormous that international advocacy action and co-ordination is required. The discussion questions try to bring out these different levels. This Guide presents a number of common situations of injustice based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There may be many others of local relevance.
- To increase understanding of God’s heart for justice through Bible study, reflection and discussion
- To increase the awareness of church and community leaders of their capacity to encourage a positive community response to injustice
- To develop an understanding of human rights and the content of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- For church and community group members to gain helpful understanding of the processes of advocating for human rights on behalf of, or with, those who suffer from injustice
- For church and community group members to gain confidence in standing up against corruption and the abuse of power.
- Church leaders teaching members and others about God’s heart for justice
- Church and community leaders developing a positive community response to issues of injustices in their local, regional and national area
- Church and community leaders facilitating groups to work together to raise the issue of human rights abuses in their communities with the authorities
- Church and community group members practising advocacy on behalf of those in their communities who have suffered injustice
- Church and community group members gaining confidence in speaking out and taking action to fight corruption and the abuse of power.