In a world being transformed by globalization and massive migration, human rights—specifically those in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights—should be irrefutable, the Vatican’s ambassador to Zambia and Malawi said at Fordham.
Adopted in 1948, the declaration represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled.
“Human rights are not negotiable,” said Archbishop Nicolas Girasoli, the Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi on Nov. 9. “Nobody can think to limit someone to breathe or to move, simply because these gestures belong to humans. The same should happen with human rights; they are rooted in human nature.”
Archbishop Girasoli, a highly regarded scholar and diplomat, was the guest speaker at the fall Gannon Lecture, held on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
The author of several studies and books on the rights of national minorities, the archbishop discussed a “compromise approach” to minority rights and globalization.
“To be ready for a compromise means to be ready to renounce something and also to receive less than is expected,” he said. “But because human rights are not negotiable, we may negotiate everything but human rights.
“So, dealing with human rights, we shall recover the ancient Greek and Latin meaning of the word compromise, which refers to the activity of an arbitrator who solves disputes,” he continued. “In this way, compromise is not an exercise where someone must be ready to give up something but a composition of different points of view, which turn out to be a solution when accepted by all involved parties.”
In an era of globalization, countries continually face the challenge of its people living together while respecting differences, Archbishop Girasoli said. To assist in this effort, he introduced a concept he called “unity through diversity.”
“This means that the memories and traditions of each group of people must continue to evolve side by side with the national identity of the hosting state,” he said. “If everybody has the right to be equal, then minority groups have an additional aspiration—they want to maintain their right to be different.”
Archbishop Girasoli also called for academic distinction of minority groups.
“Minority groups cannot be defined in a unilateral way because they are complex realities,” he said. The archbishop defined national minorities as those who become so by destiny, (for example, due to an International Treaty at the conclusion of a war), and cultural minorities who become so because of choice.
“We also need to mention the ethnic minorities, migrant workers, trans-frontiers cultural groups and new emerging cultures,” he said. “Equality means that no cultural group should apologize for its origins, families or communities, and it requires that others show respect for them, and change public attitudes and arrangements so that the heritage they represent is encouraged rather than ignored.
“Today, the question is, ‘Are we ready to recognize and sustain a multicultural society where different ethnic and cultural groups work in solidarity and with an autonomy that should be recognized?’ I do not think that in a global era we can say no,” he added.
After his talk, Archbishop Girasoli was given a crystal owl.
“The owl, which is on the crest of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), represents wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and that’s what you shared with us tonight,” said Nancy A. Busch, PhD., dean of GSAS.
The Gannon Lecture, which is endowed by Fordham alumni, began 30 years ago to honor the memory of Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham from 1936 to 1949.
“It was not easy to be the president of a university during the Depression and World War II, but Father Gannon was equal to the challenges he faced,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. “When it came to Fordham, he found a place in dire straits and yet was able to get it to thrive during the Depression and blossom after the war.”
The lecture was sponsored by GSAS, the International Political Economy and Development program, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and the Leaner Center for International Law and Justice.