Friday, 11 December 2020

Human rights award for Archbishop Emeritus Tutu

Remarks prepared for the granting of the Article 3 Human Rights Global Treasure Award to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu:

It is a great honour to have been asked to speak on behalf of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond today. I am privileged and grateful to have the opportunity. 


When the Archbishop sent me for training as a priest 30 years ago, it seemed that a human rights culture was destined inevitably to spread across the world. Developments in Africa, Asia and Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave us real cause for hope. 

Today the picture is more worrying. Autocrats and intolerant populist movements have been on the rise, even in countries with long histories of democracy. Most alarming, among the people of faith who constitute a majority across the world, religious fundamentalism and chauvinism subvert human rights, whether in South Africa, Uganda or Nigeria; India, Pakistan, or Myanmar/Burma;  the Middle East, the United States or Russia. None of the world's religions is exempt from the phenomenon, which is all the more disturbing when you consider that in most parts of the world religion still plays a crucial role in people’s lives, including young people’s lives.

This being the case, how do we inspire today’s young – tomorrow’s leaders – to take up the cause of human rights? I can think of nothing better than to quote from a speech which Archbishop Desmond gave in Sudan in October 1989. It was three months after Brigadier Omar al-Bashir had seized power in a coup, and the Archbishop was asked to give an impromptu address to students at Khartoum University. This, in part, is what he said:

“If you are a believer, whether you are a Muslim, whether you are a Christian, whether you are a Hindu or a Buddhist... one of the common factors in these faiths [is that] not one of them has a low doctrine of human beings. Christianity says human beings are created in the image of God, so does Judaism. Islam says you are the apt, the slave, of God whose purpose is to place your will in subjection to the Will of Allah...  [E]ach of the [religions] in their intrinsic nature compel their adherents to be people who strive for justice and for peace and for goodness.

“People of religion have no choice... Where there is injustice and oppression, where people are treated as if they were less than who they are, those created in the image of God, you have no choice but to oppose, and oppose vehemently... that injustice and oppression...”

Can there be an assertion any simpler and more powerful to support the statement in Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights, that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”? 

When in Khartoum Archbishop Desmond moved from the universal to the particular, and condemned human rights abuses that were being perpetrated in South Africa – but which the students immediately recognised as prevailing in Bashir’s Sudan – he was cheered to the rafters, just as young people at home cheered him. It was a beautiful demonstration of young people’s shared concern for their basic human rights, one that we must nurture across the world today. 

We thank our Creator for Desmond Tutu's insights, for his life and witness, and thank you for honouring it in this way. I am deeply humbled to acknowledge the award on his behalf.  

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba

Human Rights Day

December 10, 2020

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