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Pope Benedict Calls for Respect of Human Rights During UN Address

Pope Benedict XVI has called on all nations to protect and respect human rights during his address to the United Nations General Assembly. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more from inside the assembly hall.

In a speech about the importance of dialogue, diplomacy and human rights, Pope Benedict said every state has a duty to protect its people from grave and sustained violations of human rights and from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made.

The pontiff gave his address in both French and English.

"If states are unable to guarantee such protection, it is then up to the international community to intervene with the legal means that are provided for under the United Nations Charter and other international instruments," the pope said.

The pope said if international action respects those principles, it should not be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.

"On the contrary, it is indifference or non intervention which cause the real harm," he said.

He said the international community needs to search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts through every possible diplomatic avenue, and through encouraging even the smallest sign of dialogue or the desire for reconciliation.

The pontiff noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying respect for human rights is the most effective way to eliminate inequalities among countries and social groups and for increasing security.

"Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace," the pope said.

He went on to say that respect for human rights must also include the right to religious freedom.

"It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one' rights," Pope Benedict said. "The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature."

Pope Benedict's visit to the United Nations falls on the one-year anniversary of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the Vatican last year.

The pontiff said his visit Friday is a sign of the Vatican's esteem for the world body and its work.

Before leaving the General Assembly hall, the Pope offered his greetings in the six official languages of the United Nations.

He then met some U.N. officials and addressed several hundred staff members.

Before departing the United Nations, he will stop at a meditation room where there is a flag memorializing the victims of the 2003 bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters that killed 22 people.

Later in the day, the pope will visit a St. Joseph's Catholic Church and Park East Jewish synagogue in the city.