ROME — Pope Francis on Monday lamented that the poor, the unborn, those imprisoned and those who have been forcibly “disappeared” do not enjoy the same human rights protections as the wealthy.
Francis marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a message read at the start of a Vatican-backed conference.
In it, Francis said there were “numerous contradictions” in the way the U.N. declaration was applied and blamed the world’s profit-motivated economy that exploits the poor for the injustices experienced by the world’s most vulnerable.
“While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another sees their dignity unrecognized … their fundamental rights ignored or violated,” he said.
He cited the unborn, those deprived of education and dignified work, as well as prisoners who are tortured and held in “unhuman conditions.” But Francis also cited “victims of forced disappearances and their families.”
It was a rare reference for Francis, who was Jesuit superior in his native Argentina during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War,” the right-wing military government’s crackdown on leftist dissidents. Official estimates say between 7,600-13,000 people were killed or forcibly “disappeared” during the crackdown; human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000.
Francis rarely refers in public to the bloody period of Argentina’s past. But he has met with representatives of the “Mothers of Plaza de Mayo,” who have campaigned for years for information about the disappeared and their children, many of whom were secretly taken from their birth families and given up for adoption.
In 2016, Francis authorized the opening of archives from the Vatican and the Argentine Church for consultation by victims and their families.
Many senior Catholic clerics were close to Argentina’s military rulers at the time and human rights groups have accused them of complicity with the regime. Francis himself had been criticized for not speaking out publicly about the atrocities while a high-ranking Jesuit. But he has also been credited with saving the lives of more than two dozen people, giving them sanctuary in his seminary and helping spirit them out of the country.