The Nativity story - a modern-day human rights tale

Having just attended my boys' nativity plays (well done everyone at All Children's Primary in Newcastle, Co Down!) my mind wanders to the series of flagrant human rights abuses related in the biblical tale and how they might be experienced in the present day…

First off, Joseph and Mary's right to marry and found a family life, as articulated in Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has arguably been hindered by the forced relocation to Bethlehem for a census ordered by the Executive power, King Herod.

The census itself, depending on the range and nature of the questions asked, may further intrude upon the young family's right to privacy, as first outlined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although this right must be balanced with other considerations, such as threats to national security and the right to life.

Mary and Joseph's right to adequate housing, enunciated in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was violated when no room could be found at the inn.

Further Mary, who is reported in some accounts to have been an unmarried mother-to-be, might well provide useful case details for a NGO shadow report on Judea to the UN Human Rights Council. She may have suffered discrimination as a result of her unmarried status under the UN's Economic and Social Council resolution 1679, which has sought to eliminate the harm caused by a lack of societal understanding of unmarried parent status.

A further violation of the right to privacy (Article 17, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) may have occurred with Mary being forced to bear a child in front of myriad donkeys, lambs, cattle, and soon thereafter, shepherds and kings.

The kings, or so-called 'wise men' themselves, if entering the present-day UK, as three bearded men from the east carrying suspicious packages – particularly if transporting frankincense in liquid form exceeding 100ml – would have faced stop and search at their point of entry under sweeping anti-terrorism powers and may have been placed under Control Order restrictions at the behest of the Home Secretary.

Article 24 (d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on the State to provide appropriate pre- and post-natal health care for the mother. The State of Judea would likely be found wanting on both counts in the case of Mary, although national government would have recourse to the defence that its progressive realisation of these rights was not well advanced in 0 A.D / 0 B.C.

King Herod's executive order to massacre all under-twos was clearly a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute and it is likely that, given the recent example of Sudan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court would have ordered that Herod be indicted to appear before before the court. Whether the international political will to summons the serving Head of State, from a Middle East country in turmoil, to the Court in the Hague, would be a matter of some debate. Realpolitik would suggest that, given the lack of oil reserves to be found within the region of Herod's rule, the situation is unlikely to attract sufficient attention from leading world powers to result in prosecution.

The subsequent seeking of refugee status in a neighbouring country by Jesus and his family today would likely result in further hardship and discrimination, in addition to scape-goating by the tabloid press. If asylum was sought in the UK , the 'Christ' family would likely find themselves returned to their country of origin with the Home Office insisting that these 'bogus asylum seekers' did not have a well-founded fear of persecution by Herod…

All humour aside, today Bethlehem is a poor town under the rule of the Palestinian National Authority, with its entrances and exits controlled by Israeli military, arguably making it an even more troubled place than in the time of Herod.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that military occupation by Israel of the West Bank and its illegal separation barrier mean that many modern-day followers of Christ in Bethlehem have fled to the nearby safety of Israel and abroad, abandoning the birthplace of Jesus. For most Palestinians – like Jesus, Mary and Joseph if they were alive today – the alternative is a life lived largely in the absence of human rights.

If you want to do something 'in the spirit of Christmas', why not send a card to an individual at risk somewhere in the world. I'm sure they'll appreciate it even more than your auntie Betty. Full details of who and how to be found at Amnesty's annual greetings card campaign.

Happy Christmas and peace to all humankind!

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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