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Human rights crucial, Pope tells United Nations

Pope Benedict XVI stressed that human rights are crucial, and urged leaders at the United Nations on Friday to work together to protect them.

Pontiff makes historic visit to U.S. synagogue

Pope Benedict XVI stressed that human rights are crucial, and urged leaders at the United Nations on Friday to work together to protect them.

"The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security," the Pope said in an address to the UN General Assembly in New York.

"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 become violators of peace."

The speech — which touched on broad humanitarian themes, as opposed to specific human rights issues — marked the third time a pope has addressed the assembly. As he spoke, supporters congregated in the plaza outside the UN, holding signs that read, "Wilkomen Pope Benedict XVI" and "You Rock."

The Pope praised UN leaders for promoting the 60-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and urged them to increasingly fight to stop humanitarian crises.

He said the international community as a whole should "act together and be ready to work in good faith" to tackle crises in security, international development and the environment. He highlighted Africa as one area that is suffering from problems with development and globalization.

When tackling international problems, countries and leaders need to find multilateral consensus, and not just bend to "the decisions of a small number," the Pope added, noting that "indifference and non-intervention" does the most harm.
 
"Each state has the over-arching duty to protect the population against serious and repeated violations of human rights, as well as the consequences of humanitarian crises," the Pope said.

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

'Great believer' in UN

The event at the United Nations was the latest leg of the Pope's United States tour, which began Tuesday and saw the Pope give an open-air mass to thousands in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

"He [the Pope] is a great believer in the United Nations," said the Vatican spokesman in New York, Brian Kennerty, "and he believes that relations between nations should be based on more than politics and trade, that there should be a moral and human basis."

Before the Pope gave his speech, a leading American academic who studies the papacy predicted it would be a key moment for him.

"This is his first real foray onto the world stage," said Jo Renee Formicola of Seton Hall University in New York. "I think he recognizes this is a historic moment."

Later in the day, the German-born Benedict became the first pope to visit an American synagogue, bringing greetings for the Passover holiday and accepting gifts of matzo and a seder plate.

The Jewish community makes "a valuable contribution to the life of the city," he said. "And I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighbourhood."

The Park East Synagogue's Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who lived in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, praised the Pope for building inter-faith dialogue.

Visit dominated by abuse scandal

The UN speech was originally intended to be the highlight of a papal visit that had so far been dominated by the Pope addressing concerns about the sexual abuse by clergy in the U.S. Catholic church.

On Thursday night in Washington, the Pope met with victims of clergy sex abuse and prayed with them in scenes fraught with emotion and tension.

Victims' rights advocates in the Catholic church had been harshly critical of the Vatican's handling of the scandal and had been demanding such a meeting, as well as punishment for pedophile priests and higher clergy who covered up for them.

In 2004, U.S. bishops released a statistical review that found 4,392 priests had been accused of molesting children in 10,667 cases between 1950 and 2002. The accusations have devastated the Catholic Church and forced the payout of nearly $2 billion in settlements.

During his time in New York, Pope Benedict is visiting Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center towers destroyed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He'll also celebrate another open-air mass on Sunday at Yankee Stadium before heading back to Rome.

With files from the Associated Press