Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world‚Äôs 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, has highlighted the links between human rights and human reconciliation in his 2007 New Year message, delivered at St Peter‚Äôs Rome.
The pontiff declared that world peace can only be achieved if individuals' human dignity is given proper accord and he stressed that there can be no excuse for treating people as mere "objects".
However, critics are likely to point out the shortcomings with regard to respect and rights within his own Church, where those arguing the moral and theological case for change on issues such as women priests and birth control have often been met with severe condemnations and sometimes prohibitions.
Speaking two days after the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which the Vatican described as "a tragic wrong", Benedict said that human rights must be put at the centre of the global struggle to end the blight of war.
During a homily at St Peter‚Äôs Basilica, he commented: ‚ÄúIt is because every human individual, without distinction of race, culture or religion, is created in the image and likeness of God, that he (sic) is filled with the same dignity of person,‚Äù
The Pope continued: "That is why the human person must be respected. No reason can ever justify doing with him whatever one pleases, as if he is an object."
This is Benedict‚Äôs second New Year address since succeeding the continuingly popular John Paul II, whose beatification is now certain.
The 79-year-old pontiff declared: ‚ÄúToday people speak a lot about human rights, but it is often forgotten they these need a stable base, not one that is relative or a matter of opinion." In particular he highlighted the freedom to practice religion.
Pope Benedict also used his homily on world peace to single out the worsening plight of populations in the Middle East.
He said: ‚ÄúHow can we not turn our attention, once again, to the awful situation right in the land where Jesus was born? How can we not implore through persistent prayer that the day of peace also arrives in that region as soon as possible?‚Äù