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Posts Tagged ‘Holy See’

St Peter's SquareAn unbecoming dodge that sovereign human rights violators attempt in trying to evade responsibility for their actions was recently attempted, by of all parties, the Vatican. It is a dodge that was similarly attempted by the Bush administration in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, and was picked apart for the irresponsible maneuver that it is.

First, some background. Periodically parties to the major human rights conventions face review before a committee of experts, one committee for each treaty. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has a matching Committee on the Rights of the Child. These committees receive reports from states, discuss the reports with an official delegation from the reporting state, make observations on the reports, and make general recommendations to all states on how to interpret the treaty. Earlier this month the Holy See delegation presented their report before the Committee Against Torture (stewards of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

The crux of the dodge is that the convention applies here and not there. How a sovereign makes their pitch: You, the human rights analyst, must keep your gaze fixed upon this certain zone here – a zone I, the sovereign, have conveniently identified for you. Do not shift your gaze to that zone over there; I haven’t pointed out that zone over there as worthy of your scrutiny. Focus exclusively on my conduct in the zone I have outlined for you. Over in that zone there I can conduct myself in whatever way I please, without consequence or criticism from you. Why? Well, because that zone is over there and you should be focusing on this zone here.

Anyone interested in upholding human rights is bound to ask, well what exactly is going on over in that zone there? What precisely are you, the sovereign, attempting to hide in that zone there? Slicing the world into zones in this manner, what’s more allowing the sovereign under scrutiny to do so, can only lead to serious trouble for upholding human rights.

With the Bush administration, the claim went that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay; thus the executive can conduct itself as it pleases without scrutiny from the federal courts. Rasul and Boumediene saw that argument off, criticizing the view advanced by the Bush administration as meaning “the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will”. Just as that interpretation would spell trouble for constitutional rights, that interpretation vitiates obligations undertaken by states when they accede to the human rights conventions.

The Vatican recently attempted to make a case that rhymed with these accountability evading Bush administration claims. The Holy See urged, look at the city-state, not the global institution over which we preside. Rightly, the Committee Against Torture took a dim view of this argument. One expert, Felice Gaer, said (Guardian),

show us that, as a party to the convention, you have a system in place to prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment when it is acquiesced to by anyone under the effective control of the officials of the Holy See and the institutions that operate in the Vatican City state

The international human rights regime is about applying exacting scrutiny to sovereigns’ behavior, and Gaer applies the correct standard. Sovereigns don’t get to wriggle out of responsibility in this manner. The public, civil society, human rights experts, and other parties to the convention are correct in demanding more than excuses unworthy of a toddler, let alone a sovereign.

(A contrary view at the WSJ, Using a ‘Torture’ Claim Against the Catholic Church)

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