Holy See Permanent Observer's Address to UN Committee on the 'Rule of Law'

«The Holy See wishes to reaffirm that every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights and from the consequences of humanitarian crises.»

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Here below is the intervention of Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. He was speaking at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee, Agenda Item 83: Rule of Law:


New York, 13 October 2014

Mr. Chairman,

Following the first-ever High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law at the National and International  Levels  in  September  2012,  the  UN  General  Assembly  adopted  a Declaration “reaffirm[ing] our commitment to the rule of law and its fundamental importance for political dialogue and cooperation among all States and for the further development  of  the  three  main  pillars  upon  which  the  United  Nations  is  built: international peace and security, human rights and development.”   (RES/67/1).  The Holy See Delegation welcomed this endorsement of the rule of law.

While commitment to the rule of law would appear to be universal, there nonetheless remains persistent disagreement about the definition of “the rule of law.” The Holy See Delegation has endorsed a definition of the rule of law, which is both rationally and  morally  grounded  upon  the  substantial  principles  of  justice,  including  the inalienable  dignity  and  value  of  every  human  person  prior  to  any  law  or  social consensus; and, as a consequence of the recognition of this dignity, those elements of fundamental justice such as respect for the principle of legality  (Nullum crimen sine lege), the presumption  of innocence and the right to due process.

Likewise, regarding relations  among  States,  the  rule  of  law  means  the  paramount  respect  of  human rights, equality of the rights of nations; and respect for international customary law, treaties  (Pacta  sunt  servanda)  and  other  sources  of  international  law.   This definition,  with  its  reference  point  in  the  natural  law,  sidesteps  self-referential definitional  frameworks  and  anchors  the  orientation  of  the  rule  of  law  within  the ultimate and essential goal of all law, namely  to promote and guarantee the dignity of the human person and the common good.

For this reason, in future debates of the rule of law my delegation would welcome increased attention to  the  human person  and the society in  which he or she lives, because, in addition to the police force, courts, judges, prosecutors and the rest of the legal  infrastructure,  the  rule of law is  unattainable without  social  trust, solidarity, civic  responsibility,  good  governance  and  moral  education.   The  family,  religious communities  and civil society play indispensable roles in creating a  society  that can promote public integrity and sustain the rule of law.  As Pope Francis  affirmed: “When a society, whether local, national or global, is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance  systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” (Evangelii Gaudium n.59).  This is why the promotion of the rule of law needs to be indispensably supported and verified by prioritizing the allocation of public resources to human integral development.

Mr. Chairman,

At  the center  of the  international framework governing rule of law stands the  UN Charter  and  the  mandates  contained  within  its  purposes  and  principles.  In  the exercise of these powers, it is appropriate to emphasize the commitment of States to fulfil  their  obligations  to  promote  universal  respect  for,  and  the  promotion  and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. If the international rule of law is to reflect justice, frameworks to international protection of persons must be  fairly  and  impartially  applied  by  States  to  guarantee  equal  recourse  to  the protections available under the UN Charter. I refer here in particular to religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East  and other regions  awaiting urgent measures to effect this protection, including through further legal elaboration of the responsibility to protect.

The “responsibility to protect” is a recognition of the equality of all before the law, based on the innate  dignity of every man and woman.  The Holy See wishes to reaffirm that  every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained  violations  of  human  rights  and  from  the  consequences  of  humanitarian crises. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical  means  provided in  the UN  Charter  and  in  other international instruments. The action of the international institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, cannot be interpreted  as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. The  Holy  See  hopes  that  the  alarming,  escalating  phenomenon  of  international terrorism, new in some of its expressions and utterly ruthless in its barbarity,   be an occasion for a deeper and more  urgent  study on how to re-enforce the international juridical  framework  of  a  multilateral  application  of  our  common  responsibility  to protect people from all forms of unjust aggression.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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