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The Holy See, Vatican City and the Convention against torture
(Vatican Radio) Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi, has issued a statement in which he emphasised the Holy See’s “strong commitment against any form of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”.
The statement comes ahead of a meeting between the Holy See and the United Nations Committee on the Convention against torture, which is set to take place on 5-6 May.
Please see below for Fr Lombardi’s full statement:
The “Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishments” is one of the important international Conventions implemented within the ambit of the activities of the United Nations, and which has been signed voluntarily by numerous member States of the international community, the so-called “State Parties” to the Conventions.
To confirm the implementation of the Conventions and the progress they have made, Committees of independent experts have been instituted by the Conventions themselves and therefore by the mandate of the “State Parties”. These Committees have the task of examining the periodical reports that the States Party are required to present regarding the implementation of the Convention. During its sessions in Geneva, the Committee meets with the delegations of the State Parties to discuss their reports and the state of implementation of and enforcement of the Convention, along with any questions that may arise in relation to its interpretation. This is a normal procedure of open dialogue, in which civil society may also play a role through the presentation of comments or recommendations on the part of NGOs of various orientations.
The Convention against torture (usually abbreviated to CAT) dates from 1984. The Holy See became a signatory in 2002, “on behalf of Vatican City State” and presented its “initial” report in December 2012.
The United Nations Committee on the CAT is composed of ten members and is holding its 52nd Session in the Palais Wilson, Geneva from 28 April to 23 May, during which it will examine the reports presented by eight countries: Uruguay, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Montenegro, Cyrus, Lithuania and the Holy See. The meeting of the Committee with the Delegation of the Holy See will take place on 5 and 6 May.
Firstly, on the morning of 5 May, there will be a brief presentation of the report by the Delegation, followed by comments from the Speakers chosen by the Committee. In the afternoon of 6 May the Delegation will be able to answer the questions posed on the previous day, and any other questions from members of the Committee.
On 23 May the Committee will conclude the session with a press conference, and will then publish its “Concluding Observations”. The State Parties and therefore also the Holy See will be able to issue a further formal written response.
To clarify the meaning of this event and the nature of the dialogue that will take place, it is first necessary to specify that, given the nature of this Convention (which relates principally to matters regarding criminal legislation, criminal procedure, the prison system, international relations in the legal domain, etc.), the Holy See has signed the Convention on behalf of Vatican City State (SVC), and so its legal responsibility for implementation regards the territory and competences of Vatican City State.
Naturally the Holy See also proposes important teaching with regard to matters of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, which is of great importance for the diffusion of the principles inspiring the Convention and for its implementation. Indeed, it is true that the Report offers an extensive compilation of references and citations from the Church’s teaching and a broad review of the significant activity of Vatican media on this theme, although this goes beyond the commitments assumed through adherence to the Convention, inasmuch as this is limited to SCV territory.
Readers of the Report presented by the Holy See in December 2012 (which is public) will immediately notice that in various important points reference is made to the current revision of the criminal legislation of Vatican City State. In the meantime this review has been completed with the new laws promulgated on 11 July 2013, which entered into force on 1 September of the same year (Laws VIII and IX), and which effectively ensure that the Vatican’s criminal law and criminal procedure legislation is in accordance with the Convention.
As was fully explained at the time (cf. Press Office Communiqué, 11.7.2013; comment by Archbishop D. Mamberti in the Osservatore Romano, 12.7.2013), the review was broad-ranging and profound, and adapted Vatican legislation to the requirements of the various international Conventions to which the Holy See had adhered throughout the years: not only against torture, but also against criminality in the fields of economics and finance, against racial discrimination, and on the rights of the child.
The progress made in adapting to the requirements of the Convention in the legislative domain was therefore very significant.
At the same time, during the dialogue with the State Parties, not infrequently the Committees pose questions deriving from issues not strictly linked to the text of the Convention, but rather connected to it indirectly or based on an extensive interpretation. For instance, this occurred last January during the dialogue with the Committee for the Convention on the rights of the child. A contributory factor is often the pressure exercised over the Committees and public opinion by NGOs with a strong ideological character and orientation, to bring the issue of the sexual abuse of minors into the discussion on torture, a matter which relates instead to the Convention on the rights of the child. The extent to which this is instrumental and forced is clear to any unbiased observer.
It should also be noted that the experts who form the Committees are mostly committed with great determination and merit to the causes of the promotion of rights, and therefore tend to broaden the spaces for and forms of defence. However, this must necessarily be balanced with the correct rules for legal interpretation, so that the debate, in a pluralistic, multicultural and international world, may take place in a constructive fashion, favouring the growth of consensus in the international community for the effective protection of essential values for the dignity of the person.
It is therefore to be hoped that a serene and objective dialogue may take place, pertinent to the text of the Conventions and their objectives. Otherwise, the Conventions may be distorted and the Committees risk losing authority and being reduced to tools of ideological pressure rather than a necessary stimulus towards the desired progress in promoting respect for human rights.
This is our sincere hope in view of the forthcoming dialogue on 5 and 6 May in Geneva, and we once again emphasise the Holy See’s strong commitment against any form of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.