Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy See to appear before Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Holy See appears tomorrow (Thursday, January 16th) before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to defend its record of human rights protection toward children. High on the agenda will be what more the Vatican can and should do to protect against child abuse by priests in the Catholic Church worldwide.

The Holy See ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. It is 14 years overdue in filing this Second Periodic Report which has now been scheduled for a hearing on Thursday at the UN offices in Geneva.  The hearing will be webcast, available live and by archived recording.

The interaction between the expert members of the Committee and the delegation from the Holy See should be interesting to watch.  The government takes the position that it is a sovereign subject of international law, independent of any territorial authority or jurisdiction.  It is separate and distinct from the territory of the Vatican City State.  They claim that "colloquial references to the Holy See as the 'Vatican' are incorrect and misleading." (Holy See reply to List of Issues, CRC/C/VAT/Q/Add.1, 6 December 2013, p.4, paragraph 7).

In an NGO response from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the organisation SNAP, they argue:

"We note that the Holy See's response goes to great length to confine its obligations and liabilities under the Convention to the territory of Vatican City State, where it acknowledges citizenship and/or residence of 31 children. The Holy See seeks to redirect responsibility for widespread and systemic violations of the Convention and OPSC [Optional Protocol on the sale/pornography of children] occurring in other sovereign territories that were committed, abetted, facilitated or covered up by Catholic officials acting under its authority to other States.

In doing so the Holy See overlooks a critical feature of international law and the extraterritorial obligations of states to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. ...

This representation by the Holy See is particularly disingenuous in light of the all-too-numerous accounts of efforts by bishops, archbishops, cardinals and other Church officials around the world to cover up these crimes and subvert the course of justice in other States, further compounding the harm to victims. Not only have Church officials not cooperated fully in investigations and prosecutions, they have been found to have worked in many cases to ensure that the legal process in other States could not work as intended, i.e., to protect rights, ..."  (Supplemental Submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Advance of its Review of the Holy See During its 65th Session, December 2013)

The discussion between the Committee and the delegation from the Holy See should be significant. After tomorrow's session the Committee will take the matter into closed session for further discussion.  They will issue concluding observations and recommendations at the end of the session, January 31st (update: probably released to the public February 5th).  The delegation will then be asked to implement and respond to the recommendations.

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