Friday, 23 May 2014

Holy See and UN Convention on Torture

It is reported that the UN Committee against torture is to issue a report criticising the Holy See regarding how it has dealt with allegations of sex abuse by Priests and others throughout the world.  Whilst I am in no way acting as an apologist for child abuse I am concerned at the fact that the Committee is issuing this report which seems to me to go way beyond its legitimate role and the wording of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Holy See has two separate though closely linked international legal identities.  It is the spiritual head of the Catholic Church throughout the world and is also the Government of the physical territory of the Vatican State.  The only territory which  can be described as a "territory under its [the Holy Sees]  jurisdiction" is the physical territory of the Vatican State and also Papal Nunciatures which have the status of Embassies in those countries which have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.  All other Catholic religious organisations, Dioceses, Churches etc fall under the legal jurisdiction of the various Countries in which they are situated.

This distinction is important for the purpose of the Convention Article 2.1 of which says (my emphasis)
"Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction."

The phrase "in any territory under its jurisdiction" is repeated in Articles, 5, 11, 12, 13, 16 of the Convention and "territory" appears in Articles 6, 7, 20 .  Therefore under the Convention as it is worded the Holy See should only be answerable for any alleged infringements of the Convention committed within the territory of the Vatican State not and not for alleged breaches committed, whether by Catholic Priests or others, in the territory of other signatory states.  The Committee, which is established under Articles 17 - 20 of  the Convention,  therefore appears to be acting way beyond its remit and the remit of the Convention itself.

Furthermore there is a real question mark as to whether child abuse, however horrible, can properly be construed as "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." as defined in the Convention.

Article 1.1 of the Convention defines Torture as follows (my emphasis)
"For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

whilst Article 16.1 adds (my emphasis)
"Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

Child abuse for the personal sexual abuse of the individual does not fall within the definitions in either Articles 1 or 16 and in addition Priests etc are not "public officials acting in an official capacity" therefore once again the alleged acts fall far short of the criteria of the Convention and the lawful remit of the Committee,

I appreciate that this Blog can be, and undoubtedly will be, criticised as "legalistic" but all I am saying is that the law, in this case, an international Convention, should mean what it says and should not be hijacked or distorted to make it become something it clearly is not and was never intended to be.

The Catholic Church can be and should be criticised for mishandling of Child Abuse but not by this Committee claiming to be acting in the name of and under the authority of this Convention

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