Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Holy See and the Committee Against Torture

We reported on the Committee Against Torture (CAT) 52nd periodic review in Geneva last week.
It has come to our attention that the Solidarity Center for Law and Justice submitted a shadow report to the Committee (SCLJ) and consequently were permitted to attend the hearings.

Jim Kelly of SCLJ reports as follows
In my opinion, the Holy See delegation did an excellent job presenting its report and providing to the Committee a great deal of information detailing the steps the Vatican has taken;
1)   to investigate allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests,
2)   to take appropriate actions against those who the Vatican determined to have engaged in such conduct,
3)   to compensate victims,
4)   to institute laws and safeguards at the Vatican City State to prevent such conduct, and to encourage national bishops' conferences to do likewise.
Unsurprisingly, during Tuesday's session, Felice Gaer, a longstanding member of the Committee who is serving as one of two co-rapporteurs responsible for drafting the Committee's final report on the Holy See, engaged Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the leader of the Holy See's delegation, in a line of questioning that was designed to secure an admission by the Holy See that it considers rape or sexual abuse by private non-state actors to be torture under Article 1 of the Convention. Though Archbishop Tomasi did not make such an admission, after the conclusion of Tuesday's Committee session on the Holy See report, Ms. Gaer stated to the media that she considered his response to be a clear admission by the Holy See that sexual violence can be a form of torture.

Ms. Gaer's conduct evidenced the very due process and rule of law violations that, in its shadow report, Solidarity Center urged the Committee against Torture to avoid. As a result, yesterday, Solidarity Center for Law and Justice filed with the Committee the attached Addendum to its shadow report.

This afternoon (Geneva time), in his capacity as Permanent Observer of Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Tomasi sent the attached letter to Claudio Grossman, Chairman of the Committee against Torture, in which he expresses his concern about Ms. Gaer's conduct.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, the Holy See sent the attached Communique to the Press in which Archbishop Tomasi confirms that he did not make the statement attributed to him by Ms. Gaer in the media. Also, by providing a transcript of the actual statements made by Archbishop Tomasi during Tuesday's hearing, the  Communique evidences the degree to which Ms. Gaer's statement to the media completely misrepresented his remarks.

 There is a more thorough statement by Archbishop Tomasi on his impressions relating to the Committee's public review of the Holy See's report on this link.

If, through Ms. Gaer's efforts, the Committee against Torture is successful in unilaterally (without State party approval) amending the Convention through its State party reporting process (in violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties), then rape will be treated as torture under the Convention. Thereafter, any State party (including the Holy See) that limits the ability of the victims of rape to secure abortions could be determined to be denying torture victims access to the health services they desire. Also, the reclassification of rape to torture could expose the Catholic Church to liability for claims arising from the sexual abuse of children by priests in cases aged well beyond the normal statute of limitations for bringing such claims.

In any case, unless Chairman Grossman immediately takes the steps necessary to ensure that the Committee's review of the Holy See's initial report respects due process and the rule of law, including the removal of Ms. Gaer as a participant in that review, the Holy See could be subjected to a very unfair result and classification as a "torturer" by opponents of the Church and the global media.  
Jim Kelly President Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C.
Five Concourse Parkway Suite 200 Atlanta, Georgia 30328