Archbishop Tomasi’s speech to UN committee against torture

ARCHBISHOP TOMASI, VATICAN OBSERVER AT UNITED NATIONS IN GENEVA, SPEAKS AT MIGRATION CONFERENCE IN ROMEThe following remarks were made today (Monday) by the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, presenting the Initial Periodic Report of the Holy See to the U.N.’s Committee on the Convention against Torture. The Holy See ratified the treaty in 2002. (For background see CV Comment here, plus news reports: Reuters, Guardian, NY Times. Also John Allen interview with Tomasi here.)


Mr. Chairperson, Members of the Committee:

Allow me, first of all, to extend cordial greetings to all the members of the Committee on the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In the presentation of the Initial Report of the Holy See, I wish to introduce the members of our Delegation present for this interactive dialogue. With me this morning are Monsignor Christophe El-Kassis and Professor Vincenzo Buonomo, of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, and Monsignor Richard Gyhra, Secretary of the Holy See Mission.

The Holy See acceded to the Convention against Torture (CAT) on June 22, 2002. It did so with the very clear and direct intention that this Convention applied to Vatican City State (VCS). In its capacity as the sovereign of Vatican City State, the Holy See provided an important “Interpretative Declaration” that shows its approach to the CAT. Such Declaration underlines the motives for accession to the Convention and expresses the moral support given to it, namely the defense of the human person as already indicated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For the Holy See, the Interpretative Declaration provides a necessary hermeneutic to understand the motives for acceding to the Convention and also for considering the implementation of the Convention by the legal order of Vatican City State which is the very exercise we are engaging in at this moment in the consideration of the Initial Report of the Holy See to the CAT.

In this sense, my Delegation deems it worthwhile to reiterate several of the more salient points of the Interpretative Declaration so as to properly frame the consideration and discussions of the Initial Report of the Holy See. 

In the first place, the Interpretative Declaration lauds the Convention as a worthy instrument for the defense against acts of torture when it says: “The Holy See considers the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment a valid and suitable instrument for fighting against acts that constitute a serious offence against the dignity of the human person.” In this sense indeed, the Holy See wished to express the harmony of its own principles and vision of the human person with those ideals and practices set forth in the Convention against Torture.

Second, the Declaration elaborates more precisely the Holy See’s position, in which the teaching of the Catholic Church clearly articulates its opposition to acts of violence and torture. 
Third, although the Convention applies to Vatican City State, the Holy See adds a crucial moral voice in its support through its teaching and through the following statement: “In this spirit the Holy See wishes to lend its moral support and collaboration to the international community, so as to contribute to the elimination of recourse to torture, which is inadmissible and inhuman.” 

Finally, and not of least importance, the Interpretative Declaration insists that “The Holy See, in becoming a party to the Convention on behalf of the Vatican City State, undertakes to apply it insofar as it is compatible, in practice, with the peculiar nature of that State.” As such, in regard to the application of the Convention and any examination, questions or criticisms, or implementation thereof, the Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican City State, respecting the international sovereignty of this State and the legitimate and specific authority of the Convention and of the Committee competent to examine State reports. Hence, my Delegation judges it useful to present, briefly yet clearly, the essential distinctions between Vatican City State and Holy See, as described in the Initial Report.

The Holy See, as member of the international Community, is related but separate and distinct from the territory of Vatican City State, over which it exercises sovereignty. Its international personality has never been confused with the territories over which it has exercised State sovereignty. In its present form, Vatican City State was established in 1929 to more effectively guarantee the spiritual and moral mission of the Holy See. Therefore, colloquial references to the Holy See as the “Vatican” can be misleading. In this sense, the Holy See, as mentioned, globally encourages basic principles and authentic human rights recognized in the CAT, while implementing it within the territory of Vatican City State in harmony with the Interpretative Declaration.

Having presented some of the essential points that should guide and assist our discussion, I now wish to give an overview of the Holy See’s Initial Report.

The Initial Report of the Holy See, submitted to this Committee in December 2012, is divided into four parts: 1) Introduction, 2) General Information, 3) The Convention against Torture, and 4) Affirmation of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the teachings and activities of the Holy See. Since much of the content of the Introduction has been already mentioned, as this provides a necessary guide to understanding the approach and perspective of the Holy See regarding the Convention, I shall proceed to the second part on “General Information”.

Apart from presenting the essential distinctions and relations between the Holy See, Vatican City State and the Catholic Church, I wish to highlight several important elements presented within the section of “General Information”. In particular, the first point of reference is the legal system of Vatican City State, that is autonomous in respect to the legal system of the Catholic Church. In fact, not all canonical norms are relevant for the governance of this territory. In relation to the topic of crime and punishment there are specific laws that criminalize illicit activities and provide for proportionate penalties in Vatican City State. The necessity of a penitentiary system, in this small territory, is minimal, especially considering certain aspects of the Lateran Treaty (Article 22) which afford this territory the option of utilizing the judicial assistance of the Italian State if deemed necessary.

As noted in the section on Statistics, the small population of Vatican City State, while receiving roughly 18 million pilgrims and tourists annually, has a relatively tiny number of criminal and penal matters registered. It is also worth mentioning that the message of the various media services of the Holy See, disseminated in the major languages, reaches a truly international audience that makes it arguably one of the most effective moral voices in the world for human rights, including the position against torture and other cruel and inhuman punishments. 

Turning now to the third part of the Initial Report, which addresses systematically each of the sixteen substantive articles of the CAT, my Delegation wishes to highlight several significant steps and improvements in Vatican City State to comply with the Convention, even since the consigning of the Initial Report in December 2012. In the first place, there is the modification of Vatican City State legislation with the promulgation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter on July 11, 2013, “On the Jurisdiction of Judicial Authorities of Vatican City State in Criminal Matters”, particularly article 3, of Law N. VIII, which deals specifically with the Crime of Torture. While the implementation of this basic law into the criminal and penal law of Vatican City State in some fashion touches upon different articles of the Convention, it is worth mentioning a few directly.

In relation to Article 1 of the Convention, the new Vatican City State legislation integrates, practically verbatim, the definition of torture and cruel and inhuman punishment as supplied therein and, therefore, de facto, fulfills Article 4 of the Convention by its integration into the penal code and the establishment of appropriate penalties for such offences. Paragraph 6 of the same article 3 of the amended Law VIII effectively restates article 15 of the Convention, prohibiting the use of any statement made as a result of torture to be considered as evidence.

Also modified in July 2013, the amendments of Law IX address with greater specificity and clarity the questions of crimes, whether within or outside the territory of the State, of jurisdiction, of extradition, and of terms of sentencing. The procedural and legislative changes seek to implement the principles contained in the Convention against Torture under articles 3, 5, and 8. In particular, one should note the development on the question of extradition and also the denial thereof on the part of the Holy See if the requesting State practices torture or uses capital punishment.

To summarize, the third part of the Holy See Report must be viewed through the updates offered by the recent modifications to the procedures and legislation of Vatican City State which are a significant improvement from previous legislation and enhance positively the contents of the Initial Report. In fact, my Delegation views this new legislation as a direct result of the Holy See’s adhesion to the CAT. Therefore, I am sure the Committee will consider these new laws in the ensuing discussion and the eventual Concluding Observations.

The fourth part of the Initial Report, regarding the “Affirmation of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the teachings and activities of the Holy See”, references the wide-array of documents, proclamations, publications, radio and television programs by which the Holy See actively addresses not only followers of the Catholic Faith, but also the international Community and all people of good will. 

In this way, the moral voice of the Holy See, while promoting and defending all authentic human rights, reaches the members of the Catholic Church in an attempt to foster an interior conversion of hearts to love God and one’s neighbor. This love, in turn, should overflow into good practices at the local level in accordance with the laws of States.

It should be stressed, particularly in light of much confusion, that the Holy See has no jurisdiction – as that term is understood also under article 2.1 of the Convention – over every member of the Catholic Church. The Holy See wishes to reiterate that the persons who live in a particular country are under the jurisdiction of the legitimate authorities of that country and are thus subject to the domestic law and the consequences contained therein. State authorities are obligated to protect, and when necessary, prosecute persons under their jurisdiction. The Holy See exercises the same authority upon those who live in Vatican City State in accordance with its laws. Hence, the Holy See, in respecting the principles of autonomy and sovereignty of States, insists that the State authority, which has legitimate competency, act as the responsible agent of justice in regard to crimes and abuses committed by persons under their jurisdiction.

My Delegation wishes to emphasize that this includes not only acts of torture and other acts of cruel and inhuman punishments, but also all other acts considered as crimes committed by any individual who, notwithstanding affiliation with a Catholic institution, is subject to a particular State authority. The obligation and responsibility of promoting justice in these cases resides with the competent domestic jurisdiction.

To recapitulate this fourth part of the Report, it might be said that the measures employed by the Holy See to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent and to prohibit torture and to address its root causes to avoid future acts in this area are abundant. This manifests the Holy See’s desire “to lend its moral support and collaboration to the international Community, so as to contribute to the elimination of recourse to torture, which is inadmissible and inhuman.”
In line with above considerations, the Holy See assures this Committee of its continued implementation and promotion of the Convention against Torture. An analysis of the Concluding Observations offered in the reviews of other Member States suggests that an evolution in the interpretation of this document may raise some questions on the part of the States Parties. As Party to the CAT, the Holy See wishes, that in the application of the Convention to all appropriate new situations, all should remain within its specific area of concern that the CAT outlines. 

My Delegation believes that the Holy See has fulfilled in good faith the obligations assumed under CAT, since it has integrated its values and principles into the legislation of Vatican City State according to the particular and unique nature of this State. In conclusion, allow me to underscore the singular role the Holy See has played, and will continue to play, in advocating on a global level the values and all human rights that safeguard the dignity of every person and which are a necessary component for friendly relations among peoples and peace in the world.


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