Catholic World News

Holy See: International Criminal Court should recognize subsidiarity, just wars

June 07, 2010

Diplomats from around the world are meeting in Kampala, Uganda, to review the Rome Statute, which was drafted in 1998 and created the International Criminal Court to punish crimes against humanity. While 111 nations have ratified the treaty, several of the world’s most powerful nations-- including the United States, China, Russia, India, and Israel-- have not. President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 2000, though it was never ratified by the US Senate; President George Bush rescinded the signature in 2002.

Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, apostolic nuncio to Kenya, is representing the Holy See at the Kampala meeting. In a statement made on June 1 and released by the Holy See Press Office on June 5, Archbishop Lebeaupin praised the Rome Statute as a manifestation of the concept of ius gentium (the law of nations), a Roman legal concept linked closely to the natural law, discussed by St. Thomas Aquinas, and cited by Ven. Pius XII, Blessed John XXIII, Ven. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.

“Twelve years ago delegates went to Rome to undertake the goal of creating a new international legal structure which sought to ensure that gross violations of human rights would no longer be tolerated by the international community and that those responsible for perpetuating such violations would be held accountable for their actions,” the archbishop said. “Now, we come to Kampala to measure the effectiveness of these efforts and to continue to improve judicial systems to ensure that true justice is available to everyone in all corners of the globe … The promise of the Rome Statute ultimately lies in its ability to further refine the law of nations (ius gentium) in which universally recognized norms are superior to the laws of States and which requires accountability to the entire global community. However for this promise to bear fruit, States must continue to work to build trust between and amongst one another.”

After citing the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on justice and its various forms (commutative, distributive, legal, and social), Archbishop Lebeaupin said that “peace and justice are not in contradiction with one another but rather justice is a foundation for peace and just laws provide the means for fostering greater justice. In this context, justice must not be limited merely to the realm of ‘legal justice’ but must also address the need for commutative, distributive and social justice.” The prelate also emphasized that in order for the Rome Statute to bear greater fruit, the International Criminal Court would have to take the principle of subsidiarity into greater consideration:

However for this promise to bear fruit, States must continue to work to build trust between and amongst one another. Failure to build this trust ultimately will give rise to selective justice or retribution. To build this trust, States must respect the norm that agreements must be kept (pacta sunt servanda) as failure to fulfill commitments leads to greater mistrust between States by escalating blame and friction, ultimately undermining global peace and security.

Further, respect for the principle of subsidiarity allows States and communities to take action with accountability and provides for victims and affected communities participating in the judicial process for the sake of addressing the harm caused by gross violations of human rights, which fosters restoration and broader long-term peace. In this forum, this notion is addressed under the concept of complementarity, which recognizes that local national systems must be the primary source for holding individuals accountable. In so doing, we recognize that subsidiarity helps to restore local communities but also fosters trust between States as national governments retain the responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable.

Turning to a major concern of the conference-- which would amend the Rome Statute so as to recognize the “crime of aggression”-- Archbishop Lebeaupin urged the other diplomats to distinguish between unjust wars of aggression and just wars of self-defense and cautioned against majoritarianism:

In discussing this amendment it is imperative that efforts be made to balance the prevention of wars of aggression with the rights of nations to legitimate self-defense. This balance can only be achieved if the outcome of these discussions is an amendment which truly reflects the concerns and thoughts of the entire international community and which promotes the pursuit of justice rather than retribution. Efforts to create jurisdiction mechanisms that are governed by the political vote of majorities would replace military might with political might and would ultimately serve to harm trust between nations and undermine long-term peace and the long-term viability of multi-lateral legal bodies. Thus, these discussions must weigh these urgent concerns and make sure that these discussions are not motivated by a desire to seek greater political or military influence but rather by a genuine desire to promote a justice which protects human rights and fosters greater trust between nations.

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