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from issue no. 10 - 2004

Remembering dom Hélder Câmara

«Hope, great interest and the will to make its own contribution» characterize the position of the Holy See in the debate about the reform of the United Nations. It is not something new, but nevertheless on 4 October the permanent observer to the United Nations, Monsignor Celestino Migliore, wished to confirm it at the General Assembly, encouraged by the speech already made on 29 September by the Secretary for Relations with States, Monsignor Giovanni Lajolo (the first after a resolution of 1 July last had finally formalized and defined the status which the Holy See has enjoyed at the UN since 1964).
On the subject of the reform of the UN the Holy See therefore requested an «effective multilateralism», pointing out that institutional engineering is not enough unless one keeps firmly in mind what values the United Nations was founded on, in a cooperative system that lives on «will, confidence and the fulfillment of tasks undertaken», and at whose basis there is the understanding that «all States are by nature of equal dignity»: which means that those who have more are also responsible for those who have less. What, according to the Holy See, are the “essential criteria” for the reform of the UN? As regards the structures, it is fundamental that they guarantee the representation and the participation of as many agents as possible; as far as procedures are concerned, they must be based on impartiality, efficiency and efficacy; finally, the results must always be capable of being justified and answer to the expectations of the member States.
The most significant passage in the Vatican representative’s speech dealt with the legitimacy of the decisions of the United Nations, including, something very important, the Security Council. That legitimacy rests on two bases: the degree and the sphere of representation and the process of decision, in which the greatest possible consensus should be sought. So the Security Council should be reformed according to the essential criteria of a representative majority of the world’s people and geopolitical regions, of different levels of economic development and of the different models of civilization. And should it be wished to add other criteria to these, they should, according to the Holy See, lead in any case to facilitating the entry of new actors – read emerging countries – to the control room. Finally, more connections with civil society are certainly necessary at the UN: this would make it easier to operate in the international community according to a principle of subsidarity.
To further amplify the contents of what the Holy See proposes at the multilateral level it is worth going over again what Monsignor Lajolo said in the above mentioned speech.
First of all, the subject of poverty and development must be given prime importance in UN commitments, the «millions of human beings who survive», in so far as they can, «below the threshold of subsistence» and the «tens of millions of children undernourished and unjustly deprived of their right to live». This means a more flexible and just international trading system, a finance market that encourages development and overcoming of foreign debt, as well as the sharing of the results of scientific research. In the second place the Vatican foreign minister mentioned the need to turn again to the subject of total and general disarmament, in the awareness that this involves a course of action as always «hindered by gigantic economic interests».
With regard to armed regional conflicts, the Holy See significantly places at the head of the list the Israeli-Palestinian one (with the invitation to resume the “Road map”), followed by the Iraqi one, which « had not led to a safer world either inside or outside Iraq». However the Holy See «maintains that now the current government must be backed in its effort to restore the country to normal living conditions». Concerning the African crises, the confidence that many of them (Sudan, Somalia, Great Lakes, Ivory Coast etc.) can be resolved with the help of the African Union is to be kept in view. Only afterwards did the head of Vatican diplomacy address the problem of terrorism in two clear declarations: no to the principle of unilateralism, yes to long term action that faces up to the «many and complex causes» of terrorism. He then focused on the reaffirmation of religious freedom, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the right of everyone to life, touching here on the question of human cloning, which the Holy See asks to be regulated by a specific convention which sanctions its prohibition.
The more complex part of Monsignor Lajolo’s speech came when, repeating the wish expressed by John Paul II on the last day of World Peace, he called for «a superior degree of international order» in which the UN, having reached the «stage of moral center», should have such prerogatives as would facilitate «humanitarian intervention» if such were necessary.
If this last position of the Holy See may not be shared by all the member States, it would be harder for them to distance themselves from what the Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano said at the United Nations on 20 September – during the Action against hunger and poverty initiative promoted by Brazil – quoting, in the presence of President Lula, «the ever relevant words of a great bishop of your country, Mister President, the late lamented Monsignor Hélder Câmara, who said: “The poor have barely the indispensable for life, but the bereft don’t even have the indispensable”».

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