UN Committee on Rights of the Child Belies Pope’s Vision of UN Global Governance
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
On July 7, the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical. Entitled Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), the document calls for the pursuit of a development agenda to be achieved through a centralized global authority, specifically a reformed United Nations. In calling for a globally governed “political, juridical and economic order,” however, the Pope is placing trust in the questionable ability of the UN to develop and implement public policy while respecting individual liberty and national sovereignty.
Throughout the encyclical, the Pope is concerned with promoting human development. This entails ensuring that all people are free from hunger, disease, poverty and oppression. The Pope envisions a world where access to food and water is universal; workers’ rights are fully protected; economic activity works for the common good; businesses conduct themselves in a socially responsible manner; the environment is cared for; and cooperation and peace between all people are a reality. In order to achieve these goals, the Pope calls for the establishment of a reformed United Nations system with “real teeth.” He proposes an international political authority that is “universally recognized” and is “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.”
Although some interpret the encyclical as giving the UN unconditional authority to globally govern in areas such as financial regulation, corporate social responsibility, and the interpretation and implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, it should be noted that the Pope places an important qualification on his call for a “true world political authority.” The Pope would have such a system of global governance be structured around the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. In essence, he envisions a United Nations system that is motivated by a moral obligation to “securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.”
The Pope’s proposal for the United Nations to be restructured into an ethically motivated global authority is a challenging one. It is doubtful that the UN will respect the right of local, state and national communities to pursue an international development agenda in accordance with their own laws and competencies. Indeed, the UN’s propensity to centralize authority and decision-making can be seen in the latest General Comment published by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the “Committee”). In this General Comment, the Committee, whose mandate is to interpret and ensure implementation of the articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child , discusses the right of the child to be heard (Article 12 of the Convention).
Contrary to the Pope’s vision, the General Comment exhibits an obvious lack of subsidiarity in its interpretation of Article 12. Specific recommendations within the publication shift the responsibility of child rearing away from the most decentralized caregivers (i.e., parents) and effectively position the State as the ultimate authority in the “proper” raising of children. According to the Committee, States should assume that children can form and express their own opinions, and these opinions should be given full consideration, regardless of the child’s apparent decision-making capacity. Further, the Committee discourages States from setting age limits on the right of the child to express his or her views. Rather, this right is dependent on the vaguely defined “maturity” of the child.
According to the document, at the stage of maturity, parents and other responsible adults can no longer authoritatively decide what is best for their child in a specific situation. The child’s preferences must also be given substantial weight in the decision-making process. In order to ensure this, the Committee recommends the creation of State ombudsmen or children’s rights commissioners with whom a child can consult in the event his or her opinions are not being given adequate consideration. The State would then have the authority to determine what is in the best interest of the child.
The General Comment demonstrates the danger inherent in relying on the United Nations to implement a morally based world order. It is unrealistic to assume that a secular institution would be able to achieve the global governance system bounded by the principles of subsidiarity and “charity in truth” that the Vatican envisions. Rather, it is more likely that such a system will result in the loss of national sovereignty and individual liberty.
Jim Kelly is the President of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., a public interest civil and human rights law firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed herein are his own.