INTERVENTION BY THE HOLY SEE
AT THE 29th SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
STATEMENT BY H.E.
ARCHBISHOP SILVANO M. TOMASI
PERMANENT OBSERVER OF THE HOLY SEE TO THE UNITED NATIONS
AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN GENEVA*
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The Holy See is grateful to the Human Rights Council for devoting a special
panel of this 29th Session to discuss the effects of terrorism on the enjoyment
of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In particular, we acknowledge the
thorough and enlightening report of the Special Rapporteur. Terrorism is a
terrible reality that is affecting all parts of the globe, destroying countless
lives, threatening societies and annihilating cultures and their histories.
Sadly, one must admit that the international community has not always been
effective in preventing and curbing terrorism, especially in the Middle East and
different parts of Africa. Since 2000, the world has witnessed a staggering 500%
increase in the number of victims of terrorists attacks. In particular, the past
two years have seen a startling increase in the body count of innocent victims
at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram groups, among many others. In 2013, for
example, 82% of those victims were killed in just five countries: Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. While considering the negative effects
of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, we
should also be clear in our reasoning that these effects will continue, and
indeed will become worse, if the causes of terrorism are not clearly and swiftly
addressed by the national States concerned and the international community.
The Holy See Delegation would like to denounce most especially terrorist acts
carried out in the name of religion. As Pope Francis states, “Religious
fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating
horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological
pretext.” Terrorism is a political means to influence behavior and to reach
objectives through fear. Acts of terrorism cause the destruction of human rights,
political freedoms and the rule of law. Terrorism is the antithesis of the
shared values and commitments which serve as the basis for peaceful coexistence
domestically and internationally. Indeed, with the proliferation of terrorism
and the impunity which its proponents enjoy, we can say that there is also a
“globalization of terrorism”. Developing from “a subversive strategy typical of
certain extremist organizations, aimed at the destruction of material goods or
the killing of people, terrorism has now become a shadowy network of political
collusion,” in which antagonistic political powers are tempted to play a role
by supplying resources of modern technology, advanced weaponry and financing to
these terrorist organizations. A situation is thus created where the positive
political will of the major players is required in order to address and resolve
the problem of global terrorism and its disastrous effects.
The tragic humanitarian and social effects of terrorism are already well
known. In the first place, the gravest violation is complete contempt for
innocent human life, the basic right upon which all other human rights are
founded. “As such, there is an obligation on the part of the State to protect
the right to life of every person within its territory and no derogation from
this right is permitted, even in times of public emergency.” Since terrorism
does not recognize the dignity of its victims, there remains no other basis or
logic by which the other fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person
will be respected. As such, we see a sort of “domino effect”, namely, once you
deny a person his/her right to life, you abuse other fundamental rights,
including the right to freedom of belief and worship, the right to expression
and freedom of conscience, the right to education and the right to be treated
with equal dignity as any other citizen of a nation, despite difference in
religion, social and economic status, language or ethnicity.
Due to the violence of new forms of terrorism and the breach of international
humanitarian law, the international community faces the challenge of responding
to the influx of refugees fleeing these troubled areas to find a safe haven.
Those receiving countries must not only be lauded for their willingness to
provide protection, but they too need the assistance of the international
community to deal with the humanitarian crisis so as to avoid the eruption of
further problems on their own soil. Terrorism also facilitates trafficking of
persons and weapons, thus creating a black market for human commerce. Where
terrorism has effectively taken hold, irreparable social and cultural damage has
been done that will resonate through future generations. By destroying the
infrastructure of cities and regions, especially by attacking government
buildings, schools and religious institutions, terrorism literally brings a
society to its knees. In addition the demolition of cultural and ancient sites
by terrorists threatens to annihilate the history of cultures and populations.
Such destruction creates the breeding grounds for more violent extremism, thus
continuing the vicious circle of violence propagating further violence.
Apart from the devastating social and humanitarian effects which, in reality,
are much more immediate and concrete, the ongoing negative political effects of
terrorism will continue to resonate, in many ways in an unforeseeable manner for
generations yet to come. The political impact of terrorism is multifaceted and
the parties occultly facilitating or supporting, financially or otherwise,
terrorist activity for ulterior political agendas are not always so clearly
identified. Nevertheless, it can hardly be doubted that terrorism has political
effects and influences the political process, at least in democratic and
partially democratic states. In addition to creating an environment of political
instability for the countries and regions which suffer the most from terrorism,
the political effect on a global level continues to grow. Governments throughout
the world, in some cases using terrorism as an excuse, are preoccupied with
national security and counterterrorism efforts, some of which also infringe upon
the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This shows that the
political instability and fragmentation caused by terrorism creates an equal and
opposite reaction with serious political consequences. In this sense,
collaborative effort on the part of the international community is all the more
necessary. Efforts to reach a mutual approach to fighting terrorism must always
give priority to the victims of terrorism; financial, political or ideological
motives should never take precedence over coming to a unified vision as to how
the plague of terrorism should be combatted.
The most obvious way in which terrorism can influence the political process
is by bringing about changes in public opinion, which Governments then tend to
take into account when formulating their policies. It can be very hard for
Governments to resist the pressure from public opinion for a strong reaction in
the wake of a terrorist attack. The impact of terrorism on public opinion,
however, is not as straightforward or predictable as one might imagine. There is
no uniform public response to a terrorist attack. Nor do terrorist attacks
necessarily change people’s political opinions. The greater people’s confidence
in their own values, the less likely they are to change as a result of a major
event, like a terrorist attack. Finally, the role and the power of media in
forming and informing public opinion when addressing terroristic events are of
the utmost importance.
The Holy See is deeply convinced that terrorism, especially those forms that
derive from religious extremism, must be confronted with concerted political
efforts by all players, especially by all the local and regional parties
involved, as well as by the major international players, whose role is
indispensable in negotiating and finding a viable solution, diplomatic or
otherwise, to protect life and the future stability of the regions touched by
terrorism. The response to terrorism cannot be merely by way of military action.
Political participation, fair and just legal systems, and cutting all forms of
public and private support for terrorism are means not only to respond, but also
to prevent, terrorism. It is also important to remember the positive obligation
that States have to undertake in order to protect their citizens and, where that
is not possible, to collaborate with other regional authorities in order to
address the threats posed by terrorist groups.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 Cfr., Global Report on Terrorism for 2013.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited
to the Holy See, 12 Jan. 2015.
 Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, n. 513.
 OHCHR, “Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism”, Fact Sheet No.
32, p. 8.