The UN Committee Against Torture began its questioning of the Holy See Monday morning in Geneva. So far, the questions have focused on a number of controversial topics including the sexual abuse of minors and Catholic opposition to abortion, both considered forms of torture by committee members.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Holy See representative to the UN in Geneva, insisted repeatedly to committee members that the Holy See signed the UN Convention Against Torture as the Vatican City State, 100 acres of sovereign territory in the heart of Rome. The committee members seemed to reject this assertion and instead questioned Tomasi about incidents not within the Vatican City State but around the world.
Though abortion is not mentioned in the convention under review, and neither are contraception, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex abuse of minors, in recent years UN treaty monitoring bodies have begun ranging far beyond what is contained in the legally binding treaties they are supposed to monitor.
Earlier this year the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child told the Holy See the Church should change its teaching on abortion, marriage, adolescent sexuality, and homosexuality.
The convention against torture defines torture as any act using “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” intentionally inflicted to gain information, punish, intimidate, or coerce. Some will wonder how opposition to abortion can be considered torture.
Much of the work of such committees is informed by non-government organizations including such influential groups as the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which questions the right of the Holy See to have membership in the UN General Assembly and has issued what’s called a “shadow report” in advance of the Holy See’s questioning.
In its “shadow report”, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) told the committee, “The Holy See’s canon law concerning abortion, specific actions taken to shame and condemn women who have undergone and doctors who have performed abortions, and interference in state efforts to permit abortion and prevent torture and ill-treatment, violate the Holy See’s obligations under Articles 1, 2 and 16.”
The CRR report charges the Holy See with torture for “excommunicating women who have undergone and doctors who have performed abortions.” The report also says the Holy See has violated international law by opposing the use of contraception.
It is expected the committee will issue a final report largely sympathetic with the Center for Reproductive Rights. The committee has already told several other countries they are in violation of the treaty for restricting abortion including Ireland, Poland, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, and many committee members are outspoken in their support for abortion rights.
Felice Gaer, Vice-Chairman of the committee, told a 2011 meeting sponsored by the Soros Foundation and the Center for Reproductive Rights that Chile was in violation of the treaty for requiring women seeking treatment for a botched abortion to reveal the name of the abortionist.
Claudio Grossman, Chairman of the committee, organized a conference to promote the reproductive rights agenda related to the UN Conference on Population and Development.
The committee on torture will issue its final Holy See report in the coming weeks.