In London last Friday, a high ranking United Nations (UN) jurist called on the British government to detain Pope Benedict XVI during his upcoming visit to Britain, and send him to trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “crimes against humanity.”
Geoffrey Robertson touted his status as a UN judge in an article he published last week claiming that jurists should invoke the same procedures that have been used to indict war criminals such as Slobodan Milosevic. To try the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church who is ultimately responsible for sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
Robertson is one of five select jurists in the UN’s internal justice system responsible for holding UN officials accountable for corruption and mismanagement. His article was published in both the United States and Britain and reported on by the Associated Press.
Professor Hurst Hannum of the Fletcher School at Tufts University told the Friday Fax that it would be a “real stretch” to use the ICC since that court’s jurisdiction is mainly reserved for crimes during war. More likely, Hannum said, is that Robertson and likeminded experts would invoke the principle of “universal jurisdiction” so that national courts all over the world could detain the pope whenever he stepped foot on their soil. Critics say the principle, already used in practice, is a violation of sovereignty as it is enshrined in the UN Charter.
Yet Robertson insisted that the ICC could be used as long as the Pope’s sovereign immunity was waived and as long as jurists can show that the sex abuse scandal was carried out on a “widespread or systematic scale,” the way that child soldiers were used in the wars in Sierra Leone and the way that sex slaves are traded internationally.
Robertson, a tort lawyer, argued that prosecution at a higher level of the Church is necessary to get more money for victims of clergy sexual abuse in cases where dioceses have gone into bankruptcy. He specifically pointed out the fact that the diocese of Los Angeles has already paid $660M in damages and Boston has paid $100M.
One prominent law professor told the Friday Fax, “Without in any way minimizing the seriousness of the alleged offenses of Catholic priests, it would be a grave mistake to the laws of human rights to permit a trivializing of the responsibility to protect, and to play into the hands of American contingency-fee lawyers.”
Another human rights lawyer told the Friday Fax that the article could be part of a broader campaign. Robertson has long campaigned to strip the Holy See of its permanent observer status at the UN, and has publicly referred to the Holy See “the world’s largest NGO.”
When a campaign was launched to oust the Holy See from its status in 1999, UN Member States rallied around the Vatican, and in 2004 the General Assembly voted unanimously to expand that status. It is unclear whether UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon knew about Robertson’s leanings before appointing him to his current position.