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Week of October 24, 2016


Women, Peace and Security
Security Council

On October 25, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN gave an intervention during the Security Council Open Debate on “Women, Peace and Security.”

In its statement, the Holy See noted its long advocacy for an increased involvement of women in making, maintaining and building peace and applauded the initiatives of the Security Council and governments to promote the vital role of women in mediation and preventive diplomacy, reconciliation and rebuilding. To harness women’s gifts, however, women must have access to quality education, health care, social protections, nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, employment opportunities and decent pay. Women who have suffered violence must be helped to overcome stigma and obtain justice.

The statement can be found here.


Agriculture Development, Food Security, and Nutrition
Second Committee

On October 24, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN gave an intervention during the deliberations of the Second Committee of the Seventy-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Agenda Item 25, dedicated to “Agricultural development, food security and nutrition.”

In its statement, the Holy See noted that even though much progress has been made since 1990 in reducing hunger, nearly 800 million people are still undernourished and more than two billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, including 200 million children under five. It echoed the report of the UN Secretary General calling for “firm political and societal commitment” to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition” by 2030 (SDG 2). Poverty and hunger cannot be treated merely as “natural” inevitabilities, it said. Rather, the faces of the poor and hungry must constantly be seen. Likewise poverty and hunger cannot be bureaucratized, where aid and development projects are obstructed for political reasons. What is necessary is not just to increase food production and improve food distribution but to approach the situation with solidarity, compassion, empathy and social justice.

The statement can be found here.


Comprehensive Review of the Whole Question of Peacekeeping Operations in all their Aspects
Fourth Committee

On October 26, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN gave an intervention at the Fourth Committee of the Seventy-First Session of the General Assembly on Agenda item 51, dedicated to a “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.

In its statement, the Holy See reiterated Pope Francis’ words to the General Assembly in praise of the UN’s peacekeeping and reconciliation operations and underlined the importance of protecting civilians in peacekeeping mandates insofar as the deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks on civilians are sadly becoming routine within armed conflicts. In addition to mentioning attacks on schools and medical facilities, depriving people of food and basic necessities, and going after journalists and humanitarian workers, the Holy See condemned deliberate attacks against women and girls, including rape. The Responsibility to Protect should frame the UN peacekeeping mandate, it said, so that those exposed to war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are defended by the international community if individual States are incapable of doing so. Formulating clear and effective criteria for applying the Responsibility to Protect in a way respectful of the principle of the sovereign equality of Member States is necessary. The Holy See renewed its call to limit the manufacture, sale and gifting of weapons. It also denounced sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation committed by UN peacekeepers, saying measures to prevent, judge and punish such crimes must be adopted. It finally reiterated the Holy See’s commitment to collaborate in the work of conflict prevention and resolution, and post-conflict stabilization and peace consolidation.

The statement can be found here.


The Role of Ethical Foundations for Global Economic Governance

On October 26, Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, First Counsellor at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN, gave the following intervention at a special event of the Second Committee of the General Assembly dedicated to “Sovereign Debt Restructurings: Lessons learned from legislative steps taken by certain countries and other appropriate action to reduce the vulnerability of sovereigns to holdout creditors.” The special event was prepared by the secretariat of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Msgr. Grysa was asked to speak on the Role of Ethical Foundations for Global Economic Governance.”

Msgr. Tomasz Grysa
“The Role of Ethical Foundations for Global Economic Governance”
UN Conference on Trade and Development Conference on
Lessons learned from legislative steps
taken by certain countries and other appropriate
action to reduce the vulnerability of sovereigns to holdout creditors
UN Headquarters Conference Room 2
October 26, 2016

Your Excellencies, Fellow Panelists, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to be with you this morning for this important discussion addressing the vulnerability of poor countries to holdout creditors and the negative role this can play on the sustainable development of the poor in those countries.

I have been asked specifically to discuss the Role of Ethical Foundations for Global Economic Governance. With regard to sovereign debt problems and the role of holdout creditors, the Holy See does not have technical solutions to offer (Caritas in Veritate 9), but it has a lengthy history of reflection on the ethics of finance and the problems of international debt within the context of the common good. The issues we are considering are not merely economic and political but ethical. They cannot be solved through the simple application of commercial logic. International finance cannot and must not be a place where the strong subdue the weak or where the instruments of finance are used for purely selfish ends, objectively oppressing and exploiting the poor and leaving them in a state of perpetual dependence (Caritas in Veritate 36). Within the larger context of the development of the poor in developing nations, it is important to bear in mind that development will never fully be achieved through the market or international politics alone, for true development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good. Both professional competence and ethical consistency are needed (Caritas in Veritate 71). It’s within that context in mind that I offer my humble contribution today.

There’s a common saying in my native region of Poland, Wielkopolska, that says, “Jeśli chcesz stracić przyjaciela, pożycz mu pieniądze,” which loosely translated means, “If you want to lose a friend, lend him money.” The insight behind the phrase is that it’s better not to lend since debts can have a negative influence on the strongest friendships and even undermine familial bonds. The grain of truth behind this admittedly cynical observation is that considerations of money and repayment of debts can sometimes become greater than clearly higher goods. The same thing can happen in international finance when attention to the repayment of debts can gain ascendancy over superior considerations, like the true good of the poor, and when the macroeconomic management of sovereign debt can have far-reaching social, economic and political impacts on whole populations. The spirit of Resolution 69/319 concerning Basic Principles of Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes, adopted by a wide majority of the General Assembly a year ago, focused on this ethical dimension, urging the international community to ensure that external financing of governments never becomes an unbearable weight for the populations of countries or a severe hindrance to their true, integral and sustainable development.

Last December Pope Francis inaugurated what he called an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which for Catholics has been a time to reflect on God’s compassion toward us so that we may be more motivated to pay that gift forward in works of deeds of mercy toward others. Pope Francis, however, has never intended that the year be lived just by his fellow Catholics, since he believes that so many of the greatest problems facing the world stem from a failure to forgive and from a lack of effective compassion. With regard to the situation of international debt, twice during this Jubilee Year — in his January 1 Message for the World Day of Peace and an April 6 Letter — he has appealed to the leaders of nations to “forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations.”

There’s a long prehistory, more than 3500 years, to such an appeal during a Jubilee Year. In the history of Israel, the law of Moses prescribed the celebration of a Jubilee every fiftieth year calling for a general cancellation of debt and a general release of persons and goods. Reflecting on how God had gratuitously freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, every generation in Israel was summoned to imitate that generosity toward their contemporaries who were in situations of economic poverty and social injustice. The practice of the Jubilee — although for various reasons never fully implemented historically — was intended to bring the understanding of property, debts, loans and goods back to their deepest ethical dimension, helping them to do to others what they believe God had previously done for them (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 24).

The general spirit of such a Jubilee has continued down to our own day. Leading up to the year 2000, which Pope John Paul II called the “Great Jubilee,” he made a sustained appeal on behalf of the poor of the world for creditor nations and institutions to give thought to reducing if not cancelling outright the international debt that was seriously threatening the future of many nations, perpetuating so many internal and external conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, causing environmental degradation, unemployment, recession, drastic reductions in an already low standard of living, criminality and so many other social ills (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 51; 1998 and 1999 Letters for the World Day of Peace). His appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Many, including notably U2 lead singer Bono, acted on it. The 2000 Drop the Debt Campaign led to 23 poor countries having their international debt completely cancelled and, as Bono said in a tribute to John Paul II shortly after the Pope’s death, allowed an “extra 52 million children going to school” since governments were able to use the money they would have had to pay back in order to invest in education. Pope Francis is making a similar appeal to the frightening situation of international debt this year, praying for more Bonos to step forward and hoping that creditors in 2016 and beyond will show a similar magnanimity.

In terms of ethical principles that the Holy See would propose to assist the examination of the complex realities under discussion, I would like briefly to mention three of the most important, taken from the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

First, the principle that debts must be repaid — except when loans have been granted at usurious rates or used to finance projects overpriced through fraudulent complicity — is certainly just. The repayment of debt, however, is not an absolute or the highest value. We know that complex causes of various types lie at the origin of the debt crisis. At the international level there are the fluctuation of exchange rates, financial speculation and economic neo-colonialism; within individual debtor countries there is corruption, poor administration of public monies or the improper utilization of loans received. The greatest sufferings, which can be traced back both to structural questions as well as personal behavior, strike the people of poor and indebted countries who are not responsible for this situation. The international community cannot ignore this fact. It is not right to demand or expect payment when it would be at the price of unbearable sacrifices and the imposition of political choices leading to hunger or despair for entire peoples. Debt servicing cannot be met at the price of the asphyxiation of a country's economy or the strangulation of its possibility for development. No government can morally demand of its people privations incompatible with human dignity. While reaffirming the principle that debts ought to be repaid, we must also remember that the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress is prior and higher (Centesimus Annus 35; Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 450).

Second, there is the need for a broader understand of the consequences of solidarity. Solidarity must lead to a greater respect for the equal dignity of all peoples, rather than the domination of the weak by the strong, of the poor by the rich, of the developing by the developed. As Pope Francis said during his address to the General Assembly in September 2015, “It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programs, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.”

Third, flowing from solidarity, there is a need for cooperation based on an awareness and acceptance of co-responsibility for the causes and the solutions relative to international debt. Acknowledgement of the sharing of responsibility for the causes will make possible a dialogue that will seek joint means of solution. This is one of the most troubling concerns posed by the behavior of many vulture funds, especially those that refuse to participate in restructuring and pursue full value of the debt at face value plus interest, arrears and litigation. Recognition of co-responsibility fosters a mentality that can accept equitable sharing of adjustment efforts and necessary sacrifices among creditors and debtors and all involved financial, monetary, political and economic partners. Creditor nations must accept responsibility for the ways their own policies, for example with regard to interest rates, tariffs and the like, can impact the fragile economies of developing nations and their capacities for repayment and the way international economic difficulties can have a disproportionate effect on developing nations. Co-responsibility in developing countries implies an analysis of the domestic causes behind the increase in overall indebtedness, avoiding the temptation to shift full responsibility to other countries in order to avoid having to explain their own actions, errors, and even abuses, and to avoid having to propose changes that would affect them directly. Greater transparency, truthfulness and reform will make possible the growth in trust necessary for coming to agreements on restructuring and obtaining financing for future development.

There is much more that could be said, in far greater detail than time or my particular competence today would allow. For those interested in more, I would like simply to call attention to two excellent studies done by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, entitled, An Ethical Approach to the International Debt Question (1986) and Reform of the International Financial System with a View Toward a General Public Authority (2011), very easily discoverable by internet search engines. These studies, especially the first one, were written obviously prior to the much greater participation of vulture funds in sovereign debt restructuring processes, but many of the principles described there with regard to the ethical co-responsibilities of developed and developing countries, creditors and debtors, and multilateral financial organizations remain highly relevant to present considerations.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.