This was the warning voiced on Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations.
The archbishop explained that the rule of law is the "bedrock for development, peace and security" since humankind is "able to know the essential dignity of every human being."
"The combination of human intelligence, intelligibility of nature and history and unconditional respect for human dignity should enable those persons entrusted with the making of laws and their enforcement to promulgate just laws that serve and protect the common good of the human family," he said.
Nevertheless, Archbishop Chullikatt clarified, for law to promote justice, authorities need a better understanding of what law is: that it must incorporate natural moral law, which is "nothing other than the recognition of all the social consequences of human dignity."
Natural law acts as a sort of supplier for law-making and enforcement, he explained, by offering what can be derived about the "good" and "true" through human reason.
The Holy See official lamented that legislative and judicial bodies too often fail to take into account this link between law and universal truths.
A positivistic and utilitarian view of law thus arises, which makes private wishes into law and results in "the 'rule by law' rather than true rule of law."
"As a judicial methodology," he said, "it risks undermining the promotion and just application of the rule of law because it disconnects the law from its roots in the natural moral order and leads to the flawed conclusion that what has become legal is therefore just and moral."
Going too far
After reflecting on advances in the rule of law at the international level, Archbishop Chullikatt noted how at the national level, "the need for a just rule of law in many corners of the globe continues to go unmet."
The codification of international legal standards is helping to correct this problem, and yet, he warned that this process can also become dangerous.
"[M]y delegation notes with concern the increasing undermining of treaty body systems when their scope is expanded beyond the spirit and goals of the treaties and the intent of the states who have adopted these legal standards," he said. "Since they are a part of the legal system, these treaty bodies cannot be excused from adhering to the traditional rules of interpretation of law. Efforts by international treaty bodies improperly to expand the scope of these treaties risks undermining the international treaty system in the realm of human rights.
"In the worst instances, they have actively promoted an interpretation of these international standards in a way which undermines the fundamental duty of law: to protect life. National legislators endure unwarranted criticism for rightly rejecting this expansion of the various treaties' standards which advance supposed rights that undermine life and the family, innovations that are unsupported by international agreements."
International bodies must respect the role of states to implement various human rights standards, he said, and to avoid expanding these standards beyond their scope and intent.
Archbishop Chullikatt concluded by reminding that lawmakers "have a distinct responsibility to ensure that their efforts contribute to the common good of society by protecting the legitimate interests of every member of society and by elevating consciousness of the responsibilities of all persons. In the final analysis, this is the charge of the rule of law."
Thus, he said, these individuals must ensure that law is truly just and that it fosters the common good through "upholding the dignity of the human person, fostering social unity, protecting life, promoting the rehabilitation of offenders, restoring victims both physically and spiritually and increasing trust and understanding between and amongst peoples and nations."
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Full text: www.holyseemission.org/13Oct2010.html