Thursday, February 19, 2004
Ensuring security, human rights and the U.N.
Although this does not really answer the central question that Rick raises below, I do think that it is important to understand Archbishop Migliore's address in the context in which it was delivered. Among prominent Holy See diplomats, Migliore is certainly one of the ones who has a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the proper (subsidiary) role of international law and international institutions, and he would be likely to be much more careful than many to refrain from implicitly ascribing excessive authority to the UN. It should not be surprising, therefore, that although he does recognize the ontological basis of human rights, nevertheless in the forum in which he is speaking he stresses instead "ensuring security ... promoting peaceful coexistence of peoples ... effective conflict prevention and ... building of a lasting peace." These are the primary purposes for which the UN was established, and it decidedly was not ever intended to be an institution with plenary responsibility for the universal common good. There are very good reasons for being extremely cautious about using the UN to advance a "thick" understanding of the human person, including among others: the monumental difficulty of reaching genuinely common understandings across radically diverse cultures; respect for the freedom and integrity of human communities; and also the presence of prudential concerns analogous to the ones that Rob discusses below with respect to majority rule (made drastically more actute in an international context). For anyone who may be interested, I have written more about the contours of some these problems in Subsidiarity as a Structural Principle of International Human Rights Law, 97 Am. J. Int'l L. 38 (2003), to which there is a link in the right-hand column of this blog.