Cardinal Renato Martino’s statement puts activities of Amnesty International, and of all NGOs defending sexual and reproductive rights, at risk

Press release

Geneva - Paris, June 22, 2007. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deep concern about the statement of the Chief of the Vatican’s justice and peace department, Cardinal Renato Martino, in which he called for the suspension of funding to Amnesty International due to the NGO position on sexual and reproductive rights.

Indeed, in an interview published on June 12, 2007 in the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Martino declared that Amnesty International had “betrayed its mission” over abortion, following this organisation’s decision to adopt a new position on the issue of abortion, and that “the inevitable consequence of its decision will be the suspension of any financing to Amnesty on the part of catholic organisations and also individual Catholics”.

This statement intervenes after Amnesty International’s decision to incorporate a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights, calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in all cases (no women should suffer imprisonment or any criminal penalties as a result of seeking or having an abortion), and reaffirming its support of the rights of women and girls to be free from threat, force or coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations.

The Observatory notes with concern that Cardinal Martino’s statement not only questions the right of an independent human rights NGO to defend sexual and reproductive rights, but also questions the work of this NGO in the exercise of its broader functions. The Observatory fears indeed that this call for the cessation of funding an international NGO which has long been involved in the protection of human rights and human rights defenders could have extremely serious repercussions on the protection of all human rights worldwide.

Moreover, the Observatory is extremely worried by Cardinal Martino’s statement regarding the consequences it could entail for all NGOs defending sexual and reproductive rights as, since several years, some religious movements try to impose a conception of human rights that do not correspond to universal human rights norms. Thus, these movements put sometimes pressure on NGOs so that they adapt their views in this area. Therefore, the recent statement made by Cardinal Renato Martino can only strengthen a policy of submitting law to religious powers.

The Observatory further regrets that the Holy See has still not ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been qualified by Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, as “a key instrument for the implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders” [1].

The Observatory wishes to remind the State of Vatican that in accordance with the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” (Article 1), that “individuals, non-governmental organizations and relevant institutions have an important role to play in contributing to making the public more aware of questions relating to all rights and fundamental freedoms [...]” (Article 16), and that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means [...]” (Article 13).

The Observatory therefore urges the Holy See to immediately overturn Cardinal Renato’s statement calling for the suspension of any financing to Amnesty International as it represents a threat to the defence of human rights, and in particular of sexual and reproductive rights, and of human rights defenders worldwide.

The Observatory also calls upon the Holy See to conform with the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to ratify the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For further information, please contact:
FIDH : Gael Grilhot, + 00 33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 00 41 22 809 49 39

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