Wednesday, April 21, 2010

State Dept: Why the Vatican is Omitted
from Human Rights Reports

Two years ago, I blogged about the omission of the Holy See from the State Department's annual human rights report, and made note that even though we recognize it as a sovereign state and treat it like any other state we have formal relations with, the U.S. exempts the Holy See from important reports. One report is about human rights practices, and the other pertains to trafficking in persons.

I recently got around to asking the department for some answers, and sent an email to a knowledgeable source at the agency, who can't be named:

I am trying to find the reasons why the State Department excludes the Holy See from the annual human rights and trafficking in persons reports. The US recognizes the Holy See as a sovereign state, we exchange ambassadors, and there is a US embassy in Rome for our ambassador to the Holy See.

Yet when it comes to treating the Holy See like any other state when compiling these annual reports, the Holy See is omitted. Not only that, but no explanation from the State Department is posted on the reports' pages, detailing the reasons for the omission.

Please tell me why the State Department does not include the Holy See in either the annual human rights or trafficking in persons reports, and, if there is a department page that explains the omission, I'd appreciate if you would share the URL for it.

This is an excerpt of the reply I received:

According to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195) Section 116 (d) as amended, the Department of State reports on all countries that 1. Receive U.S. assistance, and 2. Are members of the United Nations.

The Holy See is a Permanent Observer of the UN, not a full member, and it does not receive U.S. assistance.

Therefore, it is one of the few countries we have diplomatic relations with, but do not report on.

This is part of the response I sent to the State Department:

A few follow up questions are in order, for me. Are there any other nations or states we recognize that are also omitted from the reports, and, if so, which ones? Can you state that the Holy See is the only sovereign state omitted?

We don't have formal relations with Iran, Cuba and North Korea, and I don't believe they receive assistance from us, yet their records on human rights and human trafficking are included in annual State Department reports. Why is this the case?

Then the State Department source wrote back to me:

Iran, Cuba, and North Korea are all UN members. We do have relations with Cuba (there is an embassy in Havana), and we have relations with Iran and North Korea through surrogate countries even though we don’t have a presence in the country. Therefore, we report on them, and other countries in similar situations. The main point to take from this is that even if we don’t have a presence in the country, if they are UN members, we report on them.

If advocates wanted to lobby to include the Holy See, it would be through Congress—our reports are Congressionally mandated. The Department could technically choose to report on the Holy See as a policy matter, but that is unlikely.

I stand corrected about U.S.-Cuba relations, however, I wish to point out the U.S. doesn't technically have an embassy in Havana. We have an Interests Section down there, that is housed in the former U.S. embassy, according to the agency's page on the section, but I digress from my concerns about the Vatican omissions.

Now would be an excellent moment in time to revisit our diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and consider amending Congressional mandates for the annual human rights and trafficking in persons reports.

As we gays well know, the Vatican actively works around the world to deny us legal protections, never leaving us alone to live our lives free from discrimination and it has a lousy record also on the rights of women and their health care services. I want to see the Vatican's anti-gay, anti-women and anti-choice work rated and included in the human rights reports.

At the same time, I don't know if moving priests across international borders, at times to avoid criminal prosecutions, qualifies as trafficking in persons, or if the Holy See has in any way aided, abetted or engaged in such trafficking of children or adults. It very well may not be, and if that is the case, then it should be noted in the annual trafficking reports.

Click here to peruse the department's page on the Vatican, which includes this assessment of its current agenda, under the U.S.-Vatican relations section, written in March, emphasis mine:

Holy See priorities for 2010 include freedom of religion and protection of Christian minorities; inter-religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim world; aid for developing nations; protection of the environment; peace as a means of solving political problems, particularly for the Middle East; defense of the traditional family; and nuclear nonproliferation.

I'd say another priority for the Vatican is confronting myriad priestly sexual abuse scandals involving children and adolescents, and I object to the State Department blithely mentioning "defense of the traditional family." That defense explicitly attacks and demeans the dignity and value of gays everywhere, and gay and other alternative family structures.

There is much about U.S.-Holy See relations to make me uncomfortable, and to hope for a more critical look by Congress at the relationship.

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