Rule of law protects democracy, pope says in message

A riot police officer disperses supporters of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja Kenya coalition, as they participate in a nationwide protest over cost of living and President William Ruto's government in the Kibera district of Nairobi, March 27, 2023. (OSV News photo/Brian Otieno, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If upholding a nation's laws is dependent on the politics of those in power or on their opinion about who is and is not deserving of protection, then democracy and justice are threatened, Pope Francis said.

"Only the law can constitute the indispensable prerequisite for the exercise of any power, and this means that the responsible government bodies must ensure respect for the rule of law, regardless of the dominant political interests," Pope Francis wrote in a message to the International Development Law Organization.

The organization, which trains and networks lawyers, jurists and government officials around the world to ensure consistency in obeying and applying laws to promote peace and sustainable development, was celebrating its 40th anniversary with a forum hosted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nov. 28.

Pope Francis wrote to the group that "when the law is based on universal values, such as respect for the human person and the protection of the common good, the rule of law is strong, people have access to justice, and societies are more stable and prosperous."

But without justice and peace, he said, stability, freedom, human dignity and the Earth itself come under threat.

"In the complex and challenging environment in which we live, marred by severe interconnected crises, the rise of violent confrontations, the increasingly damaging effects of climate change, corruption and inequalities are painfully evident," the pope wrote. "It is therefore more urgent than ever to advocate for people-centered justice to strengthen peaceful, just and inclusive societies."

At a time when people question the legitimacy of governments, he said, restoring trust will require upholding the rule of law and the equality of all citizens before it.

A commitment to following the law, he said, also would contribute to "combating inequalities, promoting the well-being of people, fostering the safeguarding of their basic rights, encouraging their proper participation in decision-making and facilitating the development of laws and policies that meet their real needs, thus helping to create a world where all human beings are treated with dignity and respect."

Pope Francis also thanked the organization for its commitment to safeguarding the environment by working to improve laws and law enforcement on land use and the use of natural resources.

"Climate change is an issue of intergenerational justice," he wrote. "The degradation of the planet not only prevents a serene and harmonious coexistence in the present, but also greatly undermines the comprehensive progress of future generations."

"Justice, human rights, equity and equality are fundamentally intertwined with the causes and effects of climate change," Pope Francis said. "By applying a justice-based approach to climate action, we can provide holistic, inclusive and equitable responses."


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