By Robin Gomes
“Criminal law has not been able to protect itself from the threats that weigh down democracies and the full force of the rule of law.” Pope Francis made the point while addressing some 600 participants in the 20th International Congress of Penal Law.
Known by its French acronym, AIDP (Association Internationale de Droit Pénal), the group is the oldest scientific association of specialists in criminal law, such as university professors, lawyers, magistrates, researchers, students and criminal law practitioners. The theme of their November 13-16 congress in Rome is “Criminal Justice and Corporate Business”.
What threatens penal law, he said, are the "idolatry of the market" and the "risks of criminal idealism".
Idolatry of market and penal idealism
The fragile and vulnerable person, the Pope said, is defenceless in the face of the interests of the market and the power that some economic sectors exert over the state.
To defend democratic institutions and the development of humanity, the Pope said, jurists need to contain the punitive irrationality which manifests itself in many forms, such as mass imprisonment, crowding and torture in prisons, arbitrariness and abuse by security forces and the criminalisation of social protest.
He said that penal science needs to overcome an idealistic vision and come close to reality.
Global financial capital, the Pope said, is the cause of serious crimes not only against property but also against people and the environment. He called it “organised crime” that is responsible for issues such as the over-indebtedness of states and the plundering of the natural resources of our planet.
Crimes against humanity
The Pope said that penal law cannot be alien to behaviours in which those in power exploit society’s fragile situations to the detriment of the collective well-being. "This happens, for example, when the prices of public debt securities are artificially lowered through speculation, without worrying that this will affect or aggravate the economic situation of entire nations".
When such acts lead to hunger, misery, forced migration and death from avoidable diseases, environmental disaster and ethnocide of indigenous peoples, the Pope said, they are as serious as crimes against humanity.
According to Pope Francis, acts such as the massive pollution of air, land and water resources, large-scale destruction of flora and fauna, and any action capable of producing an ecological disaster or destroying an ecosystem should be regarded as “ecocidal” and must not go unpunished.
In this regard, he recalled the Synod for the Panamazon Region, which proposed to define an act or omission against God, against one's neighbour, the community and the environment, as "ecological sin”.
Abuse of power
Pope Francis also spoke about some worsening problems such as "the improper use of pre-trial detention" and justifying crimes by security forces as legitimate forms of defence and performance of duty.
Culture of waste and hatred
The culture of waste, the Pope lamented, is degenerating into a culture of hatred, an example of which, he said, is the reappearance of emblems and actions typical of Nazism.
Call to responsibility
The Pope urged those dealing with penal law to a passion and responsibility to justice, saying, only in this way will every law not be an end in itself, but at the service of those responsible for the crimes and the victims.
Justice that heals
According to Pope Francis, committing an evil does not justify the imposition of another evil as a response. It is a question of "doing justice to the victim, not of executing the aggressor".
In the Christian vision, the model of justice finds perfect incarnation in the life of Jesus, who, after being subject to injustice, brings a message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. These, he said, are values that are difficult to achieve but necessary for the good life of all.