Pope Francis to the Judges’ Summit Against Human Trafficking and Organized Crime

Foto di Gerd Altmann da Pixabay

I would like to warmly greet you and renew the expression of my esteem for your cooperation and contribution towards human and social progress, a task of which the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is more than capable.

If I’m happy for this contribution and proud of you, it is in consideration of the remarkable service you can offer to humanity — both through an understanding of indifference and its extreme forms in the globalised world — and through solutions facing this challenge, trying to improve the living conditions of the needy among our brothers and sisters. Following Christ, the Church is called to engage and to be faithful to people, even more in the case of situations where open wounds and dramatic suffering are present, and where values, ethics, social sciences and faith are involved; situations in which the testimony of you all as individuals and humanists, together with your own social expertise, is particularly appreciated.

In the course of these recent years there have been many important activities at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences under the vigorous drive of its President, Chancellor and some external collaborators of prestigious reputation, whom I thank from the heart. Activities in defence of the dignity and freedom of men and women today and, in particular, to eradicate human trafficking and smuggling and the new forms of slavery such as forced labour, prostitution, organ trafficking, the drug trade and organised crime. As my predecessor Benedict XVI said, and I’ve affirmed it myself on several occasions, these are real crimes against humanity that should be recognised as such by all religious, political and social leaders — and reflected in national and international laws.

The meeting on 2 December 2014 with the leaders of today’s most influential religions in this globalised world, and the summit on 21 July 2015 with the mayors of the major cities of the world, have shown the willingness of this Academy to pursue the eradication of new forms of slavery. I hold a special memory of these two meetings, as well as the noteworthy youth symposiums, all due to the initiative of the Academy.

Now, inspired by the same motivation, the Academy has brought you together, judges and prosecutors from around the world, with practical experience and wisdom in eradicating human trafficking, smuggling and organised crime. You have come here representing your colleagues with the praiseworthy aim of making progress in spreading awareness of these scourges and consequently manifesting your irreplaceable mission to face the new challenges posed by the globalisation of indifference, responding to society’s growing concern and respecting national and international laws. Taking charge of one’s own vocation also means feeling, and proclaiming oneself, free from the pressures of governments, private institutions and, of course, the “structures of sin” of which my predecessor John Paul II spoke, particularly in regard to organised crime. Without this freedom, a nation’s judiciary is corrupted and corrupting.

Fortunately, for the realisation of this complex and delicate human and Christian project of freeing humanity from the new slaveries and organised crime, which the Academy has undertaken following my request, we can also count on the important and decisive synergy with the United Nations. I am thankful that the representatives of the 193 UN member states unanimously approved the new Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular Goal 8.7. This reads: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”. We can very well say that such goals and targets are now a moral imperative for all member states of the UN.

To this end, we must generate a crosscutting wave of “good vibes” to embrace the whole of society from top to bottom and vice versa, from the periphery to the centre and back, from leaders to communities, and from villages and public opinion to the key players in society. As the religious, social and civic leaders have realised, achieving this requires that judges too become fully aware of this challenge, feeling the importance of their responsibility towards society, sharing their experiences and best practices and acting together to break down barriers and open new paths of justice to promote human dignity, freedom, responsibility, happiness and, ultimately, peace. Without over-extending a metaphor, we could say that the judge is to justice as the religious leader and the philosopher are to morality, and the ruler — or whichever personalised figure of sovereign power — is to the political. But only in the figure of the judge is justice recognised as the first attribute of society.

In calling together these judges, the Academy wants nothing more than to cooperate, within its means, with the UN’s mandate. I take this opportunity, therefore, to thank those nations whose Ambassadors to the Holy See have not shown themselves indifferent or unfairly critical, but, on the contrary, have actively collaborated with the Academy to make this summit possible.

I ask the judges to fulfil their vocation and their crucial mission — to establish justice — without which there is neither order nor sustainable and integral development, nor social peace. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest social ills of the world today is corruption at all levels, which weakens any government, participatory democracy and the activity of justice. Judges, you are responsible for executing justice, and I you to pay special attention to justice in the field of human trafficking and smuggling and, against this and organised crime, I ask you to take care not to fall into a web of corruption.

When we say “execute justice”, as you well know, we do not mean seeking punishment as an end in itself, but in the case of penalties, that they be for the re-education of the wrongdoers in the hope that they can be reintegrated into society. “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this” (John Paul II, EV, nr. 9). And if this delicate connection between justice and mercy applies to those responsible for crimes against humanity as well as for every human being, it is a fortiori true especially for the victims who, as the term suggests, are more passive than active in the exercise of their freedom, having fallen into the trap of the new slave hunters. These victims are too often betrayed even in the most intimate and sacred part of themselves, that is to say, in the love they aspire to give and take. Their family owes it to them or their suitors or husbands promise it to them, but end up selling them instead into the forced labour and prostitution market or selling them into the organ trade.

Judges today are called more than ever to focus on the needs of the victims. The victims are the first who need to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society — and their traffickers and executioners must be given no quarter and pursued. The old adage that these things have existed since the world is meaningless. Victims can recover and in fact we know that they can regain control of their lives with the help of good judges, social workers and society as a whole. We know a good number of survivors who are now lawyers, politicians, brilliant writers, or have a successful job serving the common good in a valid way. We know how important it is that each former victim is encouraged to talk about their having been a victim as a past experience now valiantly overcome; of being a survivor or rather, a person with a life of quality, whose dignity has been restored and freedom claimed.

You are called to give hope and to do justice. From the widow seeking justice insistently (Lk: 18,1-8), to the victims of today, all fuel a desire for justice and a hope that the injustice that passes through this world is not final, that it does not have the last word.

Perhaps it may help to apply, according to the characteristics of each country, on every continent and in every legal tradition, the Italian practice of recovering the ill-gotten gains of traffickers and criminals and offering them to society and, in particular, for the reintegration of the victims. Rehabilitation of victims and their reintegration into society, always a real possibility, is the greatest good we can do for them, for community and for social peace.

If there is anything that runs through the Beatitudes and the protocol of divine judgment according to the Gospel of Matthew (Ch 25), it is the issue of justice: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who suffer for justice, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed by our Father are those who treat the most needy and least of my brothers and sisters as myself. They — and here I am referring especially to judges — will have the highest reward: they shall inherit the earth, and they will be called children of God, they shall see God, and enjoy eternity with the heavenly Father.

In this spirit, I am encouraged to ask judges, prosecutors and academics to continue their work and carry out, within their own means and with the help of Grace, successful initiatives that honour them in the service of people and the common good.

Pope Francis

Romania’ s trafficking profile (TIP 2019)

Prayer to the Virgin Mary of Saint Therese de Liesieux