Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, the 65th President of the United Nations General Assembly from 2008 to 2009, former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, renown human rights defender, and Advisory Board Member of International-Lawyers.Org, died on Thursday, 8 June 2017.
Father Miguel was a leading figure of his generation. A priest by training, his heart and soul were committed to seeking justice. He was one of those rare people who was willing to stand up to any power, even the most powerful States to condemn their injustices and fight to bring justice. His life inspired millions around the world to fight for justice without fear of the most powerful opponents.
Father Miguel was born on 5 February 1933 in Los Angles, California in the United States of America, but raised in in Nicaragua. In 1953, he entered the Maryknoll seminary and he was ordained a priest in 1961. He earned a Master of Science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1962 and in 1970 founded the Maryknoll publishing house, Orbis Books. In 1972, he founded the Nicaraguan Foundation for Integral Community Development (FUNDECI), to assist the people displaced by Managua earthquake that had decimated his country.
He also joined the Sandinistas, the struggle against nearly half a century of dictatorship in Nicaragua. In 1979, when the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, Father Miguel was named Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, a post he held for 11 years. His involvement in politics as a priest was criticized by some in the Vatican, but he defended it as part of his obligation to strive for justice through all means. As a priest, he adhered to liberation theology with the firm belief in the cause of justice. Nevertheless, in 1985 the Vatican suspended him from saying Mass as a Catholic priest. The suspension was only lifted in 2014 when Pope Francis declared the suspension was unfair and announced, through Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that Father Miguel would again be able to say Mass with the blessing of the Catholic Church. This meant much to Father Miguel who had remained committed to his faith.
As Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, Father Miguel is perhaps most well-known for initiating successful legal proceedings against the United States before the International Court of Justice. In 1986, the Court in one of its leading opinions held that the United States had violated the Charter of the United Nations’ most fundamental prohibitions on the use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other States by its actions against the Sandinista government. To this day, this decision remains one of the most important decisions of the International Court of Justice.
In May 2008, Father Miguel was nominated to serve as the 65th President of the United Nations General Assembly. His term ran from September 2008 to September 2009. During his term, he raised the profile of the United Nations’ most senior post to a level of respect it had rarely enjoyed or has enjoyed since. During his term, he led efforts to confront the cause of the international financial and economic crisis; to recognize the need to respect Mother Earth; to redress the injustices being done to the Palestinian people; to expose the hypocrisy of the Responsibility to Protect as a pretext for intervention; and to re-create the United Nations to enable it to achieve the mandate given to it by international law.
The Palestinian people will likely never forget his efforts to take action during Israel’s unlawful and deadly aggression against Palestinians in Gaza in December 2008. After the Security Council refused to take any action to protect Palestinians being slaughtered by Israeli warplanes, Father Miguel convened a session of the General Assembly that condemned Israel’s use of force. At the same time, he also spoke out in the most unambiguous terms against Israel’s aggression.
Father Miguel was willing to speak truth to the most powerful countries, including the United States, whose violations of international law he strongly condemned. Throughout his term as President of the General Assembly, Father Miguel continued to condemn the ongoing violations of international law by the United States, especially its inhumane treatment of the Iraqi people. Father Miguel arduously urged both the United States and the Iraqi government to respect the Opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that had found the detention of Tariq Aziz to violate both country’s international obligations and had called for his release until his death in 2015. While the United States was able to cower many senior statesmen from much larger and more powerful States, it was never able to intimidate Father Miguel who pushed back against this hegemon’s violations of international law using the dictates of law and justice.
His efforts to revitalize the United Nations are documented in a book entitled Recreating the United Nations that was published in 2009. It included the idea that the Charter of the United Nations should be revised to remove the authority of the world body to authorize the use of force. This, believed Father Miguel, would force the world body to rely on its diplomatic means without subjecting it to the pressure of a few powerful countries seeking to use the UN as cover for their military interventions. In the book, he also suggested creating an international climate and environmental justice tribunal with authority similar to the International Court of Justice, to make legally binding decisions that could ensure States respect the Mother Earth. Today this recommendation looks increasingly necessary if States are to restrain themselves from destroying life on our planet. In his book, he also urges that the term of the President of the General Assembly, the most senior executive UN official, be made longer than that of the Secretary-General, the UN’s most senior administrative official, in order to reflect the seniority of the former post.
Throughout his life, Father Miguel was a friend of civil society. As President of the General Assembly, he initiated the practice of meeting with NGOs during his visit to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and he always remained open and willing to support civil society initiatives. Until his death, he served as the President of FUNDECI and on the Advisory Board of International-Lawyers.Org.
Father Miguel was a rare person who possessed the highest degree of integrity while also having the courage to act on his beliefs. He refused to be cowered by power exercised in the name of hegemony and refused to remain silent or passive when the dictates of justice require his voice be heard or that action be taken.