The Little Known Story of a Dominican Who Helped Found the UN




Representatives from the Holy See and other Catholic orders gathered in Geneva last month to acknowledge and observe the Dominican who helped form the principles behind the United Nations.

The conference was entitled “Francisco de Vitoria and the Inception of the Principles of the United Nations: His Legacy Today.” The event was organized on January 26th by Dominicans for Justice and Peace (Order of Preachers), Permanent Mission of Spain, Permanent Mission of Peru, Permanent Mission of Colombia, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines, Permanent Mission of Ecuador, Permanent Mission of Belgium, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

Mr. Michael Moller, the United Nations Director-General, reminded everyone in his opening remarks that “Vitoria imagined a system of global governance anchored in universal rights, thoughts that would eventually lead to the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He continued to say, “Vitoria’s vision lives on. It lives on in the work of the United Nations and its partners to forge a safer and more sustainable future. It lives on in the work of peacekeepers, activists, and volunteers around the world.”

The spirit, thought, and principles of Vitoria were highlighted and speculated at the conference. They emphasized his reflections on the justification of war, rights of indigenous peoples, responsibility to protect, moral restrictions to sovereignty, and the political action of policy makers. From this, clues were developed to assist the UN in strengthening their System, and for a more effective implementation of its principles.

Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546) has been given a lot of prominence in the UN, Geneva, and New York. In Geneva, the council chamber, “Salle du Conseil,” was named after him. It was built for the League of Nations, and is the present meeting place of the Conference on Disarmament. A plaque dedicated to his memory has been placed in the chamber. In New York, there is a statue of him in the UN garden with the inscription “Fundador del Derecho de Gentes” (Founder of International Law). Yet few people are aware of these homages to Vitoria and even fewer know anything about him!

He is credited for being one of the founders of International Law, which the principles of the United Nations have been built on. The principles were developed in order to promote an international co-operation that will realize peace, security, human rights, and the development for all men and women of all nations, large and small.

Vitoria was based in the University of Salamanca (Spain). After hearing the deeds of his fellow country-men in the New World of Latin America, he and his fellow Dominican scholars posed pertinent questions to the legitimacy of conquering other countries and waging war against indigenous peoples.

2016 marked the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216, founded by Dominic de Guzman of Caleruega. Dominicans such as Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas have had a major impact on philosophy. Their inspiration on Vitoria and other people have made a major contribution to the crafting of the principles that eventually became embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today the Dominican Order is a world-wide religious organization with a presence in more than 120 countries. Through their educational institutions and other forms of preaching, they seek to counter the roots of conflict, religious differences, ignorance and illiteracy.


By Christian Peschken

This article was written by Christian Peschken of Pax Press Agency, Geneva. 





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