German Bishops' Statement on Iraq Conflict

Following Meeting in Wurzburg

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WURZBURG, Germany, JAN. 22, 2003 ( Here is a translation of the German Catholic bishops’ conference on the Iraq conflict. The conference supplied the translation.

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Development of the Iraq Conflict

Statement of the German Bishops Conference on the Iraq Conflict

A preventive war would violate ethical standards

The struggle for war and peace in the Middle East goes on. Is the world at the threshold of a new armed conflict or is it still possible to find political solutions to avoid bloodshed? The political situation is changing daily. Against this background, it is important to recall again some ethical principles and Christian options which we laid down in our statement «A Just Peace».

We do this in full accord with the Holy Father and with the Church worldwide. Their voice can be clearly heard in these months as the situation is becoming more and more critical. With gratitude we also notice the accordance with the protestant Christians.

First: A state which repeatedly broke the peace with its neighbour countries and a government which did not shrink from using brutal violence against the own people represent a threat to the international order which the international community must not ignore. This is all the more true for a regime that obviously endeavours to obtain weapons of mass destruction. For this reason, we appreciate the efforts of the United Nations to exert pressure on Iraq in order to prevent the production of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and to reduce as far as possible Iraq s potential to cause aggression. In the context of a political strategy which finally aims at preventing war, the use of threats might be ethically justified in certain cases. But under no circumstances must this policy fall into the logic of escalation which inevitably ends up in war.

Second: War is always a severe evil. For this reason, it may be taken into consideration only in case of an attack or to avert most serious crimes against humanity such as genocide. Therefore, we are deeply concerned about the fact that the prohibition of preventive war embodied in international law has increasingly been questioned over the recent months. The point at issue is war prevention not preventive war! A security policy that advocates preventive war is in contradiction with Catholic teaching and international law. This is what the Holy Father emphatically emphasised some days ago: «As the Charter of the United Nations Organisation and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, […] except as the very last option». A preventive war represents an aggression and thus it cannot be defined as a just war for self-defence. The right to self-defence presupposes a real or imminent attack but not just the mere possibility of an attack. A war aiming at the prevention of dangers would undermine the prohibition of violence embodied in international law, it would promote political instability and finally shake the entire international system of the community of states to its very foundations.

Third: Deciding on the use of military force always includes considering the foreseeable consequences. Is there any doubt that a war against Iraq would most probably kill and injure innumerable people, that it would bring about countless refugees and would deprive many people of their existence? A war also threatens to cause the most serious political divergences in the entire Middle East, which would put at risk the achievements of the international alliance against terror. A war against Iraq would probably enable fanatic Islamic fundamentalists to increase their influence everywhere in the region and would threaten to further intensify the serious reservations which the Arab and Muslim world has against the Western world. Would the region have better prospects of peace, stability and the protection of human rights after a war?

Therefore, we call upon all people responsible to do everything within their power to prevent war in Iraq and as Pope John Paul II put it «to extinguish the ominous smouldering of a conflict, which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided». In this hour, no-one is allowed to show resignation or tactical opportunism and to submit to the seemingly unstoppable process.

We point out emphatically that the international community will not be condemned to inactivity as it disapproves of the option of war. It is necessary to continue exerting pressure on the regime of the dictator Saddam Hussein and to practise the policy of firmly restricting his freedom of military action.

We call upon all the faithful to continue praying for peace in these days and weeks. In our prayers, we address Christ who blessed the peacemakers.

Würzburg, 20-01-2003

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