Holy See Decries Use of Civilians as Shields

Says Casualties Are Not Mere Side Effect of War

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

NEW YORK, JAN. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Civilian casualties in conflicts are not just a side effect of war; rather, civilians are being purposefully used to achieve political or military gains, the Holy See says.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, attested this on Wednesday at the U.N. Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.

He noted that the Security Council has been dealing with the topic of protecting civilians for more than 10 years.

«Yet,» he said, «civilian security during conflict is becoming more and more critical, if not at times dramatic, as we have been witnessing in these past months, weeks and days in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name just a few.»

The Holy See representative lamented that the «overwhelming mistreatment of civilians in too many parts of the world does not seem to be just a side effect of war. We continue to see civilians deliberately targeted as a means for achieving political or military gains.»

Archbishop Migliore declared that in the past few days, there has been «practical failure, from every side, to respect the distinction of civilians from military targets.»

«It is sadly clear,» he said, «that political and military designs supersede basic respect for the dignity and rights of persons and communities, when methods or armaments are used without taking all reasonable measures to avoid civilians; when women and children are used as a shield for combatants; when humanitarian access is denied in the Gaza Strip; when people are displaced and villages destroyed in Darfur; and when we see sexual violence devastating the lives of women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.»

Responsible leadership

Archbishop Migliore contended that the first solution for such a scenario is «first and foremost good political will and action.»

«Protection of civilians must be based on a widespread responsible exercise of leadership,» he stated. «This requires leaders to exercise the right to defend their own citizens or the right to self-determination by resorting only to legitimate means; and it requires them to fully recognize their responsibility toward the international community and respect other states and communities’ right to exist and coexist in peace.

«The broad spectrum of mechanisms the U.N. is putting in place to ensure the protection of civilians will be successful if, at the very least, it is able to foster a culture of responsible exercise of leadership among its members and holds them and every party in a conflict accountable to such a responsibility toward individuals and communities.»

Bigger guns

Finally, the Holy See representative lamented that the «increasing burden of war casualties and consequences imposed on civilians comes also from the massive production, continued innovation and sophistication of armaments.»

«The ever higher quality and availability of small arms and light weapons, as well as anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, tragically make the killing of human beings that much easier and more efficient,» he said.

In this context, the archbishop’s delegation expressed its support for the objectives of a U.N. general assembly resolution regarding an arms trade treaty, «which lays down the first important step toward a legally binding instrument on arms trade and transfers.»

The archbishop also noted the support of the Holy See for the adoption of the Cluster Munitions Convention.

He encouraged countries to ratify this treaty «as a matter of priority and a sign of their commitment to addressing civilian casualties.»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

ZENIT Staff

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation