Holy See Defends Humanitarian Rights

Considers Duty to Protect Refugees and Aid Workers

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GENEVA, Switzerland, JULY 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Holy See is asking for an international commitment to respect humanitarian rights, both for victims of natural or human disasters and for the aid workers who endeavor to assist them.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, made this plea Monday at the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance.

The Holy See representative emphasized that although there was a decrease last year in the worldwide number of refugees, «more than 10 million men, women and children still live in refugee camps and more than 26 million continue displaced because of past or recent conflicts, lack of security and persecution.»

These «untenable situations» provoke, the prelate said, «immeasurable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain and wound the social fabric, destroying families and communities, endangering reconciliation and threatening the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.»

This is a challenge that demands «a globalized, effective and coherent response, guided by political directives such as solidarity and the promotion of the dignity of everyone,» he declared.

The Holy See official particularly decried the «continuing sexual violations perpetrated against women and youth in and around refugee camps.» This «violates every principle of international law and brings emotional, physical and mental devastation to these women,» he stated.

Archbishop Tomasi also spoke up for «prisoners of war and people who are detained in various ways,» asking for greater efforts to guarantee their rights.

«Detention camps and centers should be temporary solutions and places to which there is open access and the dignity of people is a priority,» the prelate affirmed.

Ready to share

Archbishop Tomasi reiterated a call coming from many quarters to avoid using the global recession as a pretext to diminish aid funds.

«The food crisis has brought about a decrease in the distribution of food in areas affected by famine, in refugee camps and in detention centers; the energy crises have drastically increased the cost of bringing help to various places; and now, the global economic crisis runs the risk of reducing financing for public and civil society, and the humanitarian agencies and organizations,» he lamented.

The Holy See representative did acknowledge that «many states continue generously taking on the responsibility of providing assistance, despite the economic crisis.»

But he warned that «a decrease in solidarity and the inability to provide for people in humanitarian crises in these difficult times will only lead to social and political instability that will undermine society and its capacity to unite and resolve the economic crisis.»

In this regard, the prelate offered the experience of the Holy See and its commitment to «deal with the needs of all people affected by the humanitarian crises or those caused by man, independently of their race or religious beliefs.»

«Through its numerous institutions,» he said, «it continues to be deeply involved in impartial humanitarian assistance and is always ready to share its best initiatives and ideas with others.»

UN tasks

Archbishop Tomasi explained that states are the principal protagonists to guarantee the rights of their citizens. But he did not relieve the United Nations from a «subsidiary responsibility» in this regard.

He affirmed, «It is a must for all sectors to recognize their particular responsibility in protecting the lives of civilians in areas under their jurisdiction or their control, and to fulfill and fully respect the norms and principles of international human rights, including those regarding the protection of humanitarian personnel and that of not impeding access to those in need.»

The Holy See representative said states «should commit themselves to promote and permit access to resources destined to saving lives, without using them for political control.»

«The common good should be the guiding principle and international humanitarian rights should be protected in every circumstance,» he affirmed.

The international community should be ready to assist «national authorities to respond to crises whenever they are unable to do it themselves,» he continued, «enabling access to regional and international agents who act in emergencies and save lives.»

«Naturally,» Archbishop Tomasi added, «when it comes time to coordinate this international response, the position of the United Nations gives it a unique role, with a unique responsibility to promote coordination and coherence, seeking effective actions and responsible management of the available resources, at the same time preserving the fundamental humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity.»

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