US Bishops Question Use of Force in Libya

Stress Moral Responsibility, Principles of Justice

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 28, 2011 ( The U.S. bishops are urging government leaders to examine the use of military force in Libya according to principles of moral responsibility and the protection of human life.

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote a letter last Thursday to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon emphasizing these points.

The prelate acknowledged, “Recently our nation in coalition with others embarked on an internationally-sanctioned military mission to protect civilians in Libya from their own government.”

In the wake of reports of “massacres” of Libyan protestors and bombings of rebel forces by Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader for 42 years, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973. This resolution authorized the international community to establish a no-fly zone, and to allow for the use of “all means necessary” for the protection of Libyan civilians.

On March 19, several countries launched bombing attacks on the Libyan military systems in Tripoli and elsewhere.

Underlining Catholic teaching, that “the use of force must always be a last resort that serves a just cause,” the bishop affirmed, “The just cause articulated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to demand ‘a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians’ appears to meet this criterion in our judgment.”

He added, “Since the protection of civilians is paramount, a key question is: Will the coalition actions stay focused on this limited goal and mission?”

“In recent years,” Bishop Hubbard observed, “the Holy See has emphasized the role of international bodies in authorizing humanitarian interventions into sovereign nations.”

Careful monitoring

He added, “The United Nations Security Council needs to continue to monitor carefully the mission and the use of force in Libya.”

The prelate outlined “important questions” in this regard, including: “How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians? Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address?

“What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?”

He pointed out that “the justice of a cause does not lessen the moral responsibility to comply with the norms of civilian immunity and proportionality.”

In this regard, the bishop raised other questions, such as: “Is force being used in ways that protect civilian lives?

“Are civilian casualties being avoided? Is the destruction of lives and property proportionate to the good being achieved in terms of saving civilian lives?”

“As pastors and teachers,” the prelate said on behalf of the other bishops of the conference, “we have refrained from making definitive judgments because the situation on the ground remains complex and involves many prudential decisions beyond our expertise.”

He concluded, “We know these are difficult questions to which there are few easy answers, but it is our moral responsibility as a nation to rigorously examine the use of military force in light of the need to protect human life and dignity.

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