Holy See's UN Representative: International Community 'Compelled' to Act on Iraq

Archbishop Tomasi Warns of Similarities With Rwandan Genocide

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A senior Vatican diplomat has said Pope Francis’ appeal to the United Nations shows the Holy Father believes the international community is “compelled” to take action to stop the atrocities in Northern Iraq.</p>

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 13, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said that what seems to be “particularly important” the Pope’s Aug. 9 letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “is the expressions that he uses: the tragic situation ‘compels’ the international community. 

“There is a moral imperative so to (speak), a necessity to act,” he said.

Islamic State militants in northern Iraq have purged entire towns and villages of people, threatening to kill all those who fail to embrace their brand of Sunni Islam.  Tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities have fled their homes. Many have been without food, water and shelter for days.

Archbishop Tomasi said the Pope’s letter represented the “sum total” of the different appeals coming to the international community. 

“The World Council of Churches has been writing to the Secretary General invoking some action on behalf of the people of the northern Iraq region – so has the Organization of the Islamic Conference and many other people beginning with the Patriarch of the Catholic Chaldean community, Patriarch Sako,” the archbishop said.

“All of these people take note and condemn in the strongest way the violation of the fundamental, basic human rights of the Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.”

The papal diplomat noted that while Pope Francis does not specify exactly what action should be taken in Iraq, he does give some indication of his thoughts when he refers in his letter to the juridical norms governing the United Nations.

In the letter, Pope Francis encouraged all the competent organs of the United Nations, “in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.”

Archbishop Tomasi said in the various articles making up the Charter, it is foreseen “that there might be occasions in the life and in the relations between states when dialogue, negotiations, fail and large numbers of people find themselves at risk: at risk of genocide, at risk of having their fundamental, their basic human rights violated. 

“In this case, when every other means has been attempted, article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations becomes possible justification for not only imposing sanctions of economic nature on the state or the group or the region that violates the basic human rights of people, but also to use force,” he said. “All the force that is necessary to stop this evil and this tragedy.”

Archbishop Tomasi concluded by saying the situation in northern Iraq is similar to when Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda were killing each other in the 1990s. “There were meetings, political declarations, but very little action,” he said. “And then, every year when we commemorate the almost one million people killed in that genocide, we make a kind of ‘mea culpa’  saying we have not done anything effective to prevent the killing of those innocent people. 

“God forbid that this may also be the same situation today in northern Iraq,” he said.

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