GENEVA, DEC. 11, 2003 ( The Holy See raised its voice forcefully in defense of international humanitarian law, especially in wartime.

The Catholic Church's position resounded at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, held here from Dec. 2-6. The speech given by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations in this Swiss city, was made public Wednesday.

Archbishop Tomasi said the meeting was taking place "at a moment marked by rumbles of war and by an explosion of terrorism of such a magnitude unknown before today."

"Civilian victims of well-reported and of forgotten wars and of their destructive consequences run in the millions," he lamented. "In fact, some states and non-state actors try to exploit the desperation of endemic poverty and of extreme social inequality by promoting their private objectives through violent actions."

In this context, "the Holy See looks at international humanitarian law as an important, invaluable, nonnegotiable and still relevant instrument," the archbishop stressed.

Therefore, the Church "will continue to promote appropriate initiatives of interreligious character to defend human dignity during armed conflicts and to increase respect for international humanitarian law, especially through the vast network of Catholic education institutions," he said.

"Some governments are reticent in accepting effective control mechanisms, while public opinion seems to have become accustomed to violations of humanitarian law as if the painful spectacle of so many victims were leading to resignation instead of prompting a reaction capable of influencing wrong political and military choices," the Vatican representative said.

As "a sadly eloquent sign" of contempt for humanitarian law, Archbishop Tomasi mentioned "the attacks purposely directed against humanitarian personnel who generously serve in the midst of conflicts, in particular by the recent deadly attacks against the International Committee of the Red Cross."

The "movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent can count on the partnership and support of the Catholic Church," he added. "Collaboration with religious institutions and faith communities will make for a more effective humanitarian action."