A call for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis

Caritas Internationalis urges the international community to give absolute priority to finding a diplomatic and political solution to the Iraqi crisis to avoid a major humanitarian disaster. The use of military force in Iraq could bring incalculable costs to a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and debilitating economic sanctions.
Caritas Internationalis expresses its full solidarity with the "Confrérie de la Charité" (Caritas-Iraq), the local Church authorities, and all the people of Iraq. The latter will be seriously affected by any military operation, especially at a time when they are already suffering from the sanctions regime imposed and enforced by the United Nations Security Council. We thus associate ourselves with the appeals put forward in recent months by religious and civil society leaders throughout the world who convincingly argue for a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

We invite all persons of good will to join their voices with those who reject the current descent into a spiral of violence, and to pray and to take active steps to avoid a catastrophe. Several members of our Confederation -- particularly those in countries that might participate in military action -- are making efforts to raise the awareness about the consequences of war with the public and governments in their countries. They are urging their leaders to take all possible steps to work for peace and avoid resorting to violence.

An Already Dire Humanitarian Situation

In a reference to Iraq in 1998, Pope John Paul II said, "The weak and the innocent cannot pay for mistakes for which they are not responsible. I therefore pray that this country will regain its dignity, experience normal development, and thus be in a position to re-establish fruitful relations with other peoples, within the framework of international law and world solidarity."

This statement is as true today as it was then.

Caritas Internationalis has never ceased appealing to the international community to suspend sanctions and end the economic blockade. A delegation of Caritas Internationalis visited Iraq from 21 to 26 October 2002 and saw first hand how the sanctions imposed on Iraq since the end of the Gulf War have proven to be ineffective, cruel, and dangerous.

Sanctions are ineffective because the regime - which is the official target - is unaffected by them. They are cruel because it is the poor and vulnerable persons in the country who feel the brunt of their effects (hunger, malnutrition, disease, and a dramatic increase in child mortality). Finally, sanctions are dangerous because they have contributed greatly to damaging the structure of Iraqi society, and given rise to strong feelings of resentment towards Western powers.

The Consequences of War

Already seriously weakened, the Iraqi people would pay an exorbitant price in the event of an attack. A conflict would inevitably lead to the deaths of thousands of people, and even greater numbers would be displaced or become refugees. In Iraq today, between 14 and 16 million persons (two thirds of the population) are entirely dependent on food rations distributed under the UN Oil-for-Food-Programme, purchased through the sale of Iraqi oil. In the event of a conflict and the inevitable destruction of communication and transport infrastructures, the whole system could be paralysed within a few hours. Likewise, as happened in the conflict of 1990-91, the water and sewage systems would be rapidly paralysed due to a lack of electricity, and polluted water could cause major outbreaks of disease and lead to epidemics.

Article 54, Paragraph 2, of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 prohibits attacks upon "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population". In the case of Iraq, this would include ports, roads, railways and power lines, thus, impeding the civilian population to have access to food and water, and consequently, contravening also Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Article 54, Paragraph 3b states that "in no event shall actions against these objects be taken which may be expected to leave the civilian population with such inadequate food or water as to cause its starvation or force its movement". It is thus hard to see how a war could be waged against Iraq without violating international humanitarian law and fundamental human rights.

Caritas Internationalis Says No to War

Caritas Internationalis bases its analysis on the values of justice and peace that form a key basis of the social teachings of the Church. It is Caritas Internationalis' firm belief that an attack on Iraq would not fulfil the moral criteria that might ultimately justify the use of military force, as they are laid down in the texts of the Catholic Church (in particular the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n=B0 2309)

In his address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican on 13 January of this year, Pope John Paul II emphatically said, "No to war." He added, "War cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option, and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations." Caritas Internationalis joins his call to prevent any war.

One should only resort to war when all other means have been clearly shown to be impractical or ineffective. The United States Catholic Bishops' Conference is also concerned that war against Iraq could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq but for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. In their Statement on Iraq from 13 November 2002, the Bishops said, "The use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent, could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population, and could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region. War against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism."

Our wish for the Iraqi people is that they have the same freedoms and peace enjoyed by people in democracies throughout the world. However, our purpose in this position paper is principally humanitarian, not political, because as we are part of the Church and therefore aim to be 'experts in humanity' (Pope John Paul II), we deal first and foremost with the human person.

Caritas Internationalis appeals to world leaders and decision-makers to take all possible steps to actively promote a political solution. We reaffirm our support for all persons and all groups who are engaged in the building of peace, and in promoting justice, reconciliation, and development. Through prayer, advocacy, campaigning, and our humanitarian actions, we also commit ourselves unequivocally to pursuing this aim.