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Home : News : Pope Francis/Vatican
Duty to protect defenseless is not a license for war, archbishop says
Catholic News Service photo
Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Syria.
Catholic News Service photo
Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Syria.
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — An international obligation to intervene in situations of war or widespread violations of human rights does not mean a country or group of countries can decide to take military action in another nation, said the Vatican's foreign minister.

"The responsibility to protect," a concept espoused by the United Nations, is not a call to arms, "but to a profound and mandatory spirit of solidarity," Archbishop Dominique Mamberti told the U.N. General Assembly.

The archbishop, whose formal title is secretary for relations with states, addressed the General Assembly Oct. 1, urging the international community to work harder to resolve the war in Syria and to recognize the relationship between peace and development and between war and poverty.

While U.N. and humanitarian agencies and the countries welcoming Syrian refugees have taken heroic steps to help the victims of Syria's war, "what has been lacking for too long is the courage of member states" to make resolving the crisis peacefully an international priority, the archbishop said.

Archbishop Mamberti acknowledged that after the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons on its own people in August, some countries finally recognized they had to act in accordance with their "responsibility to protect" the defenseless.

"Unfortunately, the responsibility to protect is sometimes understood in an erroneous way as if it consisted of a justification of the recourse to arms when, in reality, it means something quite different," the archbishop said.

A shared obligation to protect others, he said, "asks each person, starting with the leaders of nations, to feel affected by the great humanitarian crises as if they were their own, no matter where they occur, and to work immediately to put into action all available means -- diplomatic, economic, public opinion, as well as the measures envisioned by the U.N. Charter -- in view of an effective solution."

Archbishop Mamberti told the U.N. members that it is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the U.N. Charter for a nation or group of nations to go to war against another nation without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, except when absolutely necessary for self-defense.

Limiting the use of force is the basic principle underlying the U.N. Charter, he said.

With the U.N. General Assembly's 2013 session dedicated to discussing ways to promote development beyond 2015 -- when the Millennium Development Goals project has ended -- Archbishop Mamberti pleaded with national delegations to keep in mind the close connection between development and peace.

Poverty and injustice often are at the roots of conflict, he said, and development efforts -- like in Syria -- are destroyed by war.

The basic rights and values recognized at the foundation of the United Nations are still valid and, if respected, will help ensure that development projects respect the human person and all that he or she needs for fulfillment, he said.

The basic values include "the promotion of the family, founded on the union of one man and one woman, as the basic social unit and foundation of all lasting and sustainable development," he said, and the defense of the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.

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