Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pope says war no excuse for human rights abuses
13 Dec 2005 11:52:52 GMT

Source: Reuters
By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said in an annual peace message on Tuesday that countries have a duty to respect international humanitarian law even if they are at war.

In the first peace message of his pontificate, he also appealed for worldwide nuclear disarmament and said countries considering acquiring such weapons should "change their course".

In the message for the Church's World Day of Peace, celebrated on Jan. 1, he also strongly condemned terrorism but said the world community should look deeper into its political, social, cultural, religious and ideological motivations.

In one part of the message, which is sent to heads of state and international organisations, the Pope said war could not be an excuse for disregarding international humanitarian law.

"The truth of peace must also let its beneficial light shine even amid the tragedy of war," he said, re-enforcing his stand by quoting from another Vatican document that said "not everything automatically becomes permissible between hostile parties once war has regrettably commenced".

The 12-page message, called "In Truth, Peace", he said the Holy See was convinced that international humanitarian law had to be respected "even in the midst of war".

The Pope did not name any countries or wars but his words followed widespread controversy over reports of abuse of prisoners by the United States in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.

The reports have incensed U.S. adversaries and alienated some allies. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came under pressure in Europe over reports of secret CIA prisons on the continent.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department, told reporters at the presentation of the message that the Pope's words applied to all wars. Asked if Iraq was included, he said: "That's correct."


In his message, the Pope called international humanitarian law one of the finest expressions of truth.

"Precisely for this reason, respect for that law must be considered binding on all peoples," he said.

International humanitarian law "must be brought up to date by precise norms applicable to the changing scenarios of today's armed conflicts and the use of ever newer and more sophisticated weapons", he added.

Washington says the Geneva Convention does not apply to foreign captives in its war on terrorism, but human rights activists say it is still bound by the 1984 U.N. Convention against Torture to which it is a signatory.

President George W. Bush has said the United States does not practise torture, or send suspects to countries that do.

Last week a group of American Roman Catholic peace activists held a march to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, protesting conditions for terrorism suspects.

In another part of the message, the Pope said the possession of nuclear weapons by any country for security was "not only baneful but also completely fallacious" because there would be no winners in a nuclear war.

"The truth of peace requires that all -- whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them -- agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament," he said.
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