The Celebration of the Great Jubilee
Message for World Day of Peace (2)
Crimes against humanity

7. This principle has an immensely important consequence: an offense against human rights is an offense against the conscience of humanity as such, an offence against humanity itself. The duty of protecting these rights therefore extends beyond the geographical and political borders within which they are violated. Crimes against humanity cannot be considered an internal affair of a nation. Here an important step forward was taken with the establishment of an International Criminal Court to try such crimes, regardless of the place or circumstances in which they are committed. We must thank God that in the conscience of peoples and nations there is a growing conviction that human rights have no borders, because they are universal and indivisible.

8. In our time, the number of wars between States has diminished. This fact, albeit consoling, appears in a very different light if we consider the armed conflicts taking place within States. Sadly these are quite numerous on practically every continent, and often very violent. For the most part, they are rooted in long-standing historical motives of an ethnic, tribal or even religious character, to which must be added nowadays other ideological, social and economic causes.

These internal conflicts, usually waged through the large-scale use of small-calibre weapons and so-called "light" arms - arms which in are fact extraordinarily lethal - often have grave consequences which spill over the borders of the country in question, involving outside interests and responsibilities. While it is true that the extreme complexity of these conflicts makes it very difficult to understand and evaluate the causes and interests at play, one fact cannot be disputed: it is the civilian population which suffers most tragically, since neither ordinary laws nor the laws of warfare are respected in practice. Far from being protected, civilians are often the prime target of the conflicting forces, when they themselves are not directly involved in armed activity as a result of a perverse spiral which makes them both victims and assassins of other civilians.

All too many and horrifying are the macabre scenarios in which innocent children, women, and unarmed older people have become intentional targets in the bloody conflicts of our time; too many, in fact, for us not to feel that the moment has come to change direction, decisively and with a great sense of responsibility.

The right to humanitarian assistance

9. In every case, in the face of such tragic and complex situations and contrary to all alleged "reasons" of war, there is a need to affirm the preeminent value of humanitarian law and the consequent duty to guarantee the right to humanitarian aid to suffering civilians and refugees.

The recognition of these rights and their effective implementation must not be allowed to depend on the interests of any of the parties in conflict. On the contrary, there is a duty to identify all the means, institutional or otherwise, which can best serve in a practical way to meet humanitarian objectives. The moral and political legitimacy of these rights is in fact based on the principle that the good of the human person comes before all else and stands above all human institutions.

10. Here I wish to restate my conviction that, in the face of modern armed conflicts, negotiation between parties, with appropriate attempts at mediation and pacification by international and regional bodies, is of the greatest importance. Negotiation is necessary in order to prevent such conflicts and to end them once they have broken out, restoring peace through an equitable settlement of the rights and interests involved.

This conviction concerning the positive role played by mediation and pacification agencies should be extended to the non-governmental humanitarian organizations and religious bodies which, discreetly and without ulterior motives, promote peace between opposed groups and help to overcome age-old rivalries, reconcile enemies, and open the way to a new and shared future. While honouring their noble dedication to the cause of peace, I wish to remember with profound esteem all who have given their lives so that others might live: I lift up my prayers to God for them and I invite other believers to do the same.

"Humanitarian intervention"

11. Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defence prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone.

The fullest and the best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter, further defining effective instruments and modes of intervention within the framework of international law. In this regard, the United Nations Organization itself must offer all its Member States an equal opportunity to be part of the decision-making process, eliminating privileges and discriminations which weaken its role and its credibility.

12. This opens a new field of reflection and discussion both for politics and for law, a field which we all hope will be earnestly and wisely cultivated. What is needed without delay is a renewal of international law and international institutions, a renewal whose starting-point and basic organizing principle should be the primacy of the good of humanity and of the human person over every other consideration. Such a renewal is all the more urgent if we consider the paradox of contemporary warfare in which, as recent conflicts have shown, armies enjoy maximum security while the civilian population lives in frightening situations of danger. In no kind of conflict is it permissible to ignore the right of civilians to safety.

Beyond legal and institutional considerations, there remains a fundamental duty for all men and women of good will, called to commit themselves personally to the cause of peace: that of educating for peace, setting in place structures of peace and methods of non-violence, and making every possible effort to bring parties in conflict to the negotiating table.

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