Economic sanctions must be used with great discernment

Author: STATE


Holy See's Delegation to the UN
Monsignor James Reinert

On Friday, 9 October, Mons. James Reinert, a member of the Holy See's Delegation to the 53rd Session of the UN General Assembly, addressed the Second Committee on Item 92a regarding economic sanctions. Here is the English text of his address.

Mr. Chairman,

The Holy See has always opposed the use of indiscriminate coercive economic sanctions against a nation when they affect the basic human development of its people, and Pope John Paul II has spoken out innumerable times against them.

In particular, during his Christmas Message to the world in 1995, he asked: "Will the people of Iraq finally be able to return to a normal existence after the long years of embargo?". In his Angelus message on 16 November 1997, he prayed for the people living in the Gulf Region, especially the children and the sick.

On 12 June 1998, as he departed from an international Christian conference which was held in Baghdad, Cardinal Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, stated: "The embargo, by its perverse and uncontrollable effects, is destroying the soul of the Iraqi people, who desperately see its cultural and moral patrimony decaying and its social tissue breaking down".

Last year, during the discussion of the Report of the Secretary-General on Economic Measures as a Means of Political and Economic Coercion Against Developing Countries, the position of the Holy See was clearly reaffirmed.

The Holy See recognized that there are legitimate reasons that the international community may resort to sanctions. But starvation may not be a means of warfare or the consequence of a legal decision. Sanctions should be a temporary means of exerting pressure on decision-makers whose choices threaten international peace. Sanctions must be proportionate to the goals they hope to achieve and they must always be accompanied by a dialogue between the parties involved.

The Report noted that Pope John Paul II has said that "the embargo, clearly defined by law, is an Instrument that needs to be used with great discernment and it must be subjected to strict legal and ethical criteria", and that the Holy See hoped "the Security Council would be better informed about the negative effects, on a humanitarian level, deriving from the application of sanctions imposed on a State in strict application of the Charter of the United Nations".

Finally, regarding the teaching of the Holy See, the Report remarked that "the legitimate decision by the international community never dispenses with the due attention that must be paid to the concrete fate of the civilian population".

And here, Mr. Chairman, mention needs to be made of the adverse effects of sanctions on third countries.

More recently, during his Pastoral Visit to Cuba, Pope John Paul II spoke, in general terms, of the pain of economic sanctions. In his Message to the young people of that nation on 23 January 1998, he stated that the effects of economic embargoes "are always deplorable because they hurt the most needy".

And in his farewell address to the people of Cuba on 25 January, the Pope spoke of the pursuit of goodness. He noted that one of the causes of the pain and economic suffering that the people experience was "oppressive economic measures unjustly and ethically unacceptably imposed from outside the country".

Mr. Chairman, my Delegation realizes that there have been occasions when economic sanctions have been used among the last resorts as a useful tool in bringing about desired effects.

But the Holy See also joins with all who hold that these coercive economic measures must never be used indiscriminately. Any act that causes suffering and harm to the innocent population and deprives it of help causes social disintegration, and will make people who frequently have no say in the policies of their governments more subject to it.

The Holy See requests that the United Nations look closely at the effects of its economic sanctions. And, it also requests that appropriate and effective structures be found within the United Nations to alleviate the adverse impact of sanctions on innocent and vulnerable citizens and to ensure that exemptions from the sanctions regime be granted for those goods most necessary for their well-being.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
28 October 1998, page 9

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