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U.S. Bishops' Statement on Iraq


January 20, 1998

President William Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, Bishop Members of Pax Christi-USA and other bishops, are writing to you to express our profound moral concerns about the U.S.-led sanctions against the people of Iraq. In conscience, we urge you to call for the immediate lifting of the sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, to end all U.S. support for these sanctions, and to refrain from any military action in the current dispute.

In 1993, on the 10th anniversary of our pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace," we U.S. Catholic Bishops issued "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace." In this document, we acknowledged that "in the aftermath of the Cold War, economic sanctions have become a more common form of international a means of combating aggression short of military intervention ... In each case [in which they have been applied] we have consulted closely with the church in the country affected and have been guided by its judgment."

In our document, we have enunciated four criteria for the assessment of the morality of the use of sanctions:

  • Concerns about the limited effectiveness of sanctions and the harms caused to civilian populations require that comprehensive sanctions be considered only in response to aggression or grave and ongoing injustice after less coercive measureshave been tried and with clear and reasonable conditions set for their removal.

  • The harm caused by sanctions should be proportionate to the good likely to be achieved; sanctions should avoid grave and irreversible harm to the civilian population. Therefore, sanctions should be targeted as much as possible against those directly responsible for the injustice, distinguishing between the government and the people ... Embargoes, when employed, must make provisions for the fundamental human needs of the civilian population. The denial of basic needs may not be used as a weapon.

  • The consent to sanctions by substantial portions of the affected population is morally relevant ...

  • Sanctions should always be part of a broader process of diplomacy aimed at finding an effective solution to the injustice.

We find that after seven years, the sanctions against Iraq violate these criteria.

Sanctions have taken the lives of well over one million persons, 60% of whom are children under five years of age. The 1991 bombing campaign destroyed electric, water and sewage plants, as well as agricultural, food and medical production facilities. All of these structures continue to be inoperative, or function at sub-minimal levels, because the sanctions have made it impossible to buy spare parts for their repair.

This bombing campaign, together with the total embargo in place since August 1990 was, and is, an attack against the civilian population of Iraq. Such counter-population warfare has been unequivocally condemned by the most authoritative teaching body of the Catholic Church, The Second Vatican Council (1962- 1965).

Independent agencies continue to document the devastating impact sanctions are having on the civilian population. These include the United Nation's own World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In 1996, UNICEF reported that 4,500 children were dying monthly. Leaders of the church in Iraq tell us that sanctions must end. For example, Archbishop Gabriel Kassab, of the southern region of Iraq, stated: "Epidemics rage, taking away infants and the sick by the thousands. Those children who survive disease succumb to malnutrition, which stunts their physical and mental development. Our situation is unbearable!...We appeal to people of conscience to work to end the blockade of Iraq...Let it be known that Resolution 986 (the so-called 'oil-for-food' resolution) has served to divert world attention from the tragedy, while in some respects aggravating it."

In fact, only 53% of money received for the sale of oil is available to Iraq. Thirty percent of the money realized from the oil revenues is paid to Kuwait, and a sizable amount covers various costs of the U.N. expenses in Iraq. The food and medicine for Iraqi children, and the rest of the civilian population, from Resolution 986, are constantly delayed, largely because of the extraordinary complexity of the procedures for the implementation of the resolution.

Mr. President, whatever the intent of these sanctions, we are compelled by this assessment to judge them to be a violation of moral teaching, specifically as articulated within the Catholic tradition. In fact, the sanctions are not only in violation of the teaching of the Catholic Church, but they violate the human rights of Iraqi people, because they deprive innocent people from food and medicine, basic elements for normal life. We call for the immediate cessation of sanctions against Iraq.

We sincerely hope you will give careful consideration to the moral issues we have raised. We are willing to work with you in trying to find a truly just path to peace in the Middle East.

Sincerely yours,

Juan A. Arzube, Former Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, CA
Victor H. Blake, Bishop of Crooks ton, MN
Joseph M. Breitenbeck, Former Bishop of Grand Rapids, MI
Kevin M. Britt, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, MI
Charles A. Buswell, Former Bishop of Pueblo, CO
Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, Bishop of Denver, CO
John G. Chedid, Eparch of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, CA
Matthew H. Clark, Bishop of Rochester, NY
Patrick R. Cooney, Bishop of Gaylord, MI
Thomas J. Costello, Auxiliary Bishop of Syracuse, NY
Nicholas N. D'Antonio, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, LA
Joseph P. Delaney, Bishop of Fort Worth, TX
Robert W. Donnelly, Auxiliary Bishop of Toledo, OH
Joseph A. Ferrario, Former Bishop of Honolulu, HI
John J. Fitzpatrick, Former Bishop of Brownsville, TX
Patrick F. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio, TX
Thomas Gunbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, MI
Richard C. Hanifen, Bishop of Colorado Springs, CO
Joseph L. Howze, Bishop of Biloxi, MS
William L. Higi, Bishop of Lafayette, IN
James Hoffman, Bishop of Toledo, OH
Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, NY
Raymond G. Hunthausen, Former Archbishop of Seattle, WA
William A. Hughes, Former Bishop of Covington, KY
Ibrahim Ibrahim, Bishop Eparch to St. Thomas the Apostle, MI
Joseph L. Imesch, Bishop of Joliet, IL
Raymond A. Lucker, Bishop of New Ulm, MN
Leroy T. Matthiesen, Former Bishop of Amarillo, TX
John E. McCarthy, Bishop of Austin, TX
Lawrence J. McNamara, Bishop of Grand Island, NB
John J. McRaith, Bishop of Owensboro, KY
Dale J. Melczek, Bishop of Gary, IN
Donald W. Montrose, Bishop of Stockton, CA
Francis P. Murphy, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, MD
Michael J. Murphy, Former Bishop of Erie, PA
James D. Niedergeses, Former Bishop of Nashville, TN
William C. Newman, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, MD
Gerald F. O'Keefe, Former Bishop of Davenport, IA
Albert H. Ottenweller, Former Bishop of Steubenville, OH
Michael Pfeifer, OMI, Bishop of San Angelo, TX
Kenneth J. Povish, Former Bishop of Lansing, MI
Francis A. Quinn, Former Bishop of Sacramento, CA
James A. Quinn, Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland, OH
Peter A. Rosazza, Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford, CT
Walter J. Schoenherr, Former Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, MI
Richard J. Sklba, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, WI
John J. Snyder, Bishop of St. Augustine, FL
Joseph M. Sullivan, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, NY
Walter F. Sullivan, Bishop of Richmond, VA
Kenneth E. Untener, Bishop of Saginaw, MI
Rene A. Valero, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, NY
Daniel F. Walsh, Bishop of Las Vegas, NV
J. Kendrick Williams, Bishop of Lexington, KY
Gavaino Zavala, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, CA

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