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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pope speaks to the United Nations

Pope Benedict XVI called on the United Nations yesterday to intervene more urgently in countries that abuse human rights or fail to properly protect their people from the effects of natural or man-made disasters.

The Times writes:

"In his first speech to the international body, the Pope offered a strong endorsement of action by powerful countries to alleviate suffering. While insisting that diplomatic efforts to preempt conflict should be the focus of such efforts, he also suggested that military force, within the rules of the UN, could be justified.

“Every state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations charter and in other international instruments.”

The Pope insisted that national sovereignty could not be used as a defence by repressive states to prevent international action.

The Pope avoided referring to any specific international crises but his remarks were a carefully balanced contribution to the arguments that have divided the international community about the nature of international cooperation against pariah states.

He made no mention of the war in Iraq, which he has criticised in the past. But his remarks were viewed by some as a call for more urgent diplomatic action by the UN over crises in countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. This interpretation was given weight in a subsequent meeting with South Africa’s Foreign Minister and UN ambassador, when the Pope raised the issue of Zimbabwe’s election stand-off.

In his speech, the Pope was implicitly critical of the UN Security Council, which gives veto power to five permanent members, the US, China, Russia, Britain and France, a power that is often used to block intervention.

The Pope also suggested that action to promote human rights was a vital tool in the fight against terrorism, which was fuelled by violations of individual liberties.

“The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security. Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace,” he said.

The speech, delivered partly in French and partly in English, was made in the second half of his inaugural visit to the US – a trip to the American financial and media capital.

The Pope was greeted at John F. Kennedy airport in New York by David Paterson – who became Governor of New York recently after the resignation last month of Eliot Spitzer – and Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of the city. Church leaders from the Archdiocese of New York and several thousand cheering spectators also greeted the pontiff.

After his address to the UN the Pope visited Manhattan’s East Side for a Passover week visit to a synagogue, the first such visit by a pontiff outside Europe."