Catholic News Service / Dec-16-2003

Pope says waging war unilaterally is violation of international law

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

Vatican City (CNS) -- Nations have a right to defend themselves against terrorism, but the unilateral use of force cannot be justified, Pope John Paul II said.

In his annual message for the Jan. 1 World Day of Peace, the pope said international bodies established to protect nations and settle disputes need to be reformed to deal with the threat posed by a surge in terrorist movements around the world.

But countries cannot renege on their formal commitments to respect international law and work through the United Nations, he said in the message released Dec. 16 at a Vatican press conference.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said it is clear in the pope's message and in the more than 30 peace appeals he made in 2003 that the pope believes the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not a just war because it did not have the support of the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council.

At the press conference, the cardinal said that "it would be illusory" to think the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein "will repair the damage caused by that great defeat for humanity which war always represents."

Before, during and after the invasion, Cardinal Martino said, the pope "said 'no' to war, called it an adventure without return and a defeat for humanity."

The United States and members of the coalition that attacked Iraq had an obligation to act according to the international agreements they freely signed, the cardinal said. Those agreements prohibit the use of force except when necessary for national defense or collective security and, even then, only in concert with the Security Council.

"A nation cannot invent initiatives outside national and international law," the cardinal said.

In the text of the message sent to heads of state around the world, Pope John Paul said, "Peace remains possible. And if peace is possible, it is also a duty."

The pope condemned terrorism and specifically appealed for peace in "Palestine and the Middle East."

Giving his message the title "An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace," the pope said that his peace day messages for the past 25 years and the 11 messages written by Pope Paul VI beginning in 1968 provide a "syllabus" of necessary ingredients for teaching people how to promote peace with justice, dialogue, freedom, charity, forgiveness and respect for human rights.

"What remains now is to work to ensure that the ideal of a peaceful coexistence, with its specific requirements, will become part of the consciousness of individuals and peoples," the pope wrote.

In teaching peace, he said, "there is a particularly urgent need to lead individuals and peoples to respect the international order."

Throughout history, but particularly after World War II, the international community has developed principles, laws and treaties aimed at resolving conflicts peacefully and putting an end to all war, he said.

"Accords freely signed must be honored," he said.

"The violation of this principle leads to a situation of illegality and consequently to friction and disputes which would not fail to have lasting negative repercussions," he said.

Nations must be called on to uphold their commitments to peace, "especially at times when there is a temptation to appeal to the law of force rather than to the force of law," the pope said.

Pope John Paul acknowledged that the phenomenon of terrorism is difficult to deal with through established international law because the law was designed to regulate relations between states.

"The scourge of terrorism has become more virulent in recent years and has produced brutal massacres which have in turn put even greater obstacles in the way of dialogue and negotiation, increasing tensions and aggravating problems, especially in the Middle East," he said.

New international instruments must be developed for the prevention, monitoring and suppression of terrorist groups and other forms of international criminal activity, he said.

But the absence of a specific international tool for dealing with terrorism does not justify one nation acting on its own and violating basic human rights, the pope wrote.

"Democratic governments know well that the use of force against terrorists cannot justify a renunciation of the principles of the rule of law," he said.

"Political decisions would be unacceptable were they to seek success without consideration for fundamental human rights, since the end never justifies the means," Pope John Paul wrote.

As he has said before, the pope also said, "the fight against terrorism cannot be limited solely to repressive and punitive operations."

Even if the use of force is necessary, he said, it still must be accompanied by "a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks," a solid commitment to eliminate the injustices that lead some groups to lash out with violence and real efforts to educate everyone on the absolute obligation to respect human life.

At the press conference, Cardinal Martino said the pope was convinced that "you can eliminate one terrorist, or 10 terrorists or a thousand terrorists, but if we do not eliminate injustices, there will always be other terrorists."

In his message, Pope John Paul said respect for law is the first path to peace, but order is not transformed into peace without love and forgiveness.

Particularly in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, Pope John Paul said, "a solution to the grave problems which for too long have caused suffering for the peoples of those regions will not be found until a decision is made to transcend the logic of simple justice and to be open also to the logic of forgiveness."

Editor's Note:
The text of the message along with other papal documents can be found online at:
For a direct link to the full text of “An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace,” go to