From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Armed intervention to save lives can be justified, says Nobel peace

Date 05 Feb 2001 11:12:25

Note #6370 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Armed intervention to save lives can be justified, says Nobel peace laureate

by Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International

BERLIN -- Nobel peace prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, in Berlin for the
launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence, has strongly defended the need
for armed intervention by the international community to deal with human
rights abuses.
Ramos-Horta, joint winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize and cabinet member
for foreign affairs in East Timor's United Nations Transitional
Administration, was speaking to journalists at a press conference yesterday
(February 4) during a series of events to mark the official launch of the
World Council of Churchesí Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches seeking
Reconciliation and Peace, 2001-2010.

There was no alternative to armed intervention by the international
community in situations like Kosovo, Cambodia and Rwanda where human rights
were being abused on a massive scale, he said.

"What do you do? You preach, you pray and let the Kosovars die?" Ramos-Horta
said. He pointed out that at a peace gathering in The Netherlands in 1999,
he had been one of the few speakers to say, in front of thousands of people,
that he supported Nato's intervention "to avoid genocide" in Kosovo. "There
was no other alternative," he said yesterday.

The Decade to Overcome Violence is intended to encourage churches and
ecumenical partners to overcome all forms of violence and as a statement of
the WCC's wish to work together with local communities, secular movements
and people of other faiths to build a culture of peace. Its launch yesterday
took place as part of a meeting in nearby Potsdam of the WCC's central

However, the launch of the decade has been partly overshadowed by debate
over whether the use of violence can ever be justified. A paper presented to
central committee members last week spoke of the "use of armed force as a
last resort." And in his report to the central committee, its moderator,
Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church, suggested that although
violence was "evil," it might be an "unavoidable alternative, a last resort"
for people living "under conditions of injustice and oppression, where all
means of non-violent actions are used up."

Catholicos Aram's remarks were criticized by some central committee members,
particularly from Germany.

In a speech yesterday in Berlin, Catholicos Aram pointed out that the decade
was a commitment "to overcome violence by active non-violence," but he went
on to reiterate: "Even so, we do not judge those for whom, in extreme
situations, when hope for justice and dignity has disappeared, the use of
force as a last resort may become necessary."

However, one of the other speakers at the event, Dr. Rita Sussmuth, former
president of the German parliament, spoke out passionately about the need to
resolve conflicts by non-violent means. "To anyone who believes that we can
resolve the conflicts of today -- whether in the Middle East, in Turkey or
in Africa -- by using weapons, then I can only say, you can end wars or
continue wars with weapons, but not create peace.

"Peace can only be created through using other means, in which societies
outlaw violence, recognize the rule of law and reject any form of resolving
conflicts through violence," she said, to applause from the audience.

Asked at yesterday's press conference about the issue, Ramos-Horta said: "If
a genocide happens again, like in Cambodia in the 1970s, the world must
intervene." But he stressed that any armed intervention needed to be
approved by the United Nations: "You must use force as a last resort, but
not unilaterally."

Ramos-Horta is a former guerrilla fighter for East Timor independence from
Portuguese rule and a prominent campaigner against the occupation of the
territory by Indonesia, which invaded in 1975 after Portugal withdrew. In
1999, he was prominent among those urging the United Nations to send
peacekeeping forces to East Timor.

During the armed struggle for independence from Indonesia, Ramos-Horta said,
most of the guerrilla fighters were practicing Roman Catholics -- East Timor
is overwhelmingly Catholic -- and there were photographs of guerrilla
fighters taking communion with M-16 machine guns on their backs.

"In East Timor the church completely understood why people took up arms,
even though they [the church] kept calling on them not to use those arms,"
he said.

Speaking to ENI after the press conference, Ramos-Horta stated that there
was "absolutely no inconsistency, no contradiction whatsoever" between the
campaign to promote non-violence and the need for armed intervention "until
the campaign succeeds in persuading everyone in the world that the violence
must be eliminated."

"If you are faced again with a situation such as Kosovo or the Jewish
holocaust in World War II, what would you do? In the name of non-violence
would you sit back and watch Jews being slaughtered, would you sit back and
watch Palestinians being slaughtered, would you sit back and watch Rwandans
killing each other, Hutus and Tutsis? Of course you have to intervene."
Ramos-Horta also rejected suggestions that responding to such situations by
violence would create further violence rather than lasting peace.

"That is obviously a good rhetorical point," he told ENI. "But if that was
the case, you would see Europe, 50 years later, continuing to fighting each
other. What brought World War II to an end was essentially the American and
British courageous stand against Nazi Germany. Today Europe is at peace. If
Nato had not intervened in Kosovo, could anyone have predicted what would
have happened to the Kosovars?

"No, I don't believe that just because you use force in a manner that is
authorized by international law, that is authorized by the [United Nations']
Security council,[that this] is going to cause more violence than
not-intervening at all. If Vietnam had not intervened in Cambodia in the
late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge would still be in power today. How many more
tens of thousands would have died?"

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