Pope Francis on Saturday insisted on the moral duty of protecting human dignity in every circumstance, especially in armed conflict, saying at the end of life we will be judged on our mercy and solidarity for the victims of war. He was speaking to some 250 participants in the 3rd Conference on International Humanitarian Law sponsored by the European Society of International Law. The Oct. 27-28 meeting in Rome discussed “The protection of civilian population in warfare – The role of Humanitarian Organizations and Civil Society.”
Atrocities and outrage during conflicts
The Pope noted that the Holy See, convinced of the essentially negative nature of war and man’s most dignified aspiration to abolish it, ratified the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, in order to encourage the “humanization of the effect of armed conflict.” He drew attention to the atrocities and outrage perpetrated on civil populations and persons during conflicts, with mutilated and headless bodies and “our brothers and sisters tortured, crucified and burnt alive,” in total disregard for their human dignity. The destruction or damaging of cultural treasures, hospitals, schools and places of worship deprive entire generations of their right to life, health, education and religion.
The Pope warned that such news could lead to a sort of “saturation” that anesthetizes and relativizes the gravity of the problem, making it more difficult for one to be moved to compassion and solidarity. The Holy Father called for a change of heart, an openness to God and neighbor, that urges persons to overcome indifference and live solidarity as a moral virtue and social attitude. He expressed satisfaction over numerous manifestations of solidarity and charity in times of war by persons, charities and NGOs, in the Church and outside, who despite dangers and hardships, reach out to the wounded, the sick, the hungry, prisoners and the dead. “Indeed,” he stressed, “aid to victims of conflict calls for various works of mercy on which we will be judged at the end of life.”
Moral duty to respect, protect human dignity
The Holy Father wished that fighters as well as humanitarian organizations and workers be able to put into practice the fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence, that are the heart of humanitarian law. But where humanitarian law is met with hesitation and omission, he said, “individual conscience must recognize the moral duty to respect and protect the dignity of the human person in every circumstance, especially in situations where it is most threatened.”