National Catholic Register


Pope Urges Strengthening of Geneva Conventions

BY Jim Cosgrove

August 22-28, 1999 Issue | Posted 8/22/99 at 1:00 PM


VATICAN CITY—On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, Pope John Paul II called for stronger protection of civilians and prisoners of war in times of conflict.

“The minimum protection of the dignity of every human being guaranteed by international humanitarian law too often is violated in the name of military or political needs, which never should have precedence over the value of the human person,” the Pope said Aug. 11.

At the end of his weekly general audience, Pope John Paul told visitors that the Geneva Conventions were signed Aug. 12, 1949, after World War II “to assure the protection of civilians, prisoners and all victims of armed conflict.”

The first two Geneva conventions establish guidelines to improve the condition of the war sick and wounded.

The third convention called for an end to the belief that the captive is the winner's booty. Captured soldiers may have the right to take up arms removed, but the rest of their rights cannot be violated.

The fourth convention safeguards civilians' rights in times of war, guaranteeing respect for the person, the home, family rights, and moral and religious convictions in all circumstances.

The conventions call for humane treatment of the wounded, prisoners of war and soldiers who have surrendered. They prohibit hostage-taking, torture and executions without trial by a regularly constituted court.

The Pope specifically referred to conflicts in the Balkans, Africa, Colombia and the Indian subcontinent as situations that call for full compliance with the conventions.

On the anniversary, he said, the international community should pause to reflect on “the situation of victims of war which, still today, bloody numerous states.

“We are aware today of the need to find a new consensus on humanitarian principles and to strengthen their foundations to prevent repeated atrocities and abuses,” John Paul said.

The Pope said that in its “indispensable” teaching of respect for every human life, the Church seeks to collaborate actively with all those who work to assure “respect for the dignity of and assistance to the suffering, whether civilians or military.”

John Paul said he gives his blessing to all those who work to help “the many and innocent victims of conflicts, prisoners and civilians at the mercy of violence.”

(From combined wire services)