General in the Fight for Peace

He has been on the front lines of the worldwide diplomatic fight for human rights for almost 40 years.

As Pope John Paul II's permanent observer at the United Nations since 1984, Archbishop Martino has spent most of his career dealing with civil strife, oppression, persecution, drought and famine from Lebanon to Nicaragua. He spoke to Register Correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi in Rome.

Were you in New York on Sept. 11?

We had just arrived in the office [near the United Nations Building]. We all ran to the TV and watched as soon as we heard. At first, it seemed like we were watching a movie. It didn't seem real. But we soon realized the terrible reality of what was happening.

What should the United States’ continued response to terrorism be?

As I said during an intervention at the United Nations in October, those who are responsible must be apprehended and brought to justice through due process. This must be done in a way that does not expose even more innocent civilians to death and destruction. Violence on top of violence will only lead to more violence.

Terrorism is unjustifiable, but you can't free the world from terrorism by police action, because it will only return if you don't address what caused it in the first place. Any serious campaign against terrorism needs to address the social, economic and political conditions that nurture the emergence of terrorism.

Though poverty is not by itself the cause of terrorism, we cannot successfully combat terrorism if we do not address the worsening disparities between the rich and poor. Poverty along with other situations of marginalization, including the denial of human dignity, the lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, social exclusion, intolerable refugee situations, internal and external displacement and physical or psychological oppression are breeding grounds only waiting to be exploited by terrorists.

The basic requirements for the peace we seek are the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, the curbing of the arms trade, and the eradication of massive, endemic poverty.

The Holy See's stand against abortion and for the family seems to have drawn together a coalition of Muslims and Protestants at the UN. Can you tell me about this?

There is no pact. There is only a coincidence. Of course, if you are on a path and find companions who share the same principles and views, naturally, you work together. Since the U.N. Conference on Population in Cairo, I have read about an ‘unholy alliance’ with Muslim nations. No, it's just a happy coincidence. I'm sorry that those nations who should work with us because of their traditions do not.

How have the Muslim nations at the United Nations reacted to this event?

Many have asked us for the statements made by the Pope since Sept. 11. So we collected all of his interventions and distributed it to all the missions at the UN.

You have been the Permanent Observer of the Holy See Mission for 15 years. How has the United Nations changed during this time?

The main change came after the fall of the Berlin wall, which indicated the fall of the communist era. This induced a profound change at the U.N. which had been paralyzed by the confrontation between the Western and the Soviet block. After the fall of communism, the U.N. was called to fulfill its original vocation: that of being the forum of all nations, where everybody is on equal footing, in order to adopt positions which affect the whole world community. Of course, in the beginning, the U.N. was not prepared for this change.

Now, there is more of a confrontation between the rich and the poor. This is the new confrontation. You see among the rich nations a reluctance to admit that in order to progress themselves, they should help others.

Last year, there was a campaign to oust the Holy See Mission from the United Nations. What was that experience like?

The campaign was called “See Change", and those in charge of it knew from the start that they would not achieve their goal. They collected several hundred signatures, but those in favor of keeping the Holy See at the U.N. were ten thousand more. You have to remember that “See Change” was only at the level of NGOs (non-government organizations). No government did anything to favor that campaign. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 176 countries, all of which are members of the U.N. So before any country tries to remove the Holy See from the U.N., they would have to break relations with us. Nothing like that happened.

Instead, last April, we witnessed the adoption by the US Congress of a resolution – with only one vote against – recognizing the highest role for the Holy See in the international arena. This was the first parliament in the world recognizing the historic role of the Holy See, which has for centuries proclaimed moral principles. The same thing happened in the Senate of the Philippines and Chile.

With the Bush administration, are there better relations between the Holy See and the United States?

With regard to the role of the family and the protection of life, there is. Of course, we would like to see a better stand from this administration on the death penalty, disarmament and the environment.

Many of the traditionally Catholic countries in Latin America and Europe don't seem to vote the way the Church would like them to vote on many of these issues. What has happened?

In the last few meetings, we have observed that Latin American countries have aligned with Europe. Many times this is due to blackmail made on those countries. There are also times when we come to these meetings and observe delegates who practically forget their own national laws. For instance, in a country where abortion is outlawed, their delegate votes and introduces text in favor of abortion. I have to ask: what country are they representing?

When you speak about blackmail, do you mean from the money-lending institutions?

Exactly. The message is “Do that or else!” or “You vote this way and we cancel that contract.” I have documentation on this kind of behavior, which of course I can"t expose.

During the 1990s, it seems there was a transformation at the United Nations. Once a place where nations fought primarily over political and economic ideology, today it seems the fight is more over values and morality. Can you comment on the nature of this battle?

Yes, there is a confrontation on values because of rich countries in the Western world that have a liberal lifestyle. I would call those countries “post-Christian countries” because they deny the value of the family and the role of parents. They seek sexual freedom and excess. For instance, during the U.N. Special Session on AIDS, none of those countries wanted to go to the roots of the origin of AIDS. They only wanted to speak about the consequences of AIDS. When we intervened in order to remind them about the need for education on abstinence, they were furious.

It reached a point where, during the last session when the document was adopted, they came to us and asked us not to speak after the vote because they didn't want to hear what the Holy See had to say.