Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Security Council Open Debate on
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
20 April 2017
Some heinous acts of late have plunged some areas of the Middle East further into violent chaos and new lows of barbarism. The recent use of chemical agents in Syria once again constitutes a gross violation of international humanitarian law and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Palm Sunday terrorist bombings in Egypt and the attack on fleeing refugees were abominable attacks against innocent civilians gathered in prayer in sacred places or trying to escape violence and as such were attacks against the very foundation of human dignity and rights. My Delegation extends its sincere condolences to the families of those whose loved ones have been slaughtered and offers prayerful good wishes to those who survived the attacks and their families.
The Holy See is deeply concerned with the current situation in the Middle East. Lebanon is heroically bearing the burden of hosting millions of refugees from neighboring countries and territories in conflict. In addition to the impacts of this heavy burden, its stability is also threatened by armed groups. In order to stabilize Lebanon, the Security Council adopted resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701, calling for the disarming of all armed non-state actors. Yet militias and groups armed and funded by outside sources remain active beyond the control of the Lebanese authorities.
Parallel situations exist in neighboring territories and countries, where terrorist groups and other armed non-state actors operate, plunging the region deeper into ungovernability, persecuting ethnic and religious minority groups and trampling fundamental human rights.
Since 1947, the Holy See has constantly supported the two-state solution for the State of Israel and a Palestinian State to exist side by side in peace. The Holy See wishes to reiterate its belief that the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the Parties, with the strong and effective support of the international community. Only sustained negotiations in good faith will resolve differences and bring peace to the peoples of Israel and Palestine. Leaders and citizens on both sides must have the foresight and courage to make fair concessions, because an agreement would be impossible as long as mutually excluding and impossible demands remain. There is no alternative to a negotiated settlement, if both Israel and Palestine are to enjoy security, prosperity and peaceful co-existence, side by side with internationally recognized borders.
Pope Francis assures all of his efforts and prayers that the deep wounds dividing Israelis and Palestinians may experience healing. Unilateral decisions, acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric can only further deepen wounds, intensify hatred and widen divisions, making negotiations more difficult and reconciliation more distant. Pope Francis calls on both parties to listen to the voices of dialogue, show goodwill and extend gestures of encounter to give their peoples that peace for which their hearts deeply long.
Twisted religious claims mixed with irredentist ideologies contribute to the bloodshed in the Region. Unimaginably barbaric acts are being perpetrated supposedly in the name of God or religion. Ethnic and religious minority groups who for millennia have peacefully coexisted with the Muslim majority communities have been targeted by extremists. Their cultural and historical patrimony has been destroyed, threatening to annihilate every trace of their long-standing presence in the Region. The Holy See urges the International Community, through the Security Council, not to forget them and to intensify efforts to spare them from the genocidal scourge of violent terrorist groups and other non-state actors.
The Holy See urges religious leaders to speak out forcefully against such terror and to act to control effectively their followers who are reprehensibly claiming to act in God’s name by means of terror. No religious leader should tolerate using religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom. In this regard, in February this year Al-Azhar and the Holy See held a discussion in Cairo on countering the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.
Moreover, the Holy See calls upon the arms suppliers to act in accord with internationally agreed upon norms for weapons sales. The blood of innocent civilians cries out against the unchecked flow of arms in the Region. The Holy See cannot stress enough how much the disregard of treaties that regulate arms trade and transfer contributes to armed conflict, crime, acts of terrorism and the displacement of people, which, in turn, undermine peace and security, stability and sustainable development. It cannot underline strongly enough that the vast majority of persons adversely affected by armed conflict and other forms of armed violence are civilians and cannot ignore how often these weapons are used to attack civilian infrastructure like schools and hospitals, water and food facilities.
My delegation wishes to close its remarks with the prayer of Pope Francis after recent attacks in Egypt and Syria: “May the Lord convert the hearts of the people who are sowing terror, violence and death” and “may he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade”. Pope Francis’s scheduled visit to Egypt on April 28 and 29 would like to stress once again that there is no greater antidote to violence and hatred than dialogue and encounter.
Thank you, Madam President.