Statement by the Very Rev. Msgr. Antoine Camilleri
Under-Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See
Security Council, Open Debate on
Cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations:
Silencing the Guns in Africa
New York, 27 February 2019
The Holy See thanks the Presidency of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea for convening this open debate on “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020,” a noble objective to keep at the forefront of the international community’s attention. The African Union has also taken on the ambitious determination “to achieve the goal of a conflict free Africa and to make peace a reality for all our people and rid the continent of wars and civil conflicts." Indeed, this conviction corresponds to the frequent petitions, made by Pope Francis himself, in favor of peace and reconciliation: “To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death!”
Looking at the current situation on the continent of Africa, “the winds of hope are blowing,” as the Secretary General himself has noted. Among the more demonstrative signs of peace is the historic agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, resolving a decades-long conflict and reestablishing diplomatic relations, as well as the agreement among leaders in South Sudan, restoring a peaceful coexistence.
While these are most surely encouraging “signs of hope for the African continent,” there remain several areas, which suffer from fundamentalist violence and other forms of conflict. There might be the temptation to dismiss the African Union’s determination as unattainable, even utopian. To do so, however, would be defeatist. We must pay heed to the noble aspirations of the African youth, who thirst for justice, peace and reconciliation, and to whom the Solemn Declaration pledges, “not to bequeath the burden of war.” We must look for ways to work towards consolidating as well as building peace.
To envisage an African continent free of war and civil conflicts, we must first examine why it is that people have recourse to the instruments of death in the first place. The list is long, but among the most devastating causes are social and economic disparities, weak institutions, political instability and corruption, where battles over conflicting interests, both domestic and foreign, have the upper hand over social cohesion and the common good. The inequitable exploitation of Africa’s myriad resources and other scourges contrary to human dignity, such as child soldiers and trafficking, piracy and the illegal trade of wildlife, often exacerbate these root causes. These are all sadly linked to the proliferation of arms and ammunition.
To help the African continent reach its laudable and ambitious goal to embrace non-violence and durable peace, the international community must keep its own commitments, particularly when it pledges help for humanitarian emergencies and for regular development aid. To guarantee stability, financial and technical support must be sustainable and predictable; this works much better, however, when it is sensitive to and genuinely aware of the specific needs on the ground, rather than imposed from the outside in ways at times alien to African cultures and values.
Still to this day, far too many young Africans are more adept with guns and rounds of ammunition than they are with pens and schoolbooks. They are barred from reaching their full potential as their education is interrupted by conflicts not of their choice or making, and they are caught up in perpetuating cycles of violence that sadly become a way of life. This must change. The proliferation of weapons simply aggravates situations of conflict and results in unimaginable human suffering and material costs, profoundly undermining development, human rights and the search for lasting peace. Without greater international and regional cooperation, especially among weapon-producing States, to control and limit strictly the production and movement of weapons, an Africa free of wars and violent conflicts will remain an illusion.
While much remains to be done to silence the guns in Africa, the Holy See believes that this open debate is one more blow on the anvil toward the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, whose words are inscribed just across the street from these Headquarters, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”
I thank you, Mr. President.
1. African Union’s 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration Adopted by the Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, Addis Ababa, 26 May 2013.
2. Pope Francis, Homily at Mass at Bangui Cathedral during his Apostolic Journey to the Central African Republic, 29 November 2015.
3. Interview with “Voice of Africa” on the eve of H.E. Guterres’s visit to Ethiopia, February 2019.
4. Cfr. Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, 7 January 2019.
6. Isaiah 2:4.