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UN Mandate for intervention against IS terror Protection of refugees has highest priority

A peace-ethical statement of the EKD Council

We are currently witnessing terrible crimes being committed by fighters from the terror group IS, which has meanwhile brought large areas of northern Iraq and Syria under its control. We are horrified by the pictures of entire population groups being driven away from their homes, of mass murders and constant abuses on a huge scale. Muslims, Yezidi, Christians are suffering under the terror regime, regardless of their faith. The social and religious diversity that has developed over many centuries is threatened with disappearance and can only be kept up by international intervention. We welcome the fact that worldwide Islamic leaders are condemning the violence unleashed by IS and calling for respect and the rule of law. We feel profound sympathy with the suffering people and are working to alleviate their hardship.
From the angle of Christian peace ethics, interventions in northern Iraq are necessary to effectively counter the direct threat to people, particularly to Christians and Yezidi. Women and girls in northern Iraq deserve particular attention and urgent protection, as they are being captured, humiliated and occasionally sold as slaves. Those responsible for all crimes must be called to account and the rule of law must be reinstated. Action must be taken now. In northern Iraq alone, over a million people have fled their homes. No one knows how they can be decently housed in the coming winter. Many of these people have several refugee experiences behind them. They are only willing to return to their cities and villages if they can be assured of being safe from the IS militias.

The refugees therefore hope for international protection. The international community is rightly examining which means can be used for effective assistance. Air strikes from several western states are flying attacks on IS positions. Some states, including Germany, are delivering weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Kurdish militias are the only local opponents who can stand up to the IS in military terms. In the present situation, military means seem the last resort to provide effective and rapid assistance.

According to the Protestant understanding, it can be legitimate to use military force to avert grave and lasting human rights violations, in face of genocide and displacement. It is the last resort, when all other lower-scale use of force has failed. In its Peace Memorandum of 2007, Living from God's peace, caring for just peace, the Evangelical Church in Germany formulated the peace-ethical ideal of "just peace". The central insight for the Christian message of peace is "no peace without justice". On discernment in the use of military violence the memorandum states in para. 112:

"In cases of human rights violations such as incipient genocide, the mass murder of minorities, massacre and persecution of particular ethnic
groups, large-scale torture or enslavement, military intervention can be justified as long as the other criteria for the law-abiding use of force are met."

Even though the Iraqi government has asked the international community for support and therefore a UN Security Council mandate is not absolutely essential under international law, the use of lawful force would gain greatly in legitimacy by a decision from the UN Security Council. A mandate must be embedded in a comprehensive policy that involves other, particularly non-military measures. It must clearly define the objectives of the interventions and focus initially on protecting threatened population groups. In the medium and long term, however, it must concentrate on establishing viable state and civil society structures. Only stable state institutions, legitimised through the comprehensive participation of different ethnic groups and religious communities will be in a position to guarantee lasting freedom, provision with food and other basic supplies, security of the population and cultural diversity. According to the information available to us, the basic peace-ethical criteria are fulfilled in northern Iraq, allowing us to come to the conclusion that military intervention for the immediate protection of the threatened population is legitimate. Of particular importance for this judgement is the concept of international "responsibility to protect" that the UN General Assembly adopted in 2005 and which has also found its way into ecumenical peace ethics.
While regarding it as fundamentally legitimate to use military force to protect people from displacement and mass murder in the present situation in northern Iraq we are still very aware of the risks involved in establishing a future peace order. In the present situation the role of the UN Security Council is all the more important. It must be clear that the issue is not the power and interests of a great power but one of protecting people and setting up a peace order. This is underlined when military intervention has a police character in the sense of the concept of "just policing" developed in ecumenical peace ethics. The UN Security Council should become active on this issue and support Iraq in assuming its responsibility to protect its own population by creating a safe space for threatened people. This calls for military security provided by as broad a coalition as possible.

The situation in Syria and Iraq confirms our longstanding criticism of Germany's arms export practice. Approving the export of weapons to numerous countries that violate human rights has contributed to the fact that the region is full of weapons in the wrong hands. The approval expressed from Protestant circles for arms deliveries to the Kurdish Peshmerga does not contradict this fundamental criticism. If now, in view of the immediate threat, weapons are being delivered to fulfil the human responsibility to protect, the obligation is all the greater to dry out the channels of commercial arms trade that led to this situation in the first place. In the light of Protestant peace ethics, political options for the use of low-level force must be consistently examined and used. The prime task of the churches themselves is to give humanitarian aid and pray for the threatened people in need of protection. Through numerous ecumenical relations we are in close contact with our sisters and brothers in the region. We recognise with gratitude the large-scale aid programmes organised by the church agencies from many countries, e.g. from Germany Diakonia Emergency Aid in cooperation with Caritas and many local partner organisations. The local churches in the Kurdish area bear a particular burden; they are receiving a large number of internally displaced persons, frequently also in church buildings and on church land. The support of local and regional administrations in procuring and distributing basic necessities is vital in order to avoid new conflicts arising between the resident population and refugees.

Here in Germany too, we work for effective assistance and support wherever refugees from the crisis region seek refuge here. Moreover, it is imperative that reception quotas be established for particularly vulnerable refugees and the adherents of religious minorities, single women or urgent medical cases. We pray for people in the countries concerned as a sign of solidarity, which encourages the Christians there. And we pray because we trust in the peace of God that passes all understanding, to move the hearts of human beings and guide their feet into the way of peace.
 
Hanover, in September 2014



 


 

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