The Swiss Guard are armed and willing to use force if necessary, but, as far as I know, they have never used cluster munitions. So why was the Holy See so eager to be one of the first states parties to ratify the Convention to Ban Cluster Munitions which will enter into force on 1 August 2010?
Catholic Social Teaching holds the use of lethal force to be always regrettable but, in certain limited circumstances, to be acceptable. Even when the strict conditions for a just war (jus ad bellum) are met – and they rarely are – there are still restrictions on how force might be legitimately exercised (jus in bello). One condition is that any use of force must discriminate, or distinguish between, civilians and combatants.
Some theologians and ethicists may debate the acceptability of the unintentional but foreseeable killing of civilians, but the Holy See has taken as strong stand against any weapons that are intrinsically unable to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Holy See delegations have been very active in the disarmament fora of the United Nations, and especially in relation to indiscriminate weapons.
It is impossible to use a land mine or cluster munitions in a way that will affect only soldiers and never children, farmers, and ordinary citizens. These weapons, together with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, are of their very nature indiscriminate. They offend the dignity of the human person with their presumption that a certain level of ‘collateral damage’, that is dead civilians, is acceptable. Such a presumption makes a means or instrument of human beings. The Catholic tradition – in common with many others of good will – holds that each and every person is of value in themselves and must never be used as a means to an end.
Even a brief visit to the website of the Cluster Munitions Coalition is sufficient to demonstrate the widespread suffering caused by these weapons which continues long after the conflicts in which they were employed are over. In our region they pose a significant obstacle to post conflict recovery and development. Their harm also extends well beyond those who are directly injured. Families, communities and whole nations are affected. Resources which could have been used for education, healthcare, and other important public purposes must be diverted to clear affected areas.
The responsibility to respond is shared by the whole of humanity. Yes, those governments and armed groups who employed these weapons bear an especially grave responsibility. The duty of the governments of the countries affected to promote and organise the common good for those within their territory is also engaged, but quite often their capacity to act is not commensurate with the task. According to the principle of subsidiarity, when national governments are unable to safeguard the dignity and rights of people within their territory, it becomes a shared responsibility of the international community to act.
But it is not all about governments and international humanitarian law either. Solidarity with our sisters and brothers calls us all to play a part. In fact, not for profit organisations, faith based organisations and other civil society actors have been very important in the process of developing an international legal instrument regarding cluster munitions. They will also be indispensible in monitoring how well those nations which ratify the Convention actually meet its requirements. Today (7 June 2010) in Santiago, Chile a conference looking to how the implementation of the Convention can be promoted commenced. The entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is not the end of a campaign but rather marks the development of tool to be used in further work to eliminate these weapons.
The Holy See wanted to be among the first to ratify the Convention because it “… desires to encourage the entire International Community to be resolute in promoting effective disarmament and arms control negotiations and in strengthening international humanitarian law by reaffirming the preeminent and inherent value of human dignity, the centrality of the human person, and the “elementary considerations of humanity”, all of which are elements that constitute the basis of international humanitarian law” (Declaration Attached to the Instrument of Ratification to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Holy See, 21 November 2008). It wanted to protect civilians from inhumane weapons and to affirm the link between humanitarian law and human rights.
© Sandie Cornish, June 2010.