WASHINGTON (September 23, 1999) -- Today twenty-four leading American Christian religious leaders, including heads of major Christian denominations, joined in urging President Clinton to support lifting the nine-year-old economic embargo against Iraq.
The religious leaders cited "clear evidence that the embargo against Iraq is contributing to falling living standards and life expectancy. By almost every measure - - such as malnutrition, child mortality and overall morbidity - - the situation of most Iraqi civilians has deteriorated markedly over the past eight years."
It is morally imperative, the religious leaders concluded, for the international community to ease the intolerable suffering of the Iraqi civilian population caused in part by the embargo's indiscriminate effects.
"Since the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. Catholic bishops have repeatedly called for ending the economic embargo, but we are increasingly concerned and impatient with the morally intolerable suffering that continues in the absence of any change of policy," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"The U.S. churches individually and together have consistently spoken out about the immoral level of suffering created by the sanctions against Iraq, but this is the first time that church leaders from the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions have raised our voices together," said Bishop Craig B. Anderson of the Episcopal Church USA, President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. "We believe this will strengthen our common witness and impress upon our government the urgency of the situation."
The religious leaders have expressed grave concern about the embargo's effects on a number of occasions over the past several years. They appreciate the fact that there have been and now are discussions within the United Nations Security Council about the embargo's impact on Iraqi civilians.
Today, however, the religious leaders called attention to the failure of existing efforts adequately to address the humanitarian crisis. The UN-sponsored oil-for-food program, they said, "was never intended to meet the overall needs of Iraq's people. . . (and) cannot meet basic needs, much less fund the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure and civilian economy, which alone can ensure adequate nutrition and health standards."
The Iraqi government, the religious leaders pointed out, has contributed to the suffering of its own people by failing to comply with the Gulf War cease-fire resolutions and by failing to take full advantage of existing exemptions to feed and care for its people. "The Iraqi government's actions, however, do not relieve the international community of its responsibility to end the dreadful suffering caused by the embargo. The international community cannot pursue its legitimate goals of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction by threatening the lives and livelihood of innocent people."
The religious leaders called for lifting restrictions on normal trade in ordinary civilian goods, "while maintaining appropriate political sanctions and a strict embargo on military-related items. Taking these steps should not be seen as rewarding irresponsible conduct on the part of the Iraqi government, but as necessary to relieve a morally intolerable situation for which the international community bears a share of responsibility."
"More focused and morally defensible means" of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction should be pursued within the context of regional disarmament called for by UN Security Council Resolution 687, they added.
This appeal to President Clinton was signed by the following religious leaders:
The Right Reverend Craig B. Anderson, President, NCCCUSA
The Reverend George H. Anderson, Presiding Bishop, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Mathews Mar Barnabas, Metropolitan of the American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Church (India)
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
John A. Buehrens, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary, The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Brother Stephen Glodek, SM, President, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church of America
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church, USA
William Boyd Grove, Ecumenical Officer, United Methodist Council of Bishops
Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ in the U.S. and Canada
Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim, Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Dr. Ronald J.R. Mathies, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee
Johan Maurer, General Secretary, Friends United Meeting
Kara Newell, Executive Director, American Friends Service Committee
Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Primate, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Paul H. Sherry, President United Church of Christ
Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate, Orthodox Church in America
The Right Reverend Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus, Bishop, Mar Thomas Church
Joe Volk, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Bishop Vsevolod, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA
The Rev. Dr. Daniel Weiss, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches
Text of the letter to President Clinton.