The Honorable Warren Christopher
Secretary of State
The Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary,
I write to you concerning the desperate situation of the Haitian people and to ask for your renewed efforts to see that the desired goals of U.S. policy toward Haiti be striven for with still greater urgency, so as not to worsen the human, political, economic and ecological disaster that already confronts that tragic land.
For over two and a half years, the U.S. Catholic Conference has accepted the stated goals of U.S. Haiti policy; namely, the restoration of the constitutional order with the return to the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the protection of the fundamental human rights of all Haitians, and the economic development of this poorest of nations in our hemisphere.
Although with some misgivings about their justification and effectiveness, we have not opposed the economic sanctions against Haiti called for by the U.S. and the Organization of American States, fully aware that our Haitian counterpart, the Confιrence des Eveques d'Haiti, has from the outset denounced them. We shared the hope that the sanctions could prove effective within an acceptably short time and that, combined with forceful diplomatic and political initiatives, would quickly result in a political resolution of the present crisis.
In their Christmas message, issued last December 17, all the bishops of Haiti joined in noting that "without claiming to hide or minimize the causes which led to the imposition of sanctions on our country, we believe that the political problem cannot be solved by endangering thousands of human lives. It is known by experience that such sanctions leave those they target unscathed and are most frequently ineffective".
One month earlier, on November 17, the U.S. bishops wrote in the reflection cited earlier:
For all too long the people of Haiti have suffered from grinding poverty, denial of human rights, predatory government, indiscriminate violence and the indifference of outsiders. Today we must accompany the Haitian people as they travel the long road toward democracy and civil peace. To enjoy the fruits of peace, all parties will have to respect basic human rights and commit themselves to restraint and reconciliation. Once the rule of law is established, the Haitian people will need the support of the United States and of the international community for years to come in the development of their island. Much needs to be done in order to institutionalize democratic processes that will lead to justice for all Haitian. The political resolution has still not been achieved, and the embargo remains, and may be tightened further. At the risk of stating the obvious, an economic embargo directed against an entire population is not a morally indifferent act. To meet the standards of ethical behavior in such matters, an embargo should conform to certain criteria.
Permit me to quote from a recent statement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops as we reflected upon the decade following our 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. In this latest document, entitled The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, we said the following about the morality of economic sanctions:
While much more study, reflection and public debate over the moral dimensions of comprehensive sanctions is needed, we offer the following tentative criteria as a contribution to this discussion.
First, concerns about the limited effectiveness of sanctions and the harms caused to civilian populations require that comprehensive sanctions be considered only in response to aggression or grave and ongoing injustice, after less coercive measures have been tried, and with clear and reasonable conditions set for their removal.
Second, the harm caused by sanctions should be proportionate to the good likely to be achieved; sanctions should avoid grave and irreversible harm to the civilian population. Therefore, sanctions should be targeted as much as possible against those directly responsible for the injustice, distinguishing between the government and the people. Selective sanctions which target offending individuals and institutions are preferable, therefore, to complete embargoes. Embargoes, when employed, must make provision for the fundamental human needs of the civilian population. The denial of basic needs may not be used as a weapon.
Third, the consent to sanctions by substantial portions of the affected population is morally relevant. While this consent may mitigate concerns about suffering caused by sanctions, however, it does not eliminate the need for humanitarian exemptions.
Finally, sanctions should always be part of a broader process of diplomacy aimed at finding an effective political solution to the injustice.
The troubling moral problems posed by the suffering caused by sanctions and the limits to their effectiveness counsel that this blunt instrument be used sparingly and with restraint. Economic sanctions may be acceptable, but only if less coercive means fail, as an alternative to war and as a means of upholding fundamental international norms. Our Conference has not made a definitive judgment that the sanctions imposed on Haiti have failed to meet these criteria, yet we would also find it difficult to defend the contrary position. The present sanctions can avoid condemnation only so long as they avoid causing irremediable harm to the Haitian society, economy and environment, and hold out a realistic prospect of achieving their stated goal.
This Conference, as you well know, is not a casual observer of the Haitian situation, nor a disinterested party in the present discussion. We have been engaged in matters affecting Haiti for many years. Through Catholic Relief Services, we have assisted development, literacy and nutrition programs of the Haitian church, and are presently involved, in cooperation with the United States government, in a truly massive emergency food and medical aid effort.
Through the multiple programs of our Migration and Refugee Services, we are engaged in the reception and resettlement of many Haitian refugees seeking to flee the brutalities of their homeland today. We have long been and continue today to be among the chief protagonists for a more compassionate and humane refugee policy. Other entities of our Conference continue to be involved in assisting the Haitian people through both financial and moral assistance, and in serving as a voice for their concerns here in this country.
Mr. Secretary, we have strongly advocated and supported the humanitarian exemptions that have been a feature of the commercial embargo from the start, and we express our gratitude for the efforts made to accommodate these concerns. We know that additional measures are now being taken to lessen the pain of these sanctions as they affect the majority poor and innocent people of Haiti, which we also appreciate. And while we remain firmly opposed to policies of interdiction at sea and automatic repatriation of would be refugees, we are grateful for the somewhat greater opportunities now afforded potential asylees to present their case.
But we must insist that the present policy appears to be more illusory in terms of its impact upon the coup-makers and those with power in Haiti, and yet all too real in its effect on the poor and the middle class, indeed on everyone who is not in some way profiting illegally from the sanctions. This must change.
A new effort has to be made by the community of nations, encouraged by the strong leadership of the United States, to come finally to a solution of this long festering problem. I urge you, Mr. Secretary, to give new priority to this tragedy of our hemisphere, assured as you must be of the prayerful support of great numbers of the American people.
With assurances of my prayers and best wishes for your essential role in this matter, I remain
Most Reverend Daniel P. Reilly
Bishop of Norwich
Chairman, USCC Committee on