Asserting that U.N. sanctions over the past seven years have caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, 54 Catholic bishops urged President Clinton on Tuesday to work for the “immediate cessation” of the embargo.
“For us this is a moral question,” said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. “We are killing people and it has to stop.”
Gumbleton said that he and two other bishops would begin a fast Tuesday to show their solidarity with the people of Iraq. They will take only liquids or eat the meager daily rations that Iraqis receive.
In a letter to Clinton, the bishops said that whatever the purpose of the sanctions, they “are not only in violation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but they violate the human rights of the Iraqi people because they deprive innocent people from food and medicine.”
The United Nations imposed the sanctions in 1990, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Security Council and Clinton administration say they will remain in place as long as Iraq continues to defy an obligation to destroy all chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction.
Baghdad says it has complied fully with the U.N. demands and that Washington is using the threat of indefinite sanctions to force the ouster of President Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is currently locked in a standoff with U.N. weapons inspectors who want to inspect dozens of presidential complexes and other sites for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Last month, UNICEF reported that 960,000 Iraqi children are suffering from malnutrition. In 1996, the organization estimated that 4,500 children under the age of 5 were dying each month. Saddam’s opponents blame his policies, rather than the U.N. sanctions, for the deaths.
The Vatican has repeatedly called for the lifting of the sanctions. Earlier this month, Pope John Paul II said, “Our brothers and sisters in Iraq (are) living under a pitiless embargo.”
Gumbleton said vigils, religious services and call-in days to the White House and Congress will be organized to put pressure on the administration to end the embargo.