by Alexa Smith
An ecumenical delegation has met with United Nations General Secretary, Kofi Annan, to stress the importance of getting humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians trapped inside the expanding war zone.
The Revd Marian McClure, director of the Worldwide Ministries Division (WMD) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), was the spokesperson for the delegation that included representatives from Church World Service (the relief arm of the National Council of Churches), the Quakers, the Anglicans, the Lutheran World Federation and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The seven-member delegation said it also spoke on behalf of the United Methodist Church and the Mennonites.
Marian McClure told Kofi Annan that the needs of Iraqi civilians are being sidestepped by both US and Iraqi combatants.
The delegation also committed the church to supporting the UN's role as the "most effective and best available means" for global peacemaking. "
Humanitarian agencies need to have guaranteed access to civilians - and protection from both sides," said Marian McClure upon her return to Louisville. "The church is very involved in humanitarian relief and reconstruction work - and we need to not mix bombs and bread. We need to keep the roles of the military and the non-military separate. "The safety of humanitarian workers must not be confused with occupation forces."
According to the Presbyterian United Nations Office, humanitarian agencies are having a hard time obtaining licenses to operate inside Iraq. The US military is apparently making those decisions instead of a UN- umbrella group, as has been the case in the past.
Some relief agencies are remaining on the Kuwaiti-side of the border, while others inside Iraq are having difficulty getting to the places they're needed. No coordinating authority was established before the war began, the PCUSA UN Office said. The US military is delivering some assistance, rather than allowing neutral organisations to do so, sources in the region say.
Reading from a prepared text, Marian McClure told Kofi Annan: "Non-governmental humanitarian organisations have diverse specialisations. Many of them are faith-based. These include Action by Churches Together of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, Church World Service and related agencies such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Anglican Communion Office and many others. They continue to reach out to people of all faiths.
"We believe that our humanitarian involvement is especially important given that this war is too often misunderstood as a conflict between Christians and Muslims. Please continue working to establish the conditions for all NGOs, including faith-based ones, to reach the vulnerable citizens of Iraq."
In addition to access, the delegation raised four other issues: protection of civilians; human rights monitoring; rapid coordination of rebuilding efforts in Iraq at war's end and insistence that it's not too late to cease hostilities and resume inspections and negotiations.
The statement said: "Our urgent plea is that international humanitarian aid through the UN, member states, and NGO's be coordinated so as to lead as quickly as possible to normal economic and institutional life for Iraqi society. Without a functional economy Iraq will never be able to meet its civilian needs. For the economy to return to normal, Iraqis must regain control over their resources, especially oil, as soon as it is feasible."
The delegation also cautioned that Iraqis not bear the primary financial burden of relief or reconstruction. Specifically, Marian McClure said, the "Oil for Food" program should not be used to finance Iraq's reconstruction. Iraq's resources, the delegation said, should be controlled by Iraqis, citing biblical warnings against "keeping what belongs to another." "A lot of us feel moral anguish about a number of things having to do with this war, including real concern for the life-long trauma experienced by both combatants and civilians," she said, stressing that ordinary Iraqis have already suffered greatly under 10 years of economic sanctions. "But there is a real concern for civilians," she said.
PCUSA Peacemaking Program Coordinator, Sara Lisherness, told the Presbyterian News Service that church leaders felt it was imperative to affirm the role of the UN in the search for peace and global cooperation. "One of my biggest concerns right now is: How do we move away from what appears to the rest of the world as a unilateral action of the United States, supported by a handful of countries, and shift back to cooperation?" she said. "No country can go it independently for too long."
Sara Lisherness said that the UN is the one entity that allows smaller nations to have a voice at the table. While it is an imperfect organisation, she said, no other body has the same legitimacy. "What are the alternatives?"