World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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29 January - 6 February 2001
Potsdam, Germany

5 February 2001

Nobel Peace Prize winner supports armed intervention,
but only as last resort

Armed intervention to stop violence against innocent people should only be used as a last resort, and must involve a multinational force under the auspices of an organization such as the United Nations, said Josť Ramos-Horta, 1996 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and cabinet member for foreign affairs in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.

Ramos-Horta, 51, a Roman Catholic layman who was awarded the prize for his efforts to seek a peaceful solution in the conflict between Indonesia and East Timor, spoke at a February 4 press conference in Berlin, Germany. Ramos-Horta was also a presenter at an event to launch the World Council of Churches' "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace". The event was scheduled as part of the WCC Central Committee meeting in Potsdam, Germany, January 29 to February 6.

Churches should advocate for efforts to solve conflict peacefully, he said, but under certain circumstances, intervention may be justified. As examples, he cited recent well-known cases of genocide that occurred in Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo as examples.

"In the case of Kosovo, what do you do? Preach, pray and pray and let the Kosovars die? I supported intervention into Kosovo to stop the genocide." There was no alternative, he said.

"If a genocide happens again like in the 1970s in Cambodia, the world must intervene to stop the genocide," he said. Force must not be used unilaterally but should involve several nations, he said.

Before its meeting concludes, the Central Committee was expected to take up discussion on a proposed policy document that would spell out guidelines for humanitarian protection of civilian populations.

Ramos-Horta also called for a "code of conduct" on sales of arms to impoverished countries. Such a code could require richer nations, mostly in the northern hemisphere, to restrict sales to developing countries, many of which are in the southern hemisphere, he said. In the last 10 years, such weapons sales may have been responsible for the deaths of four million people, and 30 million to 40 million people became refugees, Ramos-Horta said.

There's a simple solution to eliminating violence in the world, he said. "If the richer countries - governments of the industrialized world - dedicate resources to eliminating poverty, it would go a long way toward eliminating violence," Ramos-Horta said.

Banks in the richer nations could excuse debts of the world's least developed countries as a "first step" toward eliminating poverty, he said. Richer nations have already earned huge amounts of money from loans to underdeveloped countries over the past three decades, Ramos-Horta said. But with that, he added that the governments of underdeveloped nations must be held to a standard of lawful and ethical performance.

Photos from the Central Committee

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.