NEWS STORY: Catholic bishops launch anti-landmine campaign

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c. 1997 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, joined by a host of other Catholic groups, religious orders and agencies, launched a new campaign Thursday (June 12) aimed at winning a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel landmines.”We are proud to join with the church around the world and with others in the United States in an effort to persuade the Clinton administration and Congress that U.S. commitment to and leadership in securing a global ban (of landmines) is an urgent moral and policy priority,”Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the bishops’ international policy committee, told a news conference.

McCarrick made the announcement the same day 56 U.S. Senators, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced plans to push for an aggressive, comprehensive ban of landmines. Leahy’s legislation would stop all deployment of U.S. anti-personnel landmines by January 1, 2000.

The Catholic bishops said the proposed legislation is a good first step but they want the U.S. government to act faster and go further in eliminating landmines as part of the world’s military arsenal.

Religious groups have long lobbied Congress and the Clinton administration to commit U.S. leadership to lead the way toward an international comprehensive ban on the production, stockpiling and use of the weapon that has killed or maimed an estimated 26,000 people since May 1996.

The Catholic Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCBL), as the effort is formally known, will function as an advocacy organization, coordinating efforts with dioceses, parishes and Catholic organizations nationwide. The group will rely on grassroots organization and use posters, brochures, videos and speaking tours to advance the message that a ban is urgently needed. “We will not rest until the U.S. government, both by its example and its diplomacy, is leading the global effort to unconditionally ban anti-personnel landmines,”said McCarrick.

Retired Bishop James Malone, a former president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed McCarrick.”This issue has stark moral and human dimensions,”Malone said in a statement.”Landmines do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, between times of peace and times of war.” The Catholic campaign comes as religious groups and others are seeking to pressure the Clinton administration to join the so-called Ottawa Process, a drive to sign a comprehensive ban at a December 1997 meeting in Ottawa, Canada.

Although President Clinton has said he favors the eventual elimination of landmines, the administration has resisted supporting the Ottawa Process and favors working through the United Nations.

Some Catholic organizations with global links say their opposition to landmines comes from first-hand experience.

Maryknoll Missioners, a U.S.-based Catholic mission which is part of the CCBL, has workers in Cambodia, Sudan, El Salvador and other countries where landmines pose a threat to civilians. Maryknoll officials estimate 500 people per week are killed or maimed by landmines.

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, said the U.S. should set an earlier deadline than Leahy’s 2000 goal.”NETWORK believes that a critical opportunity for the Clinton administration to demonstrate its expressed commitment to totally banning anti-personnel landmines lies in participating and taking leadership in the Ottawa Process,”the organization said in a statement.

Other organizations of the CCBL include the National Council of Catholic Women, Jesuit Refugee Service, the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, and the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

MJP END LEBOWITZ

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