On 24 February 2022 the Russian government launched a brutal and undeclared invasion of Ukraine. Like many civil society actors, Justice and Peace Europe immediately condemned the Russian aggression. Today, as secretaries general of Justice and Peace Commissions in Europe we reaffirm on the foundation of our Christian values and convictions that whilst diplomacy remains essential, some principles are non-negotiable, in particular respect for the dignity of every human being, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and the imperative of non-aggression, which is the basis for peaceful coexistence. A just peace cannot be established by depriving victims of their rights and rewarding the aggressor for violating fundamental principles of international law. All war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law must be consistently processed as a pre-condition to healing and reconciliation. Catholic Social Teaching on peace explicitly supports the individual and collective right to self-defense enshrined in international law. This also includes the right of the aggressed state to request support from third parties to ensure its defense. From our perspective, therefore, Ukraine’s right to defend itself is indisputable and all arms deliveries that enable its defense within the framework of the imperatives of proportionality and international humanitarian law are legitimate.

As Justice and Peace Commissions in Europe, it is our task to accompany these developments with discernment. We want to emphasize that military means, in themselves, cannot bring lasting peace. They bear great risks of escalation. It is essential therefore to avoid the rhetoric of war and to maintain multi-channel and multilateral diplomatic efforts. In addition, decisions on arms deliveries must be strictly last resort, based on human rights and humanitarian principles. The economic interests of the weapons industry must not interfere. Conflict resolution and prevention as well disarmament should also remain goals in the future.

As European countries, we must recognize our share of responsibility in this dire situation. We have largely ignored the warnings of several of Russia’s neighboring countries about the threat of aggression, as well as the destruction and humanitarian catastrophes in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria. Efforts to advance joint, effective mechanisms for disarmament and global arms control have been insufficient. Furthermore, European countries need to acknowledge that, in other contexts and against the backdrop of presumed economic interests, we have neglected fundamental human rights and integral human development. Overall, instead of increasing our efforts for a comprehensive socio-ecological transformation, which is overdue because of the acute climate crisis, we have increased our dependence on fossil fuels, including those imported from Russia. For these shortcomings, we expressly apologize to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and beyond. It is our individual and collective responsibility to change this course of action as quickly and consistently as possible.

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