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What the world needs now


In mid-September, when East Timor’s people were under assault, Pope John Paul asked Bishop Carlos Belo how he could assist the prelate’s beleaguered homeland. The bishop was specific in his reply. He “asked His Holiness to ask President Clinton to take immediate action to see that an international peace force arrives in Timor.”

When questioned as to why he specifically targeted President Clinton for his mission of mercy, Belo gave a half grin and said, “Well, he’s the master of the world.”

Given the history of U.S. support for the Indonesian military, the bishop’s appeal is a pathetic paradox -- the victims petitioning the very government that subsidized and armed their oppressors. Expectations generated by the Kosovo “rescue” and a poverty of choices pushed Belo into Clinton’s corner. The president, however, has proved to be erratic in his compassion, committing far fewer troops to the East Timorese than the Kosovars.

Before we condemn this inconsistency, we who are Belo’s coreligionists professing faith in Another Master must ask ourselves, “What do we have to offer the Timorese?”

The question haunts Minnesota activist Mel Duncan and David Hartsough of the San Franciso-based Peaceworkers. In consultation with 100 activists from around the world, the two have drafted a proposal for an international peace force capable of offering a nonviolent presence in zones of conflict around the world. It would initially be comprised of 200 “active duty” members serving two-year terms, 400 “reservists” available for two- to three-month stints and 500 “supporters” providing financial and logistical backing.

Over a six-year period, the force would be built to a level of 2,000 active, 4,000 reservists and 5,000 supporters. Although still very much a rough draft, the proposal wrestles with the nitty-gritty questions of funding, training, strategies, relationship to governments and composition.

Last spring, another petition emanated from East Timor. Yayasan HAK and Fokupers, two fledgling human rights organizations, requested the assistance of Peace Brigades International. Peace Brigades provides unarmed accompaniment to human rights activists in zones of conflict. Their presence has often deterred political killings and provided vital international exposure for courageous communities nonviolently confronting persecution.

Peace Brigades International is only one of numerous organizations experimenting with nonviolent strategies in war-torn regions. The Peace Force seeks to garner the collective wisdom of tacticians like the Christian Peacemakers Team, Witness for Peace, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Balkan Peace Team -- the list goes on -- and to broaden its application.

In specific situations, these organizations have honed the tools of accompaniment, monitoring and advocacy and developed nonviolent tactics of intervention. Unlike governments, their intervention comes unencumbered -- devoid of that fatal preoccupation with “national security interests.”

In their letter of invitation to Peace Brigades International, HAK wrote, “We hope that an international presence will help reduce the level of violence in that country. We also hope that we may learn more about non-violent peace making methods and conflict resolution methods.”

Humanitarian intervention is the new buzzword in the post-Kosovo world. For people of faith, the concept is an old one. Jesus is the supreme example of God intervening on behalf of humanity. The church has always recognized martyrdom as an intercession (or intervention of sorts) offered in the face of persecution. The discussion and experimentation with international intervention will undoubtedly continue, and as Catholics we need to offer our voice and -- more important -- our tactics.

For those of us horrified at the prospect of a global cop periodically calling on B-52s to maintain law and order, the Peace Force offers a practical hope and merits our attention. It invites the "little people" with big faith to consider their role in keeping the peace.

For more information on the Peace Force please contact:
David Hartsough at
Mel Duncan at

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, a mother of four, is a member of the Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, Mass. She writes for the Sts. Francis and Therese publication, the Catholic Radical.

National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 1999