Pope says Ukraine war ‘a crime against humanity’ in annual speech

Head of the Catholic Church slams Russia’s war in Ukraine and Iran’s treatment of protesters.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis has repeatedly criticised Russia's deadly war in Ukraine [File: Andrew Medichini/AP]

In his yearly address to diplomats, Pope Francis has denounced Russia’s war in Ukraine, Iran’s treatment of protesters and the damaging of government buildings in Brazil by followers of the country’s far-right ex-president.

The speech on Monday to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican is known informally as the pope’s “state of the world” address. Typically, it outlines the areas of greatest concern for the Holy See.

Here are some key remarks from the head of the Catholic Church:

Ukraine: Any act of war ‘is a crime against God and humanity’

  • The pope denounced the “wake of death and destruction” caused by Russia’s nearly-year-long offensive in Ukraine, describing the war as “a crime against God and humanity”.
  • He said attacks on civilian infrastructure were causing deaths “not only from gunfire and acts of violence but also from hunger and freezing cold.”
  • “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation,” Francis said.
  • The pope also warned of a rising nuclear threat which evoked memories of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
  • Francis said the world “once more feels fear and anguish” and called for a total ban on nuclear weapons.

Iran: ‘The death penalty cannot be employed’

  • Francis condemned Tehran’s use of the death penalty against demonstrators who are demanding greater freedoms for women.
  • The remarks were his strongest yet on the nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody that have gripped Iran since mid-September.
  • “The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance,” he said.
  • At least four people have been executed in Iran since the demonstrations over Amini’s death began.
  • Francis also called for a global end to capital punishment. He described the death penalty as “always inadmissible since it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person”.

Women’s rights: ‘They are subjected to violence and abuse’

  • In a broader comment on women’s rights globally, the pope said women in many countries are still treated as “second-class citizens”.
  • “They are subjected to violence and abuse, and are denied the opportunity to study, work, employ their talents, and have access to health care and even to food,” Francis said.
  • The comment on education could refer to the Afghan Taliban’s recent move against women who want to study at the university level.

The Americas: ‘Heightened political and social polarisation’

  • Francis expressed alarm over a “weakening of democracy” in the Americas, citing the storming of government buildings in Brazil on Sunday by supporters of former populist leader Jair Bolsonaro.
  • The spectacle was evidence of the “heightened political and social polarisation” afflicting various regions of the Americas, he said.
  • He said there were several countries where “political crises are laden with tensions and forms of violence that exacerbate social conflicts”.
  • “I am thinking of these last few hours in Brazil,” the pope said, in a line that was not included in the pre-released text of his speech.
  • Francis also cited Peru, which has recently been gripped by deadly nationwide protests, and a “worrying situation” in Haiti, where gang violence is frequent.
  • “There is a constant need to overcome partisan ways of thinking and to work for the promotion of the common good,” he said.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies