Subject: CNS: Timorese bishop deplores rights violations that hurt services

HEALTH-BELO Jul-5-2000

Timorese bishop deplores rights violations that hurt services

By Benedicta Cipolla Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Calling guaranteed health care access a ``question of political will,'' an East Timorese bishop deplored instances around the world where human rights violations negatively impact fundamental services.

``The protection of human rights is critical to the health, well-being and survival of people,'' Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, East Timor, said in Rome July 3 during a weeklong international congress on medicine and human rights.

Bishop Belo criticized the opinion of some scholars who link health care to economic resources, saying poor countries as well as wealthier ones can provide basic services.

``Health is just as much a question of political will as it is of basic economic level,'' he said.

Drawing on studies by the Consortium for Health and Human Rights, Bishop Belo outlined several ways that human rights violations affect health.

War, he said, causes direct casualties and related refugee and internal displacement crises, which in turn lead to ``serious health complications when too many people are crowded into areas without adequate water or sanitation.''

Bishop Belo also cited repression, giving examples of massacres in his homeland of East Timor and other countries like El Salvador and China that left ``public health disasters'' in their wake.

Massacres like the 1989 crackdown against Chinese dissidents in Beijing's Tiananmen Square not only kill people, he said; they also produce ``survivors who are maimed for life, left with terrible disfigurements, or simply left to cope with the terror of what they've witnessed.''

Capital punishment and torture are other clear examples of human rights violations that directly affect health, said the bishop.

Less obvious risks, he said, include ethnic, racial or political discrimination against minorities, which virtually ensures that ``important segments of the population are deprived of access to health care''; the unjust isolation of many people infected with HIV/AIDS; and problems resulting from economic sanctions and faulty aid distribution.

Providing Iraq as an example, Bishop Belo emphasized that ``in any country devastated by war or natural disaster, choices made about distribution of food and other basic supplies can affect public health.''

While appreciating Western fears that lifting U.N. sanctions might cause relief supplies to be rerouted to the Iraqi army, the bishop said that ``as long as children are suffering, the attempt must be made to get them aid, and if some of it is diverted, so be it.''

U.N.-mandated sanctions against Iraq were put in place after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. U.N. resolutions state that the sanctions can be lifted only after inspectors verify that Iraq has destroyed banned weapons.

Bishop Belo cited South Africa as a case where sanctions' positive contributions toward ending apartheid ``far outweighed the possibly negative but short-term impact of sanctions on health.''

The conference on medicine and human rights, sponsored by Italian and international Catholic medical associations, was to conclude July 7.

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