Mario Giro: ‘War is the Mother of all Poverty’

Sant’Egidio celebrates it’s 40th anniversary. The Catholic movement is probably best known for its peace work. ‘You should be ready to sit down with people who have blood on their hands’, says Mario Giro.
This year the catholic movement Sant’Egidio celebrates its 40th anniversary. Currently, some 50.000 people in 70 countries do all they can to keep alive the ecclesiastical spirit of May ’68. Worldwide Sant’Egidio is probably best known for its peace work. The movement helped lay the foundations fot the peace accord between the Mozambican Frelimo-governement and the Renamo-rebels. And this year they came close to making the impossible come trough: a cease-fire between the governement of Uganda and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Too bad that Kony pulled back from the brink of peace and choose to prolongue the war.
In the shadow of Rome’s basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere, we spoke to Mario Giro on the issue of peace and mediating between warring factions. Giro coordinates Sant’Egidio’s international relations.
Mario Giro: ‘One essential condition to do this kind of mediating work, is that one should have patience. You should never be pushed by deadlines or by a constituency demanding fast and clear result. Another condition is that you should be ready to sit down with people who have blood on their hands. I have talked several times with Joseph Kony -one of the worst war criminals around- because the desire for peace is more important than your personal revulsion or outrage.’
Is it possible to convince someone like Kony to cross the line without promising him all-out impunity?
Mario Giro: ‘What we agreed, is that Kony would sign the peace agreement and lay down his arms. The Ugandan governement promises that they would request the International Criminal Court in The Hague to drop his indictment -as soon as he comes out of the jungle. Kony originally indicatedc he was ready to be tried by a traditional tribunal in Uganda. It all comes down to a calculated risk for him. He wants to escape international vervolging, but on the other hand it is probably only because that threat is there that he might be willing to stop the war. That is how it always goes: to stop a conflict, the main players have to make well calculated choices.’
How did a church renewal movement become so closely involved with international peace mediation?
Mario Giro: ‘Sant’Egidio started in May ’68 from the yearning many believers had for a genuine gospel-based way of life, built on communal prayer and a clear choice for the poor. Through accidental contacts with bisshops from Mozambique and El Salvador we understood that war is the mother of all poverty, but also that we could at times be instrumental in ending those wars through impartial mediation. At the end of the day, though, we want people to be the owners of their peace process. To make that happen, we know we should be extremely sensitive to the culturally diverse modes that people use around the world to come to terms with truth, revenge and reconciliation. Human rights are universal, but the way they are put in practice can be very different.’ (gg / kw)

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