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Serving God and Ceasar: Religious personnel and their protection in armed conflict

31-03-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 853, by Stefan Lunze

Spiritual assistance plays an important and special role in times of hardship, and especially war. Stefan Lunze studies the historical background of the protection for religious personnel in times of armed conflict. He looks at the function of military chaplains and the legal protection regime under contemporary humanitarian law. Some concrete examples serve as a background to study the neutrality of religious personnel.


Stefan Lunze
studied law at Humbold University, Berlin, and canon law at the Catholic University of Louvain. He is currently a researcher at the Institute of Canon Law at Potsdam University. This article is dedicated to his godson, Emil Franke, to mark his first birthday. All issues raised in it are discussed in detail in Stefan Lunze, The Protection of Religious Personnel in Armed Conflict, Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2004.  

Ministers of religion fulfil a specific function in the context of armed conflict that has earned them not only appreciation, but also legal protection. This protection has historical roots in religious law, but the task of providing it later shifted to the domain of secular international law. Religious personnel attached to armed forces and exclusively involved in ministry to troops are granted respect and special protection in armed conflict. Their present-day legal status when providing spiritual assistance to soldiers in combat and to prisoners of war is examined in this article. In addition, their protection is compared with that of ministry in a civilian environment, and the option of merging military chaplaincy and civilian ministry to give equal protection to the latter is discussed. The specific function of religi ous personnel in armed conflict is explored, as well as their religious character and recent developments towards non-confessional spiritual assistance as well.Limits that religious personnel must respect in order to maintain their neutral status are addressed, and issues relating to the particular situation of religious personnel ministering to detainees in Guantanamo are considered. 


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