(The following statement was made at a Press Conference of Prominent Canadians Calling for a Halt to the Bombing of Afghanistan in Toronto)

The relentless bombing of Afghanistan, now in its 18th day, goes beyond the intent of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368. When the Security Council gave its assent “to take all necessary steps” to respond to the September 11 attacks, it did not approve a bombing campaign that would kill innocent civilians in their Afghan villages, drive 70 percent of the people in Herat (population 800,000) out of their homes, kill 10 civilians yesterday on a bus at the city gates of Kandahar, and destroy a Red Cross warehouse among other unfortunate acts of what is drily called “collateral damage.”

It may seem comforting to say that civilians are not targeted, but it is not “collateral damage” when thousands of refugees fleeing the bombs are jammed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in unspeakable conditions. UNICEF warns that the crisis “is threatening the lives of millions of women and children” and that “1.5 million children may not make it through the winter.” Christian Aid, which reported that 600 people have already died in the Dar-e-Suf region of northern Afghanistan due to starvation and related diseases, says needy people are being put at risk by government spin-doctors who are showing a callous disregard for life.

The bombing of Afghanistan, one of the most desperate and vulnerable regions of the world, is producing an international catastrophe. The bombing is immoral, unproductive and only by the most dubious logic can it be said to possess even a shred of legality.

As Article 51 of the U.N. Charter makes clear, it is the Security Council that has the authority and responsibility to maintain or restore international peace and security. Let me emphasize: the bombing coalition, in exceeding the exercise of the right of self-defence, which gave a legal cover to the bombing, has sidelined the legitimate authority of the Security Council to manage this crisis.

It is said that the invocation for the first time of Article 5 of the NATO Charter provides the legal grounds for Canada to give its support to the military campaign. The Article provides the solidarity that an attack on one member will be considered an attack on all and thus NATO will take the responsive actions it deems necessary. But where has it been proven that the government of Afghanistan, despotic as it is, engineered or carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? It has yet to be confirmed that any of the 19 suspected hijackers comes from Afghanistan. Is the belief that Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader, is in Afghanistan justification for imposing catastrophe on the whole populace?

Continued bombing is not what the United Nations intended. The bombing must stop now – and Canada, to be faithful to its own values, must press the United States and its coalition partners to call a halt so that humanitarian aid can reach the desperate people of Afghanistan.