January 12, 1970
Pope Cautions Gowon on "Reprisals or Genocide" against Biafrans

Pope Paul VI acknowledged today that the Nigerian authorities had promised to respect the human rights of their apparently defeated Biafran adversaries but he warned, as he did yesterday, against further bloodshed. He also sent a message to the Nigerian head of state, Gen. Gowon.

While the Pontiff was expressing his hopes and fears to a reception for the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, the Nigerian Ambassador to Italy, John M. Garba, said at a news conference that his government had no intention of carrying out reprisals or genocide against secessionist Igbo civilians. The Pope had reported that many feared a sort of genocide in the wake of the Nigerian victory.

Mr. Garba said his statement was partly an answer to the Holy Father and generally an effort to quiet all fears on the subject. He added that the most urgent problem now is how to get relief on an urgent basis to needy civilians in the war zone. Nigeria “would welcome help from all her friends in the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said. 

The Pope said the Vatican was ready to put all the means at its disposal to work for relief of civilian suffering. It was announced that Msgr. Jean Rodhain, president of Caritas International, the relief agency active in supplying food and medicine to Biafra, would visit the Vatican tomorrow en route from Paris to Lagos. In his remarks the Pope appealed “to all men of good faith to attempt the impossible in order to avoid having the Nigerian conflict, which seems to be moving toward its end, become a frightful tragedy, finishing with an epilogue even more cruel than the horror that every war begins.”

He took note of Nigeria’s promises to respect Igbo rights and lives and of Nigeria’s bringing in international observers to watch the conduct of her troops. “This represents a good omen and a happy promise,” Pope Paul said. “Let history tomorrow bear witness to the magnanimity of all those who have taken part in these decisive events.” (New York Times)

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