The bishops, including three who are engaging in a fast in protest to the sanctions, claim that the embargo has killed one million people, contrary to the UN's stated goal of allowing humanitarian shipments into the country. "We are killing people and it has to stop," said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit on whose letterhead the letter was written. Bishop Gumbleton said he and two others had begun a fast on Tuesday that allowed them only to eat and drink the meager rations available to Iraqi citizens.
The bishops signing the letter said the sanctions "are not only in violation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but they violate the human rights of the Iraqi people because they deprive innocent people from food and medicine." However, the US bishops' conference refused in November to issue the same type of condemnation as a national body. The 54 bishops represent only one-fifth of all US bishops.
Last month, UNICEF reported that 960,000 Iraqi children were suffering from malnutrition. In 1996, the UN organization estimated that 4,500 children under the age of 5 were dying each month. Critics of the Hussein regime blame his policies, rather than the embargo, for the deaths.