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Second report of the public issues committee

Second report of the public issues committee presented to the Central Committee, 2003

02 September 2003

World Council of Churches
CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 2 September 200
3

Second report of the public issues committee

APPROVED

INTRODUCTION

The Public Issues Committee discussed the possible action on the following public issues.

Recommendation from the Executive Committee of the WCC:

    • Minute on the Responsibility to Protect
    • Minute on Cyprus
    • Minute on the occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Minute on Zimbabwe
    • Statement on post-war Iraq
    • Statement on Europe
    • Statement on Liberia


Submitted proposals from the floor in written form by members of the Central Committee within 24 hours of the announcement of the proposal from the Executive Committee and by the Program Committee:

    • The loss of the world’s indigenous languages
    • Rwanda and the Great Lakes region
    • Sudan


The Public Issues Committee discussed all proposals received and dealt with them in the following manner:

The Public Issues Committee is concerned with the issue of the loss of indigenous languages. According to UNESCO, on average one of the world’s 6,500 languages falls silent every two weeks, many of them carrying a storehouse of indigenous knowledge. The Public Issues Committee therefore asks the Indigenous desk of the WCC to explore an appropriate response from the WCC to this threat.

The Great Lakes Region has been in the throes of high level conflicts and human rights violations since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Sporadic ethnic violence continues to plague the region. The Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Lusaka and Sun City did achieve a level of success in terms of power sharing agreements between various warring factions. However, much work needs to be done before a lasting and durable peace can endure. The recent elections in Rwanda and the developments in Burundi following the Arusha Agreements are signs of hope. The churches of the region are involved in the reconstruction, reintegration and rehabilitation of refugees, displaced people and demobilised soldiers. They need all the assistance partners can give.

The WCC and AACC are requested to monitor the developments and to facilitate and channel human and material resources to the churches involved in humanitarian assistance programmes and in the promotion of peace. They are particularly requested to help in the process of identifying an enabler to facilitate better understanding and to promote peace between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

The World Council of Churches has constantly monitored developments in Sudan as well as the progress made in the IGAD Peace Process, since the WCC Central Committee statement on Sudan, in February 2001. It noted that Sudan is the focus of DOV for 2003 in view of the work being done by the churches in Sudan and the Sudan Ecumenical Forum for peace and reconciliation in the country.

With regards to the recommendations from the Executive Committee it recommends the following actions:


MINUTE ON THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT: ETHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting at Potsdam, Germany in February 2001, adopted a document titled: “The Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Violence: Toward an Ecumenical Ethical Approach”. It commended the document “for further study, reflection and use – as they may deem appropriate – in their continuing dialogues with policy makers, governments, international organizations, research bodies, groups advocating large scale non-violent civilian intervention and other peace initiatives and with civil society at large”. The churches were requested to share the results of these studies, reflections and dialogues and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) was asked to report back to the Central Committee at a later date.

The members of the Central Committee have received as background documentation, CCIA’s 2003 report titled “The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections”. The report recalls the process that led to the presentation of the above document at Potsdam. It contains the summary of reactions received from churches, refers to other relevant documents on the subject, identifies elements to be included in the proposed follow up process and makes recommendations to the Central Committee.

Since the adoption of the document by the Central Committee at Potsdam there have been a number of significant events like the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States, the consequent military strikes in Afghanistan and more recently, the war on Iraq and the military intervention in the Solomon Islands, that have added new dimensions to the debate on “humanitarian intervention”. There is also a growing fear by many people in the world of attacks on innocent civilians and of correlated responses by governments to curtail civil liberties. These situations further underline the role of the United Nations and international law.

In the period since the 2001 Central Committee, only a few churches and related groups have studied and reflected on this issue and have produced documents and other materials, which they have shared with the CCIA. While most of the churches have not formally taken any action, they have expressed that they consider the issue of the protection of endangered populations of great significance. Circles outside the ecumenical movement too have been debating this issue at the non-governmental and inter-governmental levels.

The CCIA’s 2003 report underlines the importance of having an appropriate title for the document; the need to deepen and clarify the ethical and theological criteria for discernment; and the importance of reflecting on issues of human security, sovereignty, human rights, international law, democracy and other concerns. Finally, the report points out the divergence of views amongst the churches as indicated in their responses on just peace and the use of military force as a last resort. While some churches have specific criteria for the use of force others are critical of exercising this option.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, 26 August to 2 September, 2003 therefore:

Receives the report of the CCIA “The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections” as directed by it at the meeting in Potsdam, February 2001, and endorses its recommendations.

Expresses its appreciation to the churches and related ecumenical groups that have responded to its call for study and reflection.

Encourages member churches to continue the study process and share their insights with the CCIA.

Requests the CCIA:

    • to continue the study process, within the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) and in consultation with the DOV Reference Group
    • to collaborate closely with ecumenical organizations that are working on this issue and taking into consideration the emerging developments
    • to keep the churches and academic institutions involved in the study process
    • to report back to the next WCC Assembly



MINUTE ON CYPRUS

The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland from 26 August to 2 September, 2003, welcomed the report and recommendations of the International Affairs staff delegation to Cyprus from 31 March to 3 April, 2003. Recognising that the period from now to May 1st, 2004, when the Republic of Cyprus will become a full member of the European Union, is extremely critical in terms of the kind of settlement that will evolve, it commits itself to keep the Cyprus problem high on its international affairs agenda.

While welcoming steps towards reconciliation between the two communities, the Central Committee states clearly that the recent easing of movement along the cease-fire line does not constitute a settlement of the Cyprus problem. The WCC reiterates its position that the only acceptable framework for a viable and permanent settlement of the Cyprus problem is that of the United Nations binding resolution and international legality. We pray that the Turkish Cypriot leader will agree to resume negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, on the basis of the Secretary General´s comprehensive settlement plan, as soon as possible.

The Central Committee calls on all WCC member churches to pay special attention to the above mentioned report and lend its support to the WCC General Secretary and the staff and members of its Commission of Churches on International Affairs in implementing the outlined recommendations in solidarity with the Church of Cyprus and all relevant actors and to bring an updated report to the WCC Executive Committee in February 2004.


MINUTE ON THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland from 26 August to 2 September, 2003, took note of the efforts undertaken by the WCC General Secretary and staff of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, to implement the resolutions of the Central and Executive Committees since February 2001, to end the illegal occupation of Palestine.

A year after the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched within the 2002 focus of the Decade to Overcome Violence and its campaign to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East, the Central Committee welcomes with appreciation the partnership provided by churches and specialised ecumenical ministries that support this new ecumenical initiative of the WCC. In particular, the Central Committee recognises the courageous witness of the Ecumenical Accompaniers, who volunteer to serve the Church of Jesus Christ by standing in active solidarity with a people struggling for freedom, justice and peace. The Central Committee reaffirms its endorsement to this programme and asks all WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to actively engage in it.

In addition, the Central Committee heard with heavy hearts the message sent by the Heads of Churches of Jerusalem and the observations made by the CCIA and ACT delegation during their recent visit to the occupied Palestinian Territories. We were especially concerned with the humanitarian consequences of continued closures, curfews, extra-judicial killings and suicide bombings as well as the “separation wall” being erected by the Israeli authorities. The Central Committee asks all members to condemn such actions and to join the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches, Communities and Institutions in Jerusalem in their daily “Prayers for just peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land”. The Central Committee further regrets that in spite of its appeals to the government of Israel, they have still refused to recognise the election of HB Patriarch Irineos I, as head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Endorsing the CCIA´s analysis of the Road Map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Central Committee recommits itself to the WCC direction, long-term policies and actions developed since 1998, which need to remain constant and of high priority. In this light, the Central Committee calls on the WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to intensify their efforts on behalf of the ecumenical campaign launched in 2002 and to increase their humanitarian relief and rehabilitation efforts. It also asks the General Secretary and staff of international affairs to give visibility to all ecumenical efforts to end the occupation of Palestine. In this regard the Central Committee recognises the need for the speedy establishment of the Jerusalem Ecumenical Center of the Heads of Churches in association with the WCC and MECC (ref. GEN 6-page14).

MINUTE ON ZIMBABWE

The present socio-economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe is a serious challenge to the churches in the country and a matter of concern to the wider ecumenical family. The challenges faced by the people and churches in Zimbabwe are multifaceted and complex. The ‘fast track’ land resettlement programme implemented by the government of Zimbabwe over the last two years has led to serious human rights violations. The process of resettlement is carried out in a manner that has circumvented legal procedures and created an air of uncertainty amongst the people particularly the new settlers. The disruption caused to the commercial agricultural sector by ‘fast track’ resettlement has endangered food security. The government’s handling of the situation through recourse to violence and introduction of contentious legislative measures has compounded the crisis, isolating the country and bringing it to the brink of ruin.

We share the pain and suffering of the people of Zimbabwe as a result of escalating violence and repression of fundamental human rights by the state and groups encouraged and supported by the government. The violence, intimidation, unlawful arrest and torture perpetrated by the police, ruling party militia and other state agents must come to an end. We particularly deplore actions of the government to introduce new laws and amend existing laws with intention to clamp down on political opponents, human rights defenders, representatives of trade unions, students, teachers, lawyers, and jurists. We express solidarity with the churches of Zimbabwe as they witness to the challenge of the present crisis, and affirm the Executive Committee Statement from September 2001.

We urge member churches of WCC to condemn acts of violence. We encourage the Zimbabwe Council of Churches as they strive to increase their efforts to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the government and the opposition in the country in order that they may together address the basic grievances of the people.

We call on the General Secretary, the Africa Peace Monitoring Group and the Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches to:

    • continue their support of the churches to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict, restore the rule of law and put an end to arbitrary arrests, torture and killings;
    • support and encourage the efforts of the Zimbabwe churches to work towards constitutional reforms that reflect the aspirations of the people on the principles of good governance, rule of law and democratic norms;
    • support and encourage the initiatives of Zimbabwe churches to redress the inequities of land distribution;
    • provide a platform to the churches of Zimbabwe for a comprehensive, inclusive and coordinated ecumenical accompaniment to facilitate sharing and exchange of information and analysis, and to undertake advocacy for peaceful resolution of the conflict.



STATEMENT ON IRAQ

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from 26 August to 2 September, five months after the pre-emptive, illegal attack on Iraq,

Recalling all of the WCC´s previous relevant policy statements on Iraq, in particular its statements made since the meeting of the Central Committee in 2002;

Condemning the human rights violations of the previous regime evidenced for example by the discovery of mass graves;

Reaffirming its conviction that the war on Iraq was immoral, ill-advised and in breach of the principles of the UN Charter;

Reaffirming also the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq;

Noting the inalienable and fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iraqi people;

Reaffirming also, the right of the Iraqi people to freely choose their political destiny, non-intervention in their own internal affairs, full sovereignty over the natural resources of their country and economic and social reconstruction;

Stressing the importance for the occupying powers to immediately allow the United Nations to work with the people of Iraq to form a representative, full and equitable participatory government based on the rule of law, free of influence of the occupying powers;

Reaffirming the importance of the non-military means for the nuclear disarmament of Iraq and for its eventual confirmation by United Nations weapons inspectors and Recognising once again the need for the whole Middle East region to be free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons by non- military means;

Reiterating the need for member states to support the United Nations in playing a leading role in humanitarian relief, the reconstruction of Iraq, disarmament, protection of human rights and the restoration and establishment of local and national governance structures;

Welcoming all humanitarian assistance provided to the people of Iraq by the international community and the churches world-wide, in particular under the umbrella of Action by Churches Together –International (ACT) in co-operation with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC);

The WCC Central Committee,

Concerned about the prevailing lawlessness and insecurity in Iraq and the potential impact of the daily violence on the Iraqi people, humanitarian and UN personnel and the transitional process;

Noted with regret that over 80 per cent of the population of Iraq is now estimated to be living in poverty while it is estimated that the total debt of the country is within the range of USD 100 –150 billion (excluding its outstanding reparation claims from the 1991 Gulf War), which has a crippling effect on the life and future of the Iraqi people;

Continues to be concerned about the long-term political, social, cultural and religious consequences of this war and the continued occupation, especially the negative impact on Christian-Muslim relations, the exacerbation of intense hatred towards the “western world” strengthening extremist ideologies, breeding further global insecurity and increased emigration of Christians from the Middle East;

Encouraged by the increased role and involvement of the United Nations and its specialised agencies, including the creation of a new UN assistance mission to support the Secretary General in the fulfilment of his mandate under UN SC Resolution 1483;

Dismayed by the actions taken by United Nations Security Council subsequent to the war on Iraq, giving the occupation an open ended mandate, an ambiguous role to the United Nations, and granting the occupying powers the right to legally and financially administer Iraq, that have the propensity to undermine its role as primary upholder of international peace and security;

Remains concerned that there is no clear timetable for an end to the military occupation and the earliest possible restoration of Iraqi sovereignty;

Convinced that it is essential to place human rights and the rule of law at the forefront of efforts to encourage the building of representative, democratic institutions;

Remains convinced that diplomatic efforts involving the states of the region will still be needed to address outstanding conflict issues in the Middle East, most notably the need to end the illegal occupation of Palestine;

Noted with appreciation the Statement “Church Leaders United Against War” and all efforts of the WCC General Secretary and staff prior and during the war on Iraq and recognised particularly the appreciation expressed by the Arab world, including the Churches in the Middle East and the MECC.


Therefore, the WCC Central Committee,

Deplores the invasion and occupation of Iraq by foreign forces as an act of aggression in violation of the United Nations Charter and International Law;

Declares that preventive and pre-emptive war violates international law and the principles of the UN Charter; Welcomes the courageous stance of all WCC member churches in particular the Churches in the USA, UK and Australia in opposing this war and working tirelessly for peace;

Welcomes the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq after thirteen years;

Opposes the occupying powers taking advantage of their military force to establish military bases in Iraq for their own use, and from benefiting from rebuilding Iraq or from sale of its resources;

Calls on the UN Security Council to insist on the establishment of a legitimate, sovereign, elected and inclusive government as early as possible and for the immediate and orderly withdrawal of the occupying forces, handing over transitional administration to the United Nations;

Encourages member states of the UN to raise the concern of the legality of this war in the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly;

Asks states to participate in setting up a transparent mechanism for arbitration and cancel the Iraqi debt as it has emerged out of loans that merely financed the previous Iraqi regime;

Requests the relevant UN mechanisms to promptly investigate, gather any evidence of violations of human rights of the previous regime, war crimes and crimes against humanity, violations of international humanitarian law including the illegal resort to war, and to prosecute all such crimes;

Calls on the occupying powers to provide for full reparations to the Iraqi people for damages caused and precipitated by the unlawful use of military force, and to ensure the removal of cluster bombs, depleted uranium and un-detonated munitions; Condemns all forms of violence, the killing of religious leaders, all acts of destruction and looting in Iraq, including the deadly terrorist attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, and mourns the loss of lives of the UN personnel who were in Baghdad to serve the humanitarian needs and work for the restoration of the sovereignty of the people of Iraq, particularly the death of Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello; Urges all those concerned to allow full unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to all people in need of assistance, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian, United Nations and its associated personnel;

Calls on the churches world-wide and the international community to demonstrate a collective and cohesive commitment to support the people of Iraq, whose plight has not been given proper recognition in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their country; Urges the Iraqi religious communities, to uphold fundamental human rights, including religious freedom, the urgency of establishing the rule of law, ensuring the rights of all religious communities and equal rights of all citizens; Affirms the role of Churches of Iraq, in collaboration with other Iraqi religious communities, in the social, economic and political reconstruction of Iraq, including the creation of platforms of inter-religious dialogue;

Reiterates its commitment, together with the Churches of Iraq, to dialogue and co-operation among religious communities. Such co-operation, grounded in the respect of cultural diversity and religious plurality, is essential for the safeguarding of national unity, preventing or diffusing communal tensions; Prays for the people and the Churches of Iraq and their faithful as they continue to be witnesses of hope.



STATEMENT ON LIBERIA

1. Liberia has been in throes of civil strife and wars since the 1980’s. A peace agreement signed between the Liberian army and the rebels resulted in the election of Charles Taylor as President of Liberia in 1997. In 1999, Taylor was accused of destabilising neighbouring countries especially Sierra Leone, from which he profited massively by supporting rebels operating in the diamond mining areas. In May 2001, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Liberia because of Taylor’s activities to destabilise the region by promoting conflicts and trading weapons for diamonds with the rebels in Sierra Leone.

2. Meanwhile, rebels belonging to Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) who were fighting Taylor’s army initially operating from bases in Guinea made progress and gained more and more territory in the North and West. Also, another rebel group Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) gained control of strategic areas in the South and East thus cutting off Taylor from his other main source of revenue – timber. Around March 2003, fighting intensified and the rebels opened a number of fronts and between them were able to control two thirds of the country before reaching the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.

3. As a result of the escalation in fighting large number of people including internally displaced persons and refugees from neighbouring countries were again uprooted and forced to move in search of safety and security. Soldiers from Taylor’s army who were not paid wages for several months indulged in widespread looting and plunder. The complete breakdown of law and order and disruption of humanitarian services further added to the sufferings of the already beleaguered population.

4. On the 4th of June a high level Liberian Peace Conference was convened in Accra, Ghana, under the auspices of the United Nations – International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL). While the talks were in progress the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone for war crimes indicted Taylor for crimes against humanity and issued warrants for his arrest. After considerable difficulties and painstaking negotiations the parties finally agreed to a cease-fire on 17th June 2003. Despite the cease-fire agreement fighting continued as Taylor prolonged his departure from Monrovia and the rebels tried to make last minute gains.

5. On the 1st August, UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1497 (2003). The Resolution authorised the establishment of a multi national force to support the implementation of the 17th June cease-fire agreement including establishment of conditions for initial stages of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration activities to help establish and maintain security in the interim period till the installation of a successor authority. On the 18th August, ECOWAS and the United Nations brokered a power sharing agreement between the current government, the rebels, political parties and civil society, for a transitional government that will take charge in October 2003 and prepare the country for democratic elections before the end of 2005.

6. The leadership of the Liberian Council of Churches remained present in Accra and in consultation with the representatives of the parties to the conflict through the duration of the peace talks and kept Churches world-wide informed of developments. The AACC and churches in Africa and the US called on the African leaders and the United Nations to work towards a comprehensive resolution of the conflict. The World Council of Churches sent letters of support to the Churches in Liberia and to the UN Secretary General calling on him to support the Accra Peace initiative and encourage the parties to agree on the presence of a credible peace keeping force.

7. The Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland 26th August – 2nd September 2003 therefore:

a) Expresses its appreciation and support for the role of ECOWAS, ECOMIL, AU, the inter-religious council, the churches and leaders of the Liberian Council of Churches for their efforts to promote peace and accompany the parties to the conflict in their negotiations at Accra, Ghana, to arrive at an agreement to cease hostilities and to form a transitional government;

b) Condemns the spate of violence unleashed by the military forces of the government of Liberia under the leadership of Charles Taylor and the LURD and MODEL rebel groups that resulted in horrific conditions and untold human sufferings which left the majority of the people on the streets for days with little or no access to clean water, sanitation and food;

c) Welcomes the UN Security Council Resolution 1497 (2003) and expects that an all inclusive political framework agreed between the parties on the 18th August, for a transitional government can be implemented and a conducive climate created for free and fair elections in Liberia before the end of 2005; d) Urges member churches to uphold and support the peace and advocacy work of the Liberian Council of Churches and its members in prayer and thanksgiving for their continued witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and e) Calls on churches and church-related agencies around the world particularly those in the United States, because of its historical links with Liberia, to provide much needed humanitarian assistance to the people and to accompany the churches as they seek to promote a just and durable peace, and restore harmonious community life where all people can contribute to the establishment of a society with justice and dignity for all.


STATEMENT ON EUROPE

Background

There have been significant developments and changes within Europe in recent years, throughout the continent. In particular since the meeting of the last Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, a year ago, decisions have been made to enlarge the European Union with ten new members and, linked to that, draft a new European Constitution.

Europe is a diverse and evolving region, with multiple geographic, economic and religious parameters. In the final years of the 20th century, Europe has experienced some of the most profound changes in its history. The revolutions which swept through Central and Eastern Europe after 1989 liberated millions of people from repressive and often violent regimes. The momentous events of the last decade mark an end to the partitioned Europe of Yalta, and they offer the real hope of a new and inclusive community from the North Sea to the Caspian – and beyond. The enlargement of the European Union to the east and south in 2004, and the expansion of NATO, along with the proposals for a new European Constitution by the Convention on the Future of Europe, will be decisive factors in shaping the destiny of the continent.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva 26 August – 2 September 2003, recognises the profound and dynamic change taking place across the European continent. The last resolution on Europe was adopted by the Central Committee, 21-28 August 1992; in it, the Central Committee:

    • Alerted member churches to the promise and challenge of greater European integration.
    • Recognised the progress made by the EC in redressing regional imbalances, combating poverty and advancing the social rights of all its peoples.
    • Affirmed the need to speak out and maintain dialogue on poverty, economic inequities, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, environment and relationships with other European states and with the two-thirds world.
    • Drew attention to the presence of ecumenical institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg and to the resources and expertise they offer to the churches.
    • Noted with appreciation the role played by CEC (Conference of European Churches) and recommended enhanced cooperation between EECCS (European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society), CEC and the WCC on matters of concern related to European unity and its global implications.

The concerns of the ecumenical movement and the member churches in relation to the European institutions remain as identified in the WCC Central Committee resolution of 1992. Most of these concerns are handled primarily by European actors in the ecumenical movement, such as the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in the areas of European integration, economic issues, democracy, human rights, bioethics and religious liberty, or Eurodiaconia in addressing economic and social issues, or the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) for refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities, or Aprodev in regard to development policies. The role of the WCC is to work with European ecumenical organisations by bringing in the global dimension, provide support when requested, and collaborate on issues of common concern.

Since the resolution 11 years ago, there have been major changes within as well as outside the European Union. Some boundaries have broken down, and new ones have been created.

Within the European Union three new, economically advanced and net contributing members have entered the community, making the total 15 member states. Twelve of the 15 members have come together into the common currency, the Euro. There has been a gradual development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force, in particular as a result of the experience with the war in the former Yugoslavia. After the European Council in Copenhagen in December 2002, accession agreements have been signed with ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, who will become members of the EU in 2004.

Related to the enlargement, the Convention on the Future of Europe presented its draft Constitution in June 2003; in article 51, the role of the churches is affirmed in what is a new way for the EU: “The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.”…. “The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.”.... “Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.”

The European Union also has developed its cooperation with its neighbours and the rest of the world. In the “Barcelona process”, we have seen increased co-operation with the countries south and east of the Mediterranean. There is a treaty establishing the European Community on the one hand and The Georgetown Agreement establishing the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) on the other. Together they formulated in Benin, June 2000, a partnership agreement called the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that replaces the former Lomé Convention, affirming among other things their commitment to work together towards the achievements of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

There have been significant social and economic changes in the continent, both within and outside the EU. Many countries in the former Soviet Union have a significantly lower GDP, compared to 15 years ago. The social security systems in western Europe are challenged with an ageing population and changing economic conditions. The Common Agricultural Policy, which still is using the lion’s share of the EU budget, is challenged for being socially, financially, environmentally as well as globally untenable.

Since 1992, several sub-regional structures for cooperation have developed, such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), contributing further to European integration. Important contributions, in particular relating to Human Rights, Minority Rights, democracy, the rule of law and development of civil society have also been made by the more inclusive European institutions, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

NATO, the military alliance remaining from the Cold War, has also changed. It has developed its crisis management capacity, contributed its first out-of-area operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, reached an agreement of cooperation with Russia and invited Central and Eastern European countries to become new members. However, in particular during the last two years, there has been a growing division between the US and European member states on fundamental issues of security – pre-emptive strike, international law, the role of the UN and how to meet the threat from weapons of mass destruction.

The European ecumenical structures relating to the European institutions have changed and developed over the past decade. One important example is the merger of the Brussels-based European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society (EECCS) with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the development of a closer working relation with the Roman Catholic COMECE (Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community). One specific expression of this ecumenical climate is the Charta Oecumenica, which provides a tool for furthering cooperation between churches on local, national and European level.

The religious and ecumenical context of Europe is complex and varied, and religious pluralism must be recognized by churches and societies alike. The great majority of religious adherents is Christian, from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. Significant indigenous Muslim communities exist, particularly in the Balkans, the Caucasus regions and other parts of Russia, alongside multiple immigrant religious communities. Religious affiliation is to some extent related to geography, and has been a decisive factor in cultural and social development. The level of religious practice varies highly across the region. In Western Europe, historical churches have experienced a decline in membership, while many Diaspora Churches from the South have taken root, parallel with new forms of religious faith. Many churches in Central and Eastern Europe have undergone a powerful spiritual and material revival over the last decade, following the period of communist persecution.

Religious and ecumenical relations are similarly complex. In some places the ecumenical idea has become part of the self-identity of churches, but there are also churches and religious communities in conflict. In many countries, the period has been marked by the return of the churches and religion to the “public sphere” as important political and social actors. The churches are called to contribute to and influence the developments which are shaping Europe. Christianity has influenced European history, and the contribution and responsibility of the churches and religious communities, including Judaism and Islam, must be recognized.

The significance of this period calls WCC member churches to reflect on, and engage in, developments in Europe.

The focus of the WCC

The WCC policy focuses primarily on four areas where Europe interacts with other regions – the values in shaping European unity, the European process of integration, a Europe in balance with its global neighbourhood and the role of Europe for peace and security. The implementation of the WCC’s policy should be in close cooperation with the European ecumenical organisations.

A. Churches and values in shaping European unity
During the course of the last century, Europe experienced revolution and upheaval on an unprecedented scale. Millions perished in wars and in the concentration camps and gulags of communist and nazi regimes. The vision of modern European unity was born out of this context of violence and conflict, hoping for peace and democracy throughout the continent. Modern Europe has been at the heart of much of the extraordinary social, political and creative development of the post-war world. Churches and other religious institutions continue to have a central responsibility in the historical development of the continent.

The recent experience of European history teaches us that the vision and success of European unity and peace cannot be built simply on the market economy. People and societies are transformed by belief and ideas, as well as by transactions and trade. A “heart and soul”, a rediscovery and renewal of values and spirituality for Europe, are needed more than ever. But historically the churches have too often been vehicles of nationalist tendencies and crucibles of conflict. The churches can and must unlock their healing and peacemaking power in society, and find the inner resources to witness to a new hope that can be offered to Europe. The WCC member churches must uphold the principle that churches and religious communities are vehicles of culture and identity, an essential foundation for a moral and ethical Europe, and must be recognized as partners in dialogue by the European institutions.

B. European integration: towards a deeper and wider Europe
Because they are the most inclusive European institutions and are mandated to handle issues of utmost importance to the churches, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe remain priorities for the WCC and the ecumenical movement when relating to European integration.

Also among the founders of the European Union, there was a common understanding of the need to solve problems and disagreements together, rather than on one’s own. This multilateral experience of solving common problems and meeting common challenges together, rather than on their own - the culture of political compromise - offers a political model for multilateral cooperation. Europe has experienced profound divisions for most of its history, but recent political developments have shifted the focus to integration and unity. These developments offer the chance for a peaceful, democratic and just Europe stretching from Iceland to the Caucasus. The political search for an inter-dependent Europe, built on social and economic justice, is advocated by churches.

However, many historic divisions and challenges remain. Others are entering into the scene or becoming more significant as a result of the changing societies, like racism, ethnic tensions and trafficking of human beings. Inclusion of new countries into the European Union, means new borders between neighbors. Failure to accept migrants, means new boundaries between people. A number of factors will affect the success and the depth of European integration, including geography, economics, history, culture – and religion.

WCC member churches should support the vision of an inclusive, wider Europe, where unity is based on respect for diversity in history, culture and faith. European unity should be built on a new and deeper encounter of cultures and civilizations, in which the churches will have an essential role. Therefore, the decision by the European Union to include in the next stage of European Union enlargement the nations of Romania and Bulgaria, countries with a majority Orthodox population, is an essential and welcome step. Similar attention must be given to the countries of the Western Balkans, to overcome the recent period of severe conflict and instability.

A wider European integration must give careful consideration to the contribution of Russia and the other CIS countries, as well as Turkey; these nations have been and continue to be major political and cultural forces in the European context.

Churches should also contribute to the deepening of European understanding and integration. The continued impact of the cultural and religious divides of the continent should not be underestimated in the integration process. The schism between the Byzantine East and the Latin West, between the Orthodox and Catholic and, later, the Protestant worlds, marks one fundamental rupture in European history, and a distortion of European identity. The progressive enlargement of the European Union has, until recently, closely paralleled the historical territory of Western Christendom. New ways of bridging this divided space and memory, and of building new perceptions, through means such as open dialogue on different value systems, need to be sought by the churches.

C. Europe in balance with its global neighbourhood
Globalisation means that Europe’s security and future must be sought in harmony with the rest of the world. Therefore, free and fair trade, development assistance, multilateral work for social justice, sustainable development and a healthy environment, human rights, public health and disarmament should be seen as forward-looking policies in Europe’s own interest. Europe’s relation to the South has been marked by imperialism and colonial relations which continue to influence EU policies on development and trade. However, colonial experiences are limited to certain member states, and within an enlarged EU they will be in a minority. This offers a possibility for a new self-understanding of Europe’s role in the world, to which the churches should contribute.

Although there is no lack of fine policy statements of EU institutions regarding development co-operation, the translation of the lofty goals into actual practice leaves much to be desired. A major issue is the lack of coherence between the objective to eradicate poverty on the one hand, and the goals pursued by trade, agricultural, fisheries and foreign policy on the other hand. Conflicting interests within and between Member States as well as the complexity of EU policy-making exacerbate this incoherence.

The subsequent Lomé Conventions between the ACP and EU, combined a development co-operation agenda with non-reciprocal trade arrangements. Under the influence of trade liberalisation policies pursued in the context of the World Trade Organisation, this combination has been abandoned in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, which basically aims at establishing free trade arrangements. Although trade preferences are still given to the so-called Least Developed Countries (under the Everything But Arms initiative), the contractual nature of non-reciprocal trade relationships has been lost. As free trade between unequal partners tends to benefit the strongest, the WCC and member churches are called to critically monitor EU-ACP trade negotiations for the coming years.

The lack of vision for and consensus on a future sustainable social model for Europe make it difficult for the EU to develop a coherent policy towards the rest of the world and to provide a clear alternative voice to the US in the international financial institutions. This lack of coherent policy may also be seen in the immediate neighbourhood, where on average, the people living to the north of the Mediterranean Basin are economically twelve times better off than their southern counterparts. If the present policy of the EU continues to be carried out, promoting free trade in areas where Europe is strong but not in areas where the partner countries have comparative advantages, the gap might widen still more. This is a situation which will increase the risk of conflict, fan social tension and increase the number of refugees. The European churches need to address the values and principles of these issues in a clear way. During the last three decades it has become increasingly clear that environmental resources are not available in unlimited amounts. As market prices do not incorporate sufficiently the limited availability and the environmental scarcity related to consumption of goods, their overuse, in particular of fossil fuels, has become systemic in Europe as well as in the rest of the OECD world. Europe contributes significantly to the emission of greenhouse gases and thus to global warming.

This represents a burden on future generations and a reduced capacity for long-term economic prosperity. It also represents a source of global tension. Extrapolating current European industrial consumption and production patterns to the entire world would require about ten times the number of existing resources. Europe is accumulating an ecological debt in its relationships to other regions.
The perception of increasing migration to Europe and widespread xenophobic sentiments have led governments to increase border surveillance, tighten asylum processes, and adopt policies intended to deter potential asylum-seekers. Yet the factors which compel asylum-seekers and migrants to seek entry into European countries continue - wars, human rights abuses, poverty and lack of hope. The tightening of borders and the lack of legal opportunities for migration have led to an increasing role for traffickers and smugglers. Over the past years, thousands of would-be migrants and asylum-seekers have lost their lives in their attempts to cross European borders or arrive on European shores. Many immigrants find themselves in irregular situations, often in deplorable conditions. In such conditions, new forms of slavery are on the rise in Europe.

While the demographic reality suggests that migration may be beneficial to European countries and while some European countries are encouraging highly-skilled migrants, the overall trend is toward increasingly restrictive migration and asylum policies. As European governments attempt to harmonize their policies toward migrants and asylum-seekers, European churches are increasingly challenged to develop common approaches across national and denominational boundaries. The increasing presence of migrants in Europe also continues to raise broader issues of inter-religious relations, the linkage between racism and xenophobia, and questions about European identity itself. Churches are often called, not only to minister to the needs of migrants, but also to confront their governments concerning policies toward potential migrants and asylum-seekers.

Racism and xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance are not new elements in the European contexts. Churches in Europe have a special role to play in working to end racism and xenophobia in church and society.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, as a “ common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, much progress has been made in the setting up of new international norms and standards on human rights and humanitarian laws. Europe had much to contribute to this development. In recent times Europe has witnessed an emerging diversity in its societies that spreads across culture, politics, social and economic sectors. This enrichment has contributed to the shaping of attitudes as well as a new understanding of the concept and meaning of human rights and the rights of minorities. With the changing nature of state and society, as a result of globalisation, some of the above laws and standards need to be reviewed in light of the emerging developments. The European Union by virtue of its history and experience has a particular responsibility to contribute to this debate end ensure the respect of Human Rights in all member states.

Europe has much to offer to its global neighbourhood. However, it is imperative that Europe also learn from other societies. Historically, Europe has dominated the rest of the world both militarily, politically, economically, technologically and in terms of the dissemination of knowledge. This has created a euro-centric perception of other regions and difficulties to value knowledge from other societies. A balanced relation with other region can only develop with interdependency also in the field of knowledge, and the churches have an important role to play in Europe in this transformation.

D. Europe and security
For too many years, the focus in European Security Policy has been on military balance, nuclear weapons and power politics. Although we still cannot disregard these factors, the great difference today is that security can be discussed and sought within a much broader spectrum of measures, a shift from the traditional perspective of mere national security towards including human security. There has been a clear attempt by the EU to look upon security from a broader perspective, to strengthen the political will for conflict prevention and to reinforce the capacity for crisis intervention and peace keeping. However, when confronted with realities, the common foreign and security policy of the EU has not been strong enough to sustain the different members’ views. The inability of the EU to maintain a common policy during the Iraq crisis of 2003 left the field open for the US alone to set the agenda. There is also a risk that the capacity build-up within the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU will leave the continent too strong on the military side yet still too weak in civil instruments. Furthermore, there is no consensus among the EU members about the need for a UN mandate for action involving military force. In light of the illegal war against Iraq and the precedent that might set, the European member churches of the WCC are asked to request their respective governments to clarify their position on this basic principle in international law. The early vision of a common European defence was never implemented. Today, most EU members are also members of NATO. However, a minority maintain a policy of military non-alignment. The new members from Central and Eastern Europe have chosen membership of NATO as a means to safeguard their sovereignty. This places heavy financial burdens on comparatively weak economies and direct resources from civilian to military needs. The enlargement of NATO, depending on how it is made, may also complicate the integration of Russia into the rest of Europe. The experience of the out-of-area activities by NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan has shown the limits of the military alliance in meeting today’s complex threats to security and in building peace. NATO is furthermore the most important tool of US involvement in Europe and of European countries’ influence on the US. However, the division between the US and European countries on critical security issues – pre-emptive strike, international law, role of UN and weapons of mass destruction – makes it difficult for NATO to find its future direction. As the critical issues for NATO are strong concerns for the WCC and member churches, it is necessary to follow these developments closely. In particular, member churches in Europe and the US are asked to find ways to address the disagreements between the two, in advocating for global security based on international law and multilateral cooperation.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva August 26 – September 2, 2003,

1. Takes note of the previous WCC Central Committee resolution on Europe in 1992, and of the significant developments which have affected Europe during the last decade.

2. Appreciates the particular roles played by the Conference of European Churches and other European ecumenical organizations, working closely in collaboration with Roman Catholic partner organizations, in monitoring and influencing European developments and integration.

3. Welcomes the increased ecumenical co-operation in Europe, including the process stimulated by the Charta Oecumenica.

4. Reaffirms the unique roles in the European integration process of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, being the most inclusive of the European Institutions.

5. (a) Welcomes the accession of 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to the European Union, as a major accomplishment to overcome the dividing line of the Cold War and encourages an integration process towards real unity and equality in Europe;

(b) Cautions against the risk of new divisions emerging along historical, religious, ethnic and economic fault-lines in Europe, both between Eastern and Western Christian cultures, and between Christianity and Islam, and therefore;

(c) Urges that priority is given to the integration of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union, and to deepening co-operation, peace-building and integration between member states of the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkans and of the former Soviet Union.

6. (a) Insists that the eradication of racism and poverty, respect for human rights (political, civil, economic, social and cultural) and respect for God’s creation should be the overarching objectives for the European Union’s development policies and that these objectives are fully integrated in the Union’s policies in other areas such as agriculture, fisheries, trade, environment, and common foreign and security policy.

(b) Urges the European Union to increase its efforts to develop international law and standards on human rights, humanitarian law and corporate social responsibility, to meet the challenges of globalisation and to work for the recognition and functioning of the International Criminal Court.

7. (a) Recognizes the fundamental changes taking place in European security arrangements, and welcomes efforts to strengthen multilateral common foreign and security policy in the region, guided by fundamental principles of human rights, ethics and morality, and to work towards comprehensive security arrangements based on common and human security;

(b) Challenges the practice and intention of individual countries and alliances to intervene militarily without the mandate of the UN Security Council, insists on the need for all European states to uphold the international framework of the UN Charter, and underlines the need for any military action to comply with international law.

8. (a) Recognizes the central role of Christianity and the contribution of other religions to European history and civilization, which ought to be reflected in the preamble of the draft European Constitution, and the renewed role of religion in the social, political and cultural life of European states and societies;

(b) Welcomes and affirms the recognition of the specific contribution of the churches and religious communities as partners in dialogue with the European Institutions, as proposed in the draft Constitution of the European Union;

(c) Emphasizes the importance of monitoring church-state relations, rights of religious minorities and religious freedom, and the need to respect the collective and individual rights of religious believers, while recognizing different models of church-state relations and diverse cultural and historical models across Europe.

9. (a) Encourages the churches in Europe to maintain and strengthen relations of fellowship, solidarity and mutual exchange with churches in other regions, and underlines the importance for churches of closely monitoring developments and speaking out in areas where Europe has a particular global responsibility, including trade and development, environment, peace and conflict prevention, migration and asylum, trafficking of human beings and racism, in order to uphold and strengthen the principles of justice and human rights.

(b) Recognizing the dangers of transatlantic divides in global security policies, encourages the member churches in Europe and the USA to work together in dialogue and co-operation, and to seek to influence their governments towards a multilateral approach for global peace and justice.

10. Appreciates the efforts of WCC staff to monitor the major developments in Europe, and commends the policy update on Europe to WCC member churches and asks the WCC general secretary and staff to continue these efforts with the member churches, CEC and other European church- and ecumenical organizations and bring a further progress report to the WCC CC in 2005.