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Final Report of the Public Issues Committee (adopted)

06 September 2006

The public issues committee received the following proposals for action by the central committee.

A. From the executive committee:

  1. Statement on plight of children in conflicts with focus on Northern Uganda

  2. Statement on Just Trade

  3. Statement on churches compassionate response to HIV and AIDS

B. Proposals submitted from the floor by members of the central committee within 24 hours of the announcement of the proposals from the executive committee:

  1. Statement on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.

  2. Statement on the war in Lebanon and Northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East peace.

  3. Statement on the conflict in Sri Lanka.

  4. Minute on Sudan.

  5. Minute on Kosovo.

  6. Appropriate action on the right of conscientious objection to military service.

  7. Appropriate action on the request received by the general secretary from Archbishop Aristarchos Peristeris, member of the public issues committee, calling upon the government of Israel to ratify the election of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III.

  8. Appropriate action on the request received from a member of the public issues committee to provide information/update on the Minute on Economic Measures for Peace in Israel/Palestine (central committee February 2005).

  9. Appropriate action on the request of a member of the public issues committee to consider the implications of the integration of CCIA and other commissions into one commission.

 

The first item on the committee's agenda was a discussion of the Moderator and General Secretary's report that complemented each other. The General Secretary's report clearly spelt out the challenges in respect of the situation relating to the Middle East and the issue of migration with its many dimensions.

While appreciating the above programme thrust the committee was of the view that more emphasis be placed on the quest for visible unity of the church and in the field of interfaith relations, where attention need also be given to those of no religious faith.

The public issues committee discussed all proposals received and dealt with them in the following manner.

On the request for a statement on the right of conscientious objection to military service, the public issues committee recommended that the staff undertake a study on the subject in light of the analytical report issued on 26 February 2006 by the office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and report back to the next central committee for possible action.

On the request received by the public issues committee from Archbishop Aristarchos Peristeris the public issues committee decided that the general secretary write a letter to the government of Israel expressing concern at its failure to ratify the election of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III.

On the request received from one of its members, the public issues committee decided that a special session be organised by the staff on Monday the 4th September 2006 at lunchtime. The session would provide information/update on the minute adopted by the central committee in February 2006, on economic measures for peace in Israel/Palestine.

The public issues committee is concerned at the implication of the proposed integration of four commissions into one CCIA commission. It wishes to emphasise that the history, legacy, profile and expertise of CCIA be maintained and that it should not be lost as a result of this integration.

The public issues committee proposes actions by the central committee on the following issues.

The central committee adopted the following statement on plight of children in conflicts with focus on Northern Uganda:

Statement on plight of children in conflicts with focus on Northern Uganda

1. This issue emerged towards the end of the Porto Alegre assembly as being of particular concern.

2. Christians have a special concern for children caught in desperate and dehumanizing situations. They see in all abuse of children a direct denial of the biblical teaching that all persons are "made in the image of God" and, as such, are of infinite worth and value. They see in the use of children as instruments of war a virulent denial of the Gospel itself, a direct attack upon Jesus, his person and his message.

3. The Gospel reminds us that children are hopeful signs of God's unconditional love and promise to humankind. In a world of diversity and disparity, children are a unifying force bringing people together. Any attack on children and their childhood must be denounced as being intolerable and unacceptable.

4. In 1979, the International Year of the Child, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches in a Christmas message called on the Christian community and churches "to provide the possibilities for children to live in trust in a communion of open and fulfilling relationships, in trustworthiness, in a creative use and development of their potentialities for the good of all. Like their Lord, they must be enabled to grow and become strong in wisdom and grace, in self giving love". It is our collective responsibility as a human family to ensure that children grow up in a loving and caring environment where their needs are met and rights guaranteed.

5. Christians therefore see in the involvement of children in war an offence not only against the children involved, but against God. They see in the use of children as tools of war a denial of God's wish that all human beings should live into a future of hope and fulfilment. Jesus asked indignantly: "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?" (Luke 11:11-12). What would Jesus say to those who give to children not a snake or a scorpion, but something far worse: weapons and the skill to use them, the experience of being only a tool, a body to be exploited by those who are older and more powerful, physical and emotional scars to last a lifetime?

6. Regrettably, the plight of the children - their woes and sufferings - continue to be immense and endless in situations of wars and violence from Sierra Leone to Liberia, and from Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their dreams are shattered by terror, their innocence and tender years of growing-up snatched by warlords and unscrupulous governments. For Jesus it was the peacemakers who would be called "children of God" (Mt. 5:9); how bitter it is to see children made into warriors! For Christians this is an offence not only against all human decency but against God and against their faith, founded by Christ who came as the Prince of Peace.

7. Presently, millions of children around the world, but more particularly in Africa, are caught in conflicts in which they are not bystanders but targets. In these armed conflicts, mostly intra-state, children become victims and are killed as part of the crimes committed against humanity. They become victims of sexual violence and human trafficking, are shamed, traumatized and exploited; some are exposed to hunger and disease. Thousands are forcefully abducted as child soldiers and combatants, in wars that are not only senseless and brutal but also unwarranted and illegal.

8. In case they resist, child soldiers are often administered drugs that inhibit their guilt and fear and incite them to commit brutalities. Propaganda, revenge and fear of being left alone also influence children to stay in the army "voluntarily". Those who survive are often physically injured, sometimes maimed and psychologically scarred, loosing several years of schooling and socialization. At the end of a conflict, reintegration of demobilized ex-child soldiers is a difficult and complex process because the population in most cases do not trust them. Often, children who manage to escape are treated as social outcasts and the community seeks to punish them for the crimes they were forced to commit, while they were forcibly abducted and used by rebel groups.

9. One such war of unregulated terror and violence is being waged by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the government of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda since 1986 and a UN representative at Porto Alegre drew the attention of Assembly members to the plight of children caught up in the war. During the last twenty years thousands of young children have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, virtually enslaved and sometimes killed by the LRA. The LRA has perpetuated brutal attacks against homes and schools in Northern Uganda and has targeted children for use as soldiers in its attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government. These children have been forced to take part in combat, carry heavy loads, act as personal servants to the rebels and in the case of girls have been made to serve as wives to rebel commanders.

10. In recent times around two million people, 80% of them children and women, have been herded like animals in some twenty concentration camps run by the Ugandan government. They live in appalling conditions without proper facilities of hygiene and sanitation. Many more have been physically abused, detained and raped by the Uganda People's Defence Forces and the LRA.

11. The war has not only affected Uganda but also Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the mid 1990s, the LRA has also operated from bases in Southern Sudan. The government of Sudan provided the LRA sanctuary on its territory along the border, as well as military aid and food supplies, allegedly in retaliation for Ugandan government support for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement /Army (SPLM/A). In December 2003, President Museveni invited the International Criminal Court to investigate the LRA. Late last year the court, after preliminary investigations, issued warrants for the arrest of the top five LRA leaders including Joseph Kony. In the year 2005, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A signed a peace agreement. The former SPLM/A rebel group is now the ruling political party in Southern Sudan's government.

12. The churches of Uganda have remained in constant support of a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the region. A major initiative took place in 1998 with the founding of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI). This was supported by the Ugandan Joint Christian Council (UJCC). The grouping of Acholi leaders from Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim backgrounds, called for an immediate end to violence. The government of Uganda, at the time was not inclined to dialogue with the rebels but nevertheless, adopted an Amnesty Bill in December 2000. As a result, a number of rebels turned themselves in, diminishing the military power of the LRA. Another peace initiative led by the former Ugandan government minister Betty Bigombe collapsed in 2004, before direct talks could take place between the government of Uganda and LRA.

13. For many years the conflict in Northern Uganda received little international attention. This changed after the November 2003 visit to Northern Uganda by the UN Under Secretary General, Jan Egeland, who called the situation "the world's worse forgotten humanitarian crisis". Following the peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the SPLA/M, the leaders of Southern Sudan publicly announced that the movement will not allow LRA to take refuge in Sudan anymore.

14. In May 2006, Southern Sudan's President Salva Kiir took the initiative to mediate between President Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kony of LRA. President Museveni made a public statement that if the peace negotiation succeeds, he would give the LRA leaders amnesty and protect them against International Criminal Court (ICC) persecution. The ICC, however, reminded the Ugandan government of its obligations as a party to the ICC to arrest Kony and others who are subjects of the arrest warrants.

15. Some church leaders are of the opinion that under these circumstances the chances of a permanent cease-fire have diminished because the LRA leadership will not be ready to negotiate under the pressure of indictment. They are of the view that it is important to restore some sense of peace and viability to the community rather than go for punishment which will hinder the efforts to reconcile the parties.

16. Against this background, the World Council of Churches central committee meeting in Geneva between 30 August and 6 September 2006:

  1. Affirms the special concern that Christians have for the plight of children caught up in armed conflict;
  2. Expresses concern at the threat to international peace and security, impediments to the provision of humanitarian emergency aid and assistance as a result of the ongoing conflict in Northern Uganda, and the activities of the LRA in Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo;
  3. Condemns the atrocities being committed by the LRA and calls on it to abide by the terms of any cease fire, desisting from all acts of violence, including abductions;
  4. Encourages the continuation of the talks between the government of Uganda and the LRA being mediated by the government of Southern Sudan for a lasting and durable peace including the establishment of a mechanism along the lines of a truth and reconciliation commission that supports traditional reconciliation initiatives to help resolve the conflict;
  5. Urges the government of Uganda, in accordance with its national policies to ensure the protection of all civilians, including protection of children from abductions, to minimize child casualties; ensure that all children who escape from the LRA receive prompt and adequate access to medical attention and counselling; arrange prompt release of children to their families and/or arrange appropriate alternate care for children that takes into account their special needs; and develop concrete plans for meeting the long term needs of former child soldiers;
  6. Urges also the churches in Uganda and the region and all member churches to mobilize the people to denounce those committing crimes against children with impunity and undertake advocacy with international partners to prevent the abuse of children;
  7. Appeals to the United Nations and the African Union to recognize that the LRA poses a threat to international peace and security and endorse a plan that includes the appointment of a UN envoy acceptable to Uganda to support mediation strategy, that strengthens the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire into a sustainable peace process that provides for security guarantees, and more expansive programme for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration into society (DDR);
  8. Calls on the donors, including non-governmental organizations, to work with the government of Uganda to meet basic humanitarian needs of IDPs in Northern Uganda and to assess when camp populations can be supported and protected to return home. The DDR strategy for the LRA must be linked to increased aid for IDP war victims.

The central committee adopted the following statement on Just Trade.

Statement on Just Trade

1. The WCC has had a long standing interest in the question of just trade. Churches have participated in the sustained work of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), which embarked on a campaign (in 2002) on "Trade for People". EAA's framework of action on trade underlines that: "The biblical standard for economic activity, including the trade of goods and services, is justice, and taking the side of the poor, fair payment, transparent relationships, no exploitation, and respect for life, ensuring the care of widows, children and strangers". It concludes that: "trade therefore must be an instrument of sustainable, participatory and just community and communion."

2. The July 2006 breakdown of the Doha round of trade talks (which were begun in 2001 in Doha) within the World Trade Organization (WTO), was a blow to multilateral relationships in global trade. Multilateral institutions, such as the WTO, were set up to sustain and enhance multilateral relationships and to carry out common actions. But many of these institutions have, in recent times, been undermined and rendered incapable of protecting common goals as the interests of individual nation states dominate such relationships. The WTO, as a multilateral trade institution is supposed to be a forum where sovereign states, big and small, can come together in a democratic way to address trade related problems and seize opportunities to ensure trade is conducted with a view to raising standards of living. From its inception, regrettably, the WTO suffered from the misuse of power by the most influential countries. The collapse of the negotiations for trade after five years of intense talks is the most recent challenge to multilateralism.

3. The breakdown of negotiations signifies that there will be more and more bilateral trade arrangements in the future. Those who will be worst affected by bilateralism will be the weaker developing countries, who will not be in a position to exercise any kind of leverage and can therefore be exploited. A case in point are the trade negotiations between the European Union and the ACP countries (in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) which should lead to Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) - free trade arrangements - between the EU and six ACP regions in 2008. In 2001, when the talks began, there was hope that the new set of rules for international trade would benefit the people of the developing countries - there was hope that smaller nations could participate in the prosperity enjoyed thus far by a few developed nations. After generations of almost exclusively providing primary products and resources to the industrialized world there was hope that developing nations could move out of poverty by participating as equals in trade between nations. These hopes, however, soon faded as the developed industrialized countries began to impose their terms and conditions through the mechanisms of the WTO. The share of least developed countries in respect of world exports steadily declined from 0.7 % in 1985 to 0.4 % in 2005. (WTO) This is because trade conditions imposed on the poor have weakened the advantages they could have enjoyed with the opening of trade. Governments, not only in the developing world, are pressurized by transnational companies for concessions in taxes, labour regulations and to delay the imposition of environmental standards. Subsidies from governments to some sectors of the developed world also threaten trade relations.

4. To take agriculture as an example: While a major share of the GDP of poor countries is dependant on agriculture the reverse is the case in industrial countries, yet negotiations in agriculture at the WTO are dominated by the minimal offers made by rich countries, coupled with their aggressive demands on Non Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) and services. The developed countries also want to benefit from agriculture despite the fact that they have a large share in non-agricultural trade. Poor farmers in largely agrarian economies suffer from dumping and other effects of unfair trade rules. Poor countries want a trade deal that helps to eradicate poverty. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 800 million people experience food shortages, while an additional 42 million suffer from severe malnutrition. While annual global agricultural exports are valued at USD 500 billion, at least 15 million children die every year before reaching the age of five from hunger and hunger related diseases. There is sufficient food to meet the needs of everyone, but it does not reach the poor and hungry since they are unable to afford it due to unfair trade patterns and practices. The current global trading system, with its imbalances, has failed to deliver on the promise of economic growth and poverty eradication. It has in fact, undermined food security for the poor, thrown millions of peasants and workers out of employment and slowed down industrial development in many poor countries.

5. The WCC central committee, when it met in Potsdam, Germany, in 2001, was concerned about these developments and the worsening economic relations and growing disparities between developed and developing nations. The Potsdam central committee, therefore, called for the elaboration of the concept of just trade as one of the central pillars of the Council's work on economic justice. Consequently, churches all over the world have conducted critical assessments of trade agreements, as well as worked on developing alternate proposals for just trade in consultation with civil society groups and social movements.

6. During the last five years of WTO talks, the developed countries have consistently opposed the proposals put forward by the developing countries. They have preferred "Aid for Trade" or trade related technical assistance to poor countries to alleviate the short-term adjustment costs of opening up their markets and to facilitate trade by addressing the lack of infrastructure and other "supply constraints". Such aid, however, was unfairly conditioned on the acceptance of the Doha round's liberalization agenda. This proposal falls far short of what churches and ecumenical partners have been advocating for in their campaign: "Trade for People - Not People for Trade".

7. It was primarily the positions taken by the United States and the European Union, in pursuance of their respective interests, which finally triggered the collapse of this round of the WTO talks. Each blamed the other for not taking adequate measures to remove support to their own farmers considered by many developing countries as one major cause for confrontation under the current system.

8. The collapse of the talks is a set back to poor countries that will now have to fend for themselves in bilateral negotiations. While the talks may have collapsed and multilateralism suffers a set-back, the churches recognize that global trade is too important to be put on the backburner. The churches need to continue to equip and empower each other to address their governments on the issue of justice in global trade as it impacts on the lives of people.

9. Just trade requires the transformation of trade rules negotiated at the WTO, as well as in other regional and bilateral agreements. All trade rules and agreements must be built around the commitment to:

  • protect and advance the interests of smaller, weaker and vulnerable states;

  • encourage sustainable development and poverty eradication as defined by the people themselves;

  • give primacy to peoples' right to food, water, the necessities of life, and protect the small producers to enable them to survive and thrive;

  • abide by international norms and standards that guarantee fundamental human rights;

  • strengthen respect for creation with ecological standards that safeguard the interests of future generations and the survival of the earth;

  • ensure equitable and just distribution of resources for all.

10. Therefore, the central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 August to 6 September 2006:

  1. Affirms the theological basis for the commitment to uphold and promote just trade: the profound option of our faith for the "least", the poor and the excluded and calls for continuation of theological and biblical reflections on just trade;

  1. Calls on the churches to encourage their governments to continue working for a new multilateral trade mechanism, with a new set of multilateral trade rules which are just and democratic;

  1. Calls for WTO reform on the basis of the criteria in paragraph 9, which would include transparent appeals processes and accountability rules for parties bound by WTO trade rulings,

  1. Encourages countries to engage in participatory trade negotiation processes, which will result in just trade that reduces poverty, promotes human rights and protects the environment;

  1. Encourages and supports the coordinated campaigns for just trade carried out through the initiatives of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, churches and related organizations;

  1. Calls for dialogue and building of alliances for just trade among ecumenical, religious, economic and political actors and between the churches in the North and the South;

  1. Expresses the need to strategically link up peasant movements, labour movements, women's and Indigenous Peoples movements to prepare and design alternate proposals for just trade through the World Social Forum and other avenues;

  1. Promotes awareness building of congregations on the impact of trade agreements and policies particularly on the lives of the people in the South through education and ecumenical formation and through study and action.

The central committee adopted the following statement on churches' compassionate response to HIV and AIDS:

Statement on churches' compassionate response to HIV and AIDS

Background

1. The AIDS pandemic presents one of the most significant challenges of our times. AIDS causes 8000 deaths every day, has left 13 million children orphaned, and exposes the perilous state of many countries' health care systems. AIDS threatens the very existence of communities, cripples their ability to be sustainable and productive, and shatters relationships due to the accompanying stigma and discrimination. The situation poses a serious challenge to the leadership and capacity of the churches to respond to this ongoing crisis. Since the first appearance of the pandemic, 25 years ago, an estimated 65 million people have been infected with HIV, of who 25 million have died. In 2005 alone an estimated 4.1 million people became infected with HIV and an estimated 2.8 million people have died of AIDS related illnesses. Today, the fastest growth in infection and greatest threat is to women and youth.

2. Five years after the 2001 United Nations General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS, the evidence available underscores the great diversity among countries and regions in implementing the response envisioned in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. While certain countries have reached some key targets and milestones for 2005 as set out in the declaration, most countries have failed to fulfil their pledges. A great deal of work still needs to be done - promises made must be kept, millions of lives depend on this.

The ecumenical response, 1986 - 1997

3. The ecumenical movement has been steadfast in its commitment to respond to HIV and AIDS and has promoted a holistic approach in addressing the pandemic. As early as 1986 the executive committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) cautioned: "… churches as institutions have been slow to speak and to act, that many Christians have been quick to judge and condemn many of the people who have fallen prey to the disease; and that through their silence, many churches share responsibility for the fear that has swept our world more quickly than the virus itself" and called on the churches to respond appropriately to the need for pastoral care, education for prevention and social ministry.

4. Continuing in a similar vein the WCC central committee meeting in September 1996, urged the churches: "to promote, both in their own lives and in the wider society, a climate of sensitive, factual and open exploration of the ethical issues posed by the pandemic. … in accordance with their emphasis upon personal and communal responsibility the churches' can promote conditions - personal, cultural, and socio-economic - which support persons in making responsible choices." Speaking about the living conditions of those carrying the virus, the committee said: "People living with HIV/AIDS generally encounter fear, rejection and discrimination, …Because such reactions contradict the values of the gospel, the churches are called to formulate and advocate a clear policy of non-discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS."

Positive change

5. The churches have since continued in their struggle against HIV and AIDS in all the regions of the world and there have been many positive developments. The year 2000 witnessed the launch of the "Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance" (EAA) of which the WCC is an active participant, which facilitates an active campaign that includes fighting stigma and discrimination, promoting prevention, mobilizing resources, advocating universal access to treatment, and promoting accountability of governments and churches. The Alliance equips and ensures that churches have the much-needed capacity to undertake this advocacy.

6. The "Ecumenical HIV/AIDS Initiative in Africa" (EHAIA) launched in 2002 aims at accompanying churches to become "HIV competent". It is making a critical contribution in bringing about an inspired and rigorous theological understanding of AIDS that includes appropriate training of clergy and laity as well as enhancing the churches capacity to engage in local action to overcome the challenges that accompany HIV and AIDS. The churches in the Pacific, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and in Eastern Europe have also made significant progress in establishing initiatives and providing practical support on the ground during this period.

7. A WCC-led effort, in association with the African Network of Religious Leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), the Global Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (GNP+) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), promotes greater and more meaningful participation of people living with HIV and AIDS in the life of the church. The campaign has encouraged and provided guidance to churches to be more inclusive of people living with HIV and AIDS.

8. There are countless examples of the churches' response to the pandemic - in prevention, care, treatment, confronting stigma, and theological reflection. Some church leaders are speaking publicly about their successful initiatives, while identifying and addressing the gaps in their response.

9. For the first time ever, the world possesses the means to reverse the global epidemic. However, success will require complete willingness on the part of all actors engaged in the global response to fulfil their potential, to adopt new ways of working with each other and be committed to sustaining the response over the long period.

The challenge

10. Nearly three decades into the AIDS pandemic and in spite of the progress made in increasing global awareness and commitment to overcome HIV, the epidemic continues to outstrip these efforts and remains a serious threat to humanity.

11. Churches have a unique and critical role to play in stemming the tide and overcoming the pandemic. Health and support systems established and managed by churches and Christian organizations provide some of the most significant grassroots care of people living with or affected by HIV or AIDS. But even more, efforts to overcome stigma and discrimination - which has been fuelled by attitudes within religious communities - are essential to share accurate information about prevention and treatment.

12. The situation calls for churches in collaboration with other organizations and Christians to reflect abundant love in all their responses to HIV and AIDS. These responses have to be tempered by compassion and qualified by competence. The bottom line is to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the community. The quality and quantity of the response from the Christian community should reflect the levels of commitment that are demanded of Christians as followers of Jesus Christ.

13. The churches need to provide the leadership to prevent and to overcome HIV and AIDS, and recognize people living with the virus as precious members of the community. Sound policies have to be put in place with tangible actions, where treatment, care and support for all who are affected are easily accessible. Attention should be given to relationships and family life - including the lifesaving responsibility of all to protect themselves through practising abstinence outside of marriage, fidelity in marriage and a healthy way of life including overcoming drug abuse.

14. Educational efforts must be supported which promote sexual responsibility and help protecting people from non-consensual sex and sexual violence. Additionally, women and girls must be guaranteed access to reproductive health care. The churches should promote life, by providing comprehensive and evidence-based information on preventing transmission of the virus, ensuring access to voluntary and confidential counselling and testing, and universal access to care and treatment.

Raising the ‘voice' of leaders

15. Aware of the value of advocacy, church leaders should use it to influence society to bring about policy changes. Leaders must challenge themselves, their own institutions and society to face the issue in a forthright manner, breaking the silence that fuels fear, judgement, stigma and discrimination. Leaders must support initiatives that will guide people to make responsible choices to protect them from HIV infection, reduce vulnerabilities to infection, and encourage supportive communities where people can receive the accurate information and treatment.

16. Religious leaders must begin by examining their own behaviour, attitudes and actions that may have been complicit in the marginalization and stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS rather than the full inclusion of people who are living with and affected by the virus. The Bible and the example of Jesus always lead us to stand alongside someone we might prefer to avoid. Jesus said, "There God is present". We are compelled to stand with those who are suffering, to have mercy rather than to marginalize, to empower rather than to stigmatize.

Giving a ‘face' to the challenge

17. Churches have promoted and should continue to promote greater and more meaningful involvement and participation of people living with HIV and AIDS, whilst adopting inclusive workplace policies and sustainable methods of working with networks of positive people. Given the fact that this pandemic is driven by poverty and gender issues, it is imperative that women and girls be included in planning and implementing policies and programmes that directly affect them. Efforts must be made to ensure that HIV positive people are part of a team of resource persons whose task is to empower churches to deal with the issues in a more holistic and inclusive manner. Given the rising rates of infection among youth, young people need to also be involved in crafting messages and programmes to address prevention and support.

18. In a very real sense, we are all living with HIV and AIDS. We separate ourselves from God and God's love if we speak of "them" and "us" when we speak of people living with HIV and AIDS or those who are most vulnerable to infection.

Providing ‘hands' to the issue

19. The churches must be the able and willing hands of God, reflecting a compassionate, engaging and competent church. There should also be a commitment by the churches to mainstream responses to HIV and AIDS, to ensure that society is made less vulnerable to the disease and also benefits from new developments made in combating HIV - new developments in prevention, treatment, care and support. Access to anti-retroviral treatment must be promoted for all who need it. The benefits of science and medications should be made available and affordable to all communities, especially those that are marginalized and isolated.

20. As an important part of the learning process, churches should encourage open and inclusive discussions on issues related to sexuality, gender-based violence and intravenous drug use, so that individuals and communities are empowered to be less vulnerable to HIV. The need to promote understanding of the issue from both a theological and ethical context is important and necessary, so that the response is grounded in clear thinking, focused on providing care and support for those infected by HIV and AIDS as well as preventing further spread of the virus.

21. Romans 8:35 states: "Who can separate us from the love of Christ?"
Can HIV come between Christ and us? If someone attempts to come between HIV positive people and God, does he or she come from God? Does the congregation make the person living with HIV feel welcome, loved and part of the same body? If the congregation perpetuates exclusion, avoidance, stigmatization or persecution is it not placing a barrier between God and God's children?

22. The majority of the 40 million people living with HIV have no access to treatment. Faith-based communities have a responsibility to advocate that antiretroviral treatments as well as treatment for other opportunistic infections be made available and accessible to all.

23. There are billions of people in the world who, though not infected with HIV, continue to remain ill- informed and thus are not equipped to prevent this eminently preventable disease. This makes it obligatory to engage in and work to overcome the viruses of ignorance, silence and fear. Neglecting to do so amounts to placing barriers between God and God's children.

The need to act

24. Failure to urgently strengthen the response to AIDS will mean that the world will achieve neither the 2010 target of the Declaration of Commitment nor Millennium Development Goal 6. And without major progress in tackling AIDS global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger and childhood mortality will similarly fall short of agreed targets. Countries in all the regions of the world whose development has already suffered because of AIDS will continue to weaken, with potential threat to social stability and national security. But the tragic reality is that millions continue to die each year.

25. The central committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, Switzerland 30 August - 6 September:

 

  1. Acknowledges that while after 25 years of the first appearance of AIDS much progress has been made in terms of global awareness and promises to overcome HIV, the pandemic continues to outstrip these efforts and remains a serious threat to humanity;

  2. Acknowledges also that without major progress in stopping AIDS, global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger and childhood mortality will continue to weaken, potentially threatening social stability and national sustainability;

  3. Further acknowledges that while the churches have been on the front line of care and support for people affected by the pandemic, many of us have also been complicit in stigmatizing and marginalizing people living with HIV and AIDS by our silence, our attitudes, our words and our deeds;

  4. Appreciates the leadership of the African Network of Religious Leaders living with and personally affected by HIV/AIDS (ANERELA+), the Global Network of the People living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+) and the International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) in promoting the greater participation of people living with HIV and AIDS in the life of the church; and the convening of the XVI International AIDS Conference on 18 August in Toronto, Canada by UNAIDS that called for a long-term sustained response to AIDS during the next 25 years and beyond;

  5. Encourages the churches to continue to play a critical role in overcoming the pandemic through responses that are tempered by compassion and qualified by competence; this includes providing comprehensive and evidence-based information on prevention of HIV transmission and addressing the links between gender inequity, poverty and HIV and AIDS;Encourages also the leadership of the churches to exercise their role as advocates for just policies and to hold governments accountable for their promises;

  6. Calls on the G8 governments to adhere to their promises of funding and response to reach universal access to treatment, care and support by 2010; and on the private sector, especially pharmaceutical companies, to invest in needed research and development to respond to HIV (e.g. paediatric dosages and diagnostics) and to ensure that their drugs for treating HIV are available at low prices in low and middle-income countries;

  7. Renews its call on churches and Christians to promote greater and more meaningful involvement and participation of the people living with HIV and AIDS and to promote and adopt inclusive workplace policies and innovative and sustainable methods of working with networks of positive people; and to promote and share deeper theological and ethical reflection on HIV and AIDS, and to promote the acceptance by the churches of persons living with HIV and AIDS;

  8. Urges churches and their related organizations to promote and share deeper theological and ethical reflection on HIV and AIDS;

  9. Appeals to the churches to commit themselves to mainstream the response to HIV and AIDS, ensuring that people are made less vulnerable and benefit from new developments in prevention and treatment and advocating for universal access to anti-retroviral treatment; and to promote open and inclusive discussions on issues related to sexuality, gender-based violence and intravenous drug use to empower individuals and communities to be less vulnerable to HIV;

  10. Encourages churches and church leaders to include women and young people in developing and implementing programmes and policies on HIV and AIDs;

  11. Reiterates the need to strengthen the capacity of the churches and civil society organizations and networks by providing adequate human and material resources to monitor and implement the effectiveness of local and national efforts to reverse the trend of this global pandemic, including strengthening support for existing effective ecumenical initiatives like the WCC's Ecumenical HIV/AIDs Initiative in Africa (EHAIA);

  12. Consider the convening of a church leaders summit no later than 2008, to be accompanied by a youth summit, to examine our collective response to the pandemic, learn from better practices, and shape the agenda for the ecumenical response to this crisis;

  13. Calls for ongoing ecumenical reflection on those aspects of the Church's response to HIV and AIDs about which there is continual disagreement. This would include the nature of the Church's response to those who, contrary to the church's witness, engage in high risk sexual activity or drug use, including the appropriate means of prevention.

The central committee adopted the following statement on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines:

Statement on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines

1. The Philippines has continued to suffer political turmoil since the mid-1980s when people power toppled the military dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. The present government headed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came into power in 2001 with promises of bringing about reform in the political and economic systems of the country. The legitimacy of the government's election continues to be challenged, and under the pretexts of the "war on terror" and a new emphasis on internal national security, the Philippines has become more and more militarised, to an alarming degree. There are now many calls, including from the churches, for the President to relinquish office.

2. Sadly, the promises of reform have not been addressed, let alone fulfilled. The Philippines remains a country with stark divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Political power is still exercised by a ruling elite supported by the military. The so-called "war on terror" has served to strengthen the hold of the government and the military over the people, as development and military funding from overseas governments is provided in return for the government's support of the "war on terror". The longstanding communist insurgency is used by the government as an excuse for action against any persons and groups who seek to stand with and for the poor.

3. Since 2001 more than 740 people who have worked with and for the poor in the Philippines have been assassinated in extrajudicial killings. They include journalists, lawyers, leaders of people's organizations, human rights activists and church workers. The killings have intensified since 2004. Twenty one church workers, including 9 pastors and priests, have been killed since 2001. Most of the attacks have been committed by unidentified men shooting from unmarked vehicles or motorcycles. Paramilitary groups armed by the military, and even members of the military and police, have been implicated in these killings. While a few suspects have been detained briefly, no charges have yet been issued in relation to these killings. All cases remain unsolved. The government has allowed these crimes to take place with impunity, and is failing in its statutory obligations to protect the right to life and to maintain the rule of law.

4. In 2005 the National Council of Churches in the Philippines invited the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia to send a delegation of church leaders to investigate the situation. Thirteen church leaders drawn from ten countries visited regions in the Eastern Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao, meeting with the families of those killed, with groups working for human rights, with church leaders, and with government representatives. The key recommendations of the delegation included:

  • an immediate and impartial investigation of all recent extrajudicial executions;

  • revision of the government's military strategy for resolving the insurgency to ensure the safety of non-combatants and to avoid indiscriminate destruction of property;

  • resumption of the stalled peace talks between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front;

  • assertion of civilian control of the military which must be held accountable for its actions and which must be in accordance with international humanitarian law;

  • promotion of agrarian and land rights reform which preserves the integrity of creation and honours the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples;

  • reform of the judicial system to guarantee its independence and integrity;

  • cessation of the practice by the government and military of labelling those who work for justice and for the poor as subversives or communists.

 

5. Over the past 12 months the situation has worsened considerably. Extrajudicial killings have been happening at the rate of one every two days. The government has increased its military action against insurgents, resulting in an increase in the number of "civilian" deaths. The militarisation of the Philippines, and the fear of the people, are deepening.

6. While the Philippines government has recently announced a commission of inquiry into the extrajudicial killings, churches in the Philippines remain unconvinced of the seriousness of the inquiry. The churches seek an independent inquiry rather than one made up of government appointees. They propose that the Inquiry should be in the hands of a group of esteemed individuals from different walks of life such as church leaders, academicians, lawyers, legislators and leaders of peasants and workers.

7. The World Council of Churches central committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 30 August to 6 September 2006:

 

  1. Condemns the extrajudicial killings being committed in the Philippines;

  2. Expresses its condolences to the families of the victims of the killings, especially to the families of church workers, pastors and priests killed since 2001;

  3. Affirms the Filipino churches and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines for their courageous work with and for the poor, in the face of violent opposition;

  4. Thanks those churches and councils of churches in other parts of the world who are acting in solidarity with the churches of the Philippines, especially in Japan, Canada, the USA and Australia;

  5. Assures the Filipino churches and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines of the ongoing support and solidarity of the World Council of Churches as they continue to give courageous witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of violent opposition;

  6. Challenges the concept of a global war on terror as pretext for the violation of human rights in the Philippines;

  7. Calls on the government of the Philippines to:

  • disband "death squads", private militias and paramilitary forces operating outside the official chain of government command;

  • hold accountable any members of the military found to be involved in extrajudicial killings;

  • instruct the military to cease listing churches and church workers as "enemies of the state";

  • reverse the national security policy of making no distinction between combatants and non-combatants within the current counter-insurgency campaign;

  • establish a fully independent Commission of Inquiry into extrajudicial killings;

  • invite the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings to visit the Philippines.

 

  1. Asks the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take up the matter of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The central committee adopted the following statement on the war in Lebanon and northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East Peace:

Statement on the war in Lebanon and northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East peace

The central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, 30 August to 6 September 2006:

1. Expressing shock and profound sorrow at the suffering and loss of life inflicted on people across Lebanon and in neighbouring areas of Israel during the recent war;

2. Deploring the fact that this eminently avoidable conflict took place, was waged with illegal and disproportionate use of military force, and was prolonged by the failure of leadership at the highest levels of the international community to stop the conflict;

3. Recalling church warnings from the outset on the imperatives of an early ceasefire, that all parties meet their obligations under international law including the responsibility to protect civilians, that all detainees be released or provided a fair trial, and that Israel lift its blockade of Lebanon (WCC general secretary, 13 July 2006) and noting that none of these widely supported goals have been met promptly or completely;

4. Reiterating the need for churches to aid those affected by the war and to take specific advocacy measures to end conflict (WCC pastoral letter to member churches, 21 July 2006);

5. Noting the public call for leading nations to end the paralysis at the UN Security Council, the undermining of the UN Charter and acquiescence in the disproportionate violence over Lebanon. (WCC general secretary, 3 August 2006);

6. Repeating the need for all parties to stop the violence and for the United States, the European Union and the Arab states to exert their influence toward a sustainable ceasefire and then to work for a lasting peace (WCC, LWF, WARC joint appeal, 8 August 2006);

7. Reiterating our call to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to finally implement the Council's long-standing resolutions both for Lebanon and for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories because "fault lines of instability now run right through the region" and because "it is no longer credible to act as if segmented or unilateral plans will work in isolation". (WCC general secretary, 21 July 2006);

8. Seeing this war for what it was: aside from combatants on both sides 43 civilians dead in Israel and more than 1,100 civilians dead in Lebanon with one-third of them children, more than 4,400 civilians wounded, and tens of thousands of homes destroyed with the vast majority of this destruction taking place in Lebanon; attacks by the Hezbollah militia on civilian areas of northern Israel causing deaths, injuries and destruction; widespread fear and trauma among non-combatants; other grave consequences in Lebanon, namely, a million people displaced, scores of bridges, roads and runways damaged, and fuel, water and electricity infrastructure destroyed;

9. Alarmed at violations of international law on armed conflict by the combatants in this war and by the international community's failure to ensure the protection of civilians and the proportionate use of military force; by the Israeli military's extensive use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon particularly when a ceasefire was already imminent, leaving tens of thousands of unexploded sub-munitions highly dangerous to returning civilians; and by the erosion of international humanitarian and human rights law through chronic denials that illegal and immoral actions have taken place;

10. Pledging to respond to the message from churches in Beirut and Jerusalem relayed by the visiting ecumenical delegation during the war to sister churches around the world: "Do not only pray for us - act!" (WCC, Conference of European Churches, Lutheran World Federation and World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 16 August 2006);

11. Churches, other civil society groups and a number of governments are eager to see a radical re-engagement by the international community in peaceful and equitable resolutions of the conflict in Lebanon and related conflicts in the Middle East. We share that hope and are pledging to undertake a new initiative ourselves. Accordingly, the WCC central committee:

 

  1. Calls for a sustainable and unconditional ceasefire, and lifting of the blockade of Lebanon;

  2. Recommends that churches support the Lebanon appeal of ACT International and commends all those who are assisting the war's victims, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for monitoring violations of international law during the conflict, and the government of Sweden for hosting a donors meeting on Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories;

  3. Urges the United Nations to establish an international inquiry to investigate violations of international law, including possible war crimes, and the transfer of arms used in violations of human rights during the recent Lebanon-Israel conflict;

  4. Calls on the governments that supplied arms to the combatants to suspend transfers of arms and related material to Israel and Hezbollah pending the results of such an investigation, and for those who have used cluster munitions in Lebanon to provide detailed information on the locations, quantity and types of cluster munitions used;

  5. Insists on the release of all detainees, or bringing them to trial under due process of law and according to international norms, in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories;

  6. Calls upon the UN Security Council to implement the Council's long-standing resolutions for peace in Lebanon and in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including an end to the illegal 39-year occupation that is the vortex of the region's violent storms;

  7. Endorses the proposal for establishing a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum under the auspices of the WCC as the cornerstone of a comprehensive ecumenical advocacy initiative on the Middle East; and calls WCC governing bodies, member churches and ecumenical partners to enlist energy and resources in these plans. The forum would catalyse and co-ordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aim at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions, be inter-disciplinary in deliberation and practice, and demonstrate its commitment to inter-religious action for peace and to justice that serves all peoples of the region.

 

12. May we together satisfy the hopes of suffering communities and churches. May we together bear witness to God's abiding love for all people. May a united ecumenical community—in prayer and action—make a new and substantial contribution to peace with justice in the Middle East.

 

The central committee adopted the following statement on the conflict in Sri Lanka:

Statement on the conflict in Sri Lanka

1. The conflict in Sri Lanka has over the past twenty-five years claimed thousands of lives on both sides of the ethnic divide. Thousands of refugees have sought asylum abroad while many thousands are internally displaced. The civilian population has been put through tremendous hardships due to summary executions, torture, illegal detentions, embargo on essential items, forced recruitment of children etc.

2. A cease-fire agreement was signed in February 2002, through the mediation of the Norwegian government. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission comprising of representatives from the Nordic countries was appointed to monitor the cease fire agreement.

3. Since April 2006, there has been a gradual collapse of the cease-fire agreement. The intense fighting has broken out and has resulted in the displacement of 200,000 members of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities. The civilian population in the Jaffna peninsula in the North are unable to move to safer areas due to prolonged curfews. There is a severe shortage of food and other essential items and thousands of civilians are helplessly caught in intense military action. Around one thousand people have been killed and many others injured. It is innocent civilians belonging to all communities who have suffered the most. In addition, humanitarian aid workers have been killed, severely limiting the capacity of church and other humanitarian agencies to respond to the crisis and to continue vital reconstruction following the tsunami of December 2004.

4. The churches in Sri Lanka have provided cautious and critical support to the peace process, amongst others through inter-religious cooperative endeavours to mobilise people for peace and national reconciliation. The heads of churches in a pastoral letter issued on 18th August 2006, called on the churches "to maintain close contact with other Christian groups and persons of other faiths in order to build social trust and friendship" at a time when there is pain and agony in the hearts of the people.

5. The central committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva 30 August - 6 September 2006, therefore:

 

  1. Expresses its deep concern at the widening rift between the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities and the lethal escalation of armed violence between the security forces of the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam and the activities of the para military groups;

  2. Is appalled by the breakdown of the peace process and the cease fire agreement achieved through years of hard negotiations, mediation and involvement of many governments, including the Norwegian government;

  3. Deplores military actions and suicide bomb attacks whose victims are often innocent civilians including women and children;

  4. Condemns the intensification and escalation of military violence by the parties to the conflict that is causing untold misery and suffering to the people in many parts of the island especially those in the Northern and Eastern provinces;

  5. Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam to respect the terms and conditions of the cease-fire agreement and put an immediate end to all hostilities and resume peace negotiations without future delay;

  6. Calls also on the International Community to influence the parties of the conflict to immediately engage in peace negotiations and put an end to the present spate of violence;

  7. Urges the ecumenical community to remain in constant prayer for the people and churches of Sri Lanka and to accompany the sister churches in Sri Lanka together with people of other faiths to strengthen their efforts towards the restoration of peace and community integration in their war torn country.

 

The central committee adopted the following minute on Sudan:

Minute on Sudan

1. The World Council of Churches continues to be concerned and saddened by the ongoing atrocities taking place in the Darfur region of the Sudan. The WCC's executive committee issued a statement on Sudan in May 2006 in which it articulated this concern, stated its hope for the peace agreement signed in May 2006, and acknowledged its support for the UN Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 to "establish a Peace-keeping force in the region".

2. The WCC laments that atrocities have continued since the signing of that peace agreement, including a number of events which seem to indicate that certain signatories to the May 2006 peace agreement have not fulfilled important dimensions of the agreement.

3. On August 31, 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1706, in a vote of 12-0. This resolution authorizes the deployment of 17,500 UN peacekeepers and over 3000 UN civilian police to Darfur. In addition, Resolution 1706 seeks to encourage the safe transport and implementation of all needed humanitarian aid to the suffering people of the Darfur.

4. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1706 invites the government of Sudan to consent to this deployment of UN forces to aid in the peaceful resolution of this longstanding tragedy. The initial response to this resolution, from the government of the Sudan, has been resistant. Nonetheless, the WCC urges the government of Sudan to give their consent to this resolution, to fulfil their obligations as set out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and to bring an end to this terrible suffering.

5. Therefore, the WCC at its meeting of the central committee on August 30 - September 6, 2006,

 

  1. requests the WCC to call on the government of Sudan to comply with the United Nations resolution as well as the comprehensive peace agreement, as a way of fulfilling its responsibility to protect the people of Sudan;

  2. requests the general secretariat of the WCC, in consultation with the churches in Sudan, to consider the viability of arranging a high level delegation of church representatives and members of the Islamic community to visit and meet with government officials in Sudan, as well as representatives of the Darfur region, to emphasize the importance of this compliance and to offer any help that might be needed in the peaceful resolution of this conflict;

  3. requests the staff to study if the use of the term ‘genocide' with regard to the crisis in Darfur is appropriate in light of the internationally agreed conventions on this issue, and to offer counsel to the churches.

 

The central committee adopted the following minute on Kosovo:

Minute on Kosovo

1. Deliberation by the international community on the future status of Kosovo is presently underway and expected to near completion by the year's end 2006. Kosovo cannot continue to survive in a state of indetermination. The realization of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Kosovo must begin, realistically, with peaceful co-existence.

2. All those who call Kosovo their home must be permitted to return, regain rightful residence, and all must learn, again, to live side-by-side in peace and in harmony as good neighbours. Then, once familiar and comfortable with each other's presence, they must begin integrating into all phases of life, especially in cities, which at present are almost entirely mono-ethnic and mono-religious. This will serve to define the beginnings of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

3. On this basis the international community can implement a sustained effort toward an enduring and just peace, while securing freedom and tolerance in a truly multi-ethnic and multi-religious Kosovo.

4. To that end, we support the leaders and senior representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Community of Kosovo, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Evangelical Church and the Jewish Community gathered on 2-3 May 2006 at the historical Pec Patriarchate Monastery for an Interfaith Conference on Peaceful Coexistence and Dialogue. The Conference was held at the initiative of religious representatives in Kosovo, hosted by the Serbian Orthodox Church, organized and sponsored by Norwegian Church Aid, and accompanied and co-moderated by the World Conference of Religion and Peace.

5. Therefore, given this background, the World Council of Churches central committee meeting in Geneva between 30 August and 6 September 2006:

 

  1. Encourages the religious leaders of Kosovo to continue to work for reconciliation in order to foster healing and harmonious relations in a society that has been torn asunder by violence, hatred and conflict; and to ask all relevant authorities to support efforts for reconciliation and;

  2. Commits the WCC in cooperation with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) to continue to monitor the situation on the maintaining of human rights and religious freedom, particularly of religious minorities, and the preservation of cultural and religious patrimonial heritage in Kosovo, and in this connection keep member churches informed of developments and express support for reconciliation.