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Report of the XLV meeting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

03 June 2002

La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, 3-7 June 2002.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), the advisory group to the team on International Relations, has met twice since the Potsdam meeting of the Central Committee, 14-18 May 2001 and 3-7 June 2002, both times in Switzerland. The report of the first meeting was provided earlier to the Core Group of the Program Committee.

The conceptual and theological basis

According to its by-laws: "It shall be the task of the Commission to witness to the Lordship of Christ over human beings and history by serving people in the field of international relations and promoting reconciliation and oneness of human beings by creation; to God's gracious and redemptive action in history; and to the assurance of the coming kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. This service is demanded by the continuing ministry of Christ in the world of priestly intercession, prophetic judgement, the arousing of hope and conscience and pastoral care. This task necessitates engagement in immediate and concrete issues as well as the formulation of general Christian aims and purposes.

The Commission shall encourage:

a)    the promotion of peace with justice and freedom;

b) the development of international law and of effective international institutions;

c) the respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, special attention being given to the problem of religious liberty;

d) the promotion of the rights and welfare of refugees, migrants and internally-displaced people;

e)     efforts for disarmament;

f)    the furtherance of economic and social justice;

g)    acceptance by all nations of the obligation to promote to the utmost the welfare of all peoples and the development of free political institutions;

h)    the promotion of the right of self-determination of peoples under alien or colonial domination;

i)     the international promotion of social, cultural, educational and humanitarian enterprises."

A Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted People (GEN) guides the work of the team in this specialized area and seeks to coordinate the global ecumenical response to the needs of the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers on all continents.

September 11 and its impact on international relations

Through its regular reports on Public Issues to the WCC Officers and the Executive and Central Committees, the International Relations Team gives an accounting of its work in addressing urgent issues on the world agenda, and their impact on people and the lives and witness of the churches. At its 2001 meeting the Commission decided to undertake a global consultation process on the changing role of power in the world and its impact on the churches. The tragic events of September 11th underscored and accelerated global trends that led to this undertaking. In this meeting we have reviewed their implications for the ecumenical movement as follows:

1. The global situation has become more complex, making a coherent and effective ecumenical response more difficult to shape. The proliferation of internal and international conflicts has posed unprecedented challenges to the churches at all levels.

2. There has been an accelerated attack on the framework of global governance, the rule of law and the institutions painstakingly built over the past fifty years to apply it. Treaties have been abrogated for the first time in many decades, and a systematic effort is being made from several quarters to weaken the system of obligations freely entered into by states and to erode international protections. The USA has led this trend, withdrawing its signature from the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court and giving notice that it would no longer abide by the terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

3. Taking advantage of the climate created by the "War on Terrorism," a number of states have resorted to "states of emergency," undermining due process of law with respect to dissidents, minority groups and persons suspected of involvement in terrorism. This has resulted in grave violations of human rights and threatens a return to national security doctrines.

4. Major increases in military budgets have been made in a number of countries, further limiting resources available for economic, social and environmental needs.

5. Efforts to control the production, transfer and use of weapons, has been slowed in the conventional sphere, and despite the new agreement between the USA and Russia on decommissioning nuclear weapons, for the first time in decades a new generation of nuclear weapons is being developed and new threats of the use of such weapons in regional wars have arisen.

6. The process of globalization and economic neoliberalism has reduced the capacity of many nation-states to determine and implement strategies to meet the needs of their own people, strengthening the powers of the major industrialized nations and weakening those of most developing nations, widening the gap between rich and poor.

7. The blatant unilateralism of the USA and its attempts to impose its own will and standards on the entire world have severely weakened the project of world order provided by the UN Charter which foresaw a form of governance in which all nations, small and large, rich and poor would have a say.

8. Religion has been pushed back into the center of world affairs and that of the peoples, reversing the trends of secularization that dominated in previous decades and calling into question many of our previous assumptions based on the secular society. It has become a central factor in many open conflicts, making them more resistant to peaceful resolution.

9. There has been a political backlash in many countries of the North that is deeply troubling. It has a particular impact on human rights, particularly those of the uprooted. It also has had serious implications for the churches.

10. At the same time, the churches, the ecumenical movement and its institutions, including the WCC have seen their resources dwindling to an extent unprecedented since the WCC was formed. The resultant weakening of ecumenical structures has been accompanied by trends toward uncoordinated and sometimes competing responses to crises by churches and related agencies.

In the view of the Commission it is more important than at almost any time since 1946, when the CCIA was created, to reaffirm the aims and principles included in its by-laws cited above. There are growing imperatives expressed by the churches and secular partners for the WCC to provide information and analysis and to engage in advocacy to confront these trends. In light of this and of the WCC's seriously diminishing financial resources, the Commission has reviewed international relations program plans, seeking to provide clearer priorities and focus, new styles of work and collective approaches to its mandated tasks in collaboration with other teams and with other parts of the ecumenical movement.

It has done so recognizing that there are significant signs of hope. Global civil society movements are being formed to resist the negative impacts of economic and financial globalization. In its work in UN arenas, the WCC has been an important actor in such fields as sustainable development, social development and financing for development. Headway has been made in the arms field with a global accord to ban landmines and rapid progress in building awareness of the analogous need to control small arms and light weapons. Again here the WCC and the wider ecumenical movement has been a significant actor. The statutes of the International Criminal Court will come into force on 1 July 2002, providing an important new instrument to reverse the trend to give impunity against prosecution to persons responsible for massive crimes against humanity. Awareness of and action on critical global agendas too often ignored in the past, like the HIV/AIDS pandemic, is growing.

In the light of both the negative trends present in the world today, and these new signs of hope, the Commission has taken account of the WCC's privileged position as a body that links local, national, regional and global human realities more than almost any other; and as a religious body in dialogue and cooperation with people of other faiths. The following recommendations with regard to future priorities seek to combine these strengths and to take into account the present financial limitations in a way that will allow the Council to continue to contribute to unity of the churches in doctrine and witness, to respond to present crises in a coherent way, and to take a long-range view of social and political change in a world where such change often becomes visible only after years or decades of patient, principled and continuous witness and action.

United Nations Relations

During its 2001 meeting, the Commission stressed the importance of the role of the WCC at the United Nations. It recalled the mandate of the CCIA to maintain consultative relations with the UN and its specialized agencies on behalf of the Council; to represent, facilitate and help coordinate the representation of member churches and related ecumenical councils and partners; and to coordinate the work of other teams in order to bring the Council's perspectives effectively to bear in global discussions. The Commission forwarded to the Program Committee its recommendation that this function of the Council that is lodged in the International Relations team be strengthened. Subsequently, the Staff Leadership Group (SLG) engaged a highly-qualified external consultant to perform an external review of the WCC's work in UN relations, and this review was undertaken in close collaboration with the CCIA's reference group on UN relations. The consultant presented her findings to this meeting of the Commission where the report and recommendations were discussed. The Commission strongly endorses and commends both, with the following remarks:

1. The Commission reaffirms the central importance of the UN as the heart of the international community and of its role in continuing to shape and strengthen global governance.

2. The UN relations work of the Council should not be seen as a program in itself, but rather as an important instrument to advance the WCC's global agenda. In this connection, the Commission underscores the importance of the recommendation that

A cross-team UN Coordination Forum should be established (in the WCC) in order to facilitate coordination, prioritization and strategic planning. It should be convened by the CCIA Director and be responsible for producing a draft rolling three-year strategic plan with annual action plans.

This coordination among International Relations with other relevant teams should develop a more detailed working methodology and should be done in a way that would continue to involve the CCIA reference group on a regular basis.

3. In pursuing the strengthened relationship with the UN care should be taken to involve wherever possible members of the CCIA Commission and of other relevant Council Advisory Groups in ecumenical teams or delegations to UN meetings and conferences.

4. More intentional work with member churches and related Councils is needed to address concerns on the UN agenda not just at UN meetings, but also at national government levels from the earliest stages of policy development through the implementation of agreed plans of action.

5. Implementation of the recommendations contained in the review report will require priority setting among and within WCC programs.

6. UN relations work should not be limited to follow-up of UN decisions, but rather keep in mind the 1995 Central Committee policy statement that makes engagement with selected UN World Conference processes from the earliest stages of their preparatory processes a condition for WCC involvement.

7. Means must be found to communicate more effectively concerns addressed at the UN and the results of WCC and ecumenical work there to the churches and the wider public.

8. The successor to the present UN Representative in the UN Headquarters Liaison Office in New York, who retires at the end of 2002, should be a person deeply rooted in his or her church tradition; with wide experience of the WCC, its history and its programs; with considerable knowledge of the UN system; and with highly developed diplomatic skills.

Program priorities in the field of international relations

The Commission has also reviewed the three-year budget plan developed for presentation to the Central Committee, especially those parts that correspond to the programs mandated to the International Relations Team. It expressed appreciation for the effort to develop a comprehensive presentation of budget and program within the limits of projected income while maintaining a viable core program for the Council. It endorses this presentation, stressing the importance of special priority to be given to the changing character and role of religion in the world and the importance of dialogue and cooperation with other faith communities in this critical period of history. It makes the following comments on program priorities for International relations:

1. Human Rights. Priority should be given to:

1.1. Training and capacity-building for local churches in human rights and their defense.

1.2. Engaging CCIA commissioners more fully in the Council's efforts to monitor and respond to human rights violations in their respective countries and regions.

1.3. Identifying and addressing emerging trends in the field of human rights.

1.4. Survey and develop information for the churches on particular violations of human rights arising in the context of September 11th and its aftermath.

1.5. Paying particular attention to the rise of religious intolerance.

1.6. Seeking inter-religious cooperation for the fulfillment of human rights as a basis for peace and justice.

1.7. Strengthening cooperation with churches, agencies, concerned individuals and others with respect to funding for the Specific Expression on Public Witness - Human Rights, Impunity, Justice and Reconciliation.

1.8. The following situations were identified as requiring priority response: the Balkans, Colombia, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

2. Impunity. Recalling the priority given to impunity, truth and reconciliation in the context of the DOV, the Commission stressed the linkage between impunity and conflict prevention, the need further to strengthen international law in this area, the need for continuing theological and ethical reflection as a specific WCC contribution in international forums, and the need to further deepen reflection on justice and restorative justice. Priorities were recommended as follows:

2.1. At least one regional workshop or seminar per year must be held, the next in Asia (possibly Indonesia or Sri Lanka).

2.2. Promotion of ratification of the Statutes of the International Criminal Court through work with national churches in cooperation with other teams.

2.3. Strengthening of work with UN bodies like the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission and Subcommission on Human Rights.

2.4. Monitoring opportunities to address questions of impunity for crimes against humanity in relation to the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

3. Uprooted People. Given the trends described above that often directly affect uprooted people in the first instance, the Commission believes that this is a high priority program of the Council, and that advocacy at the UN for uprooted people's rights and protection needs to be continued and strengthened. The WCC also has an important role to play in sensitizing and encouraging churches to keep migration and refugee issues as priorities in their own programs at a time when the general tendency is for them to cope with their own financial difficulties by cutting these back or eliminating them. This is particularly important in Europe in view of the growing climate of xenophobia and the resulting political changes. Migration counseling should be given special attention as a pastoral task. The following steps are proposed for establishment of priorities in light of shortfalls in income:

3.1. Strengthening advocacy work on uprooted people by developing new ways of working, especially through increased collaboration with members of GEN, asking them to take the lead on particular issues like work on international and regional protocols on trafficking and smuggling.

3.2. Urging church and church-related agencies to give increased priority to uprooted concerns.

3.3. Experimenting with a new model of producing the Uprooted People Newsletter, urging partners to share information with one another directly via a common electronic mailing list, maximizing the time available to staff to provide analyses of global developments.

3.4. Exploring possibilities of handing over some of the present project administration work to those regional groups with the capacity to do direct fund-raising, oversee the proposal process, monitor reporting and transferring funds.

3.5. Pursuing discussions that would allow support for regional uprooted working groups to be supported through bi-lateral relationships, round tables or by local churches in view of the importance of the role of such groups and the projected declining support for them through the WCC.

3.6. Pursuing efforts underway to approach foundations and other non-traditional funding sources for funding a consultation on detention, an interfaith consultation on theological reflection on uprootedness, and for further work on trafficking.

3.7. Continuing discussions with the Conference of European Churches and the Churches' Commission on Migrants in Europe (CCME) with respect to more effective cooperation on European uprooted concerns.

3.8. Developing a pilot project on African victims of trafficking in Europe in connection with the Council's Africa Focus.

3.9. Welcoming the secondment of an International Relations team member to the AACC as its interim General Secretary, recognizing that this will place additional pressures on other staff, and urging staff to turn to members of the Commission for assistance when the burden on staff becomes too onerous.

4. Peace and Conflict Resolution. The Commission reviewed and strongly endorsed the work done by the International Relations team and the Council in the field of peace and conflict resolution during the past year and the centrality of this work to the life of the WCC and the ecumenical movement. With regard to working styles and priority setting, the Commission:

4.1. Stressed the need to broaden and strengthen ecumenical networks in a way that will make possible better coordination of efforts and sharing of human and financial resources.

4.2. Stressed the need for wide and timely dissemination of information, analysis and actions on public issues in the working languages of the Council in a way to reach the actors addressed and groups within and beyond the churches who need to be involved in strengthening advocacy on situations and the issues.

4.3. Noted and reaffirmed the interrelated dimensions in this area of the Council's work that include advocacy, mediation, engagement in post-crisis situations and the development of effective public policies.

4.4. Expressed concern about the decline in income designated by donors to this work of the Council that is highly visible, central to the agendas of its governing bodies and for which appreciation has been expressed by the churches, and urged funding partners and churches who are not now contributing but who benefit directly from this work to consider their own priorities in this light.

4.5. Strongly reaffirmed the importance of ecumenical team visits, pastoral visits and teams to assist in mediation and reconciliation efforts of churches in situations of conflict, and to make fuller use of Commissioners in establishing the membership of such teams and delegations.

5. Peacebuilding and disarmament. The Commission revised the program planning document presentation, and recommends renaming this program Demilitarization, Disarmament and Prevention of Armed Conflict. The following priorities were identified for 2003:

5.1. The Peace to the City Network should be strengthened through continuing communication efforts including further publications, additional language translations and videos. Network partners' advocacy work should be strengthened by further inter-regional exchanges. New partners' capacities to advocate for community policing and security sector reform should be built along the lines of the Boston and Rio "peace to the city" partners models through a regional training workshop. Partners should be drawn more fully into international campaign efforts related to the 2003 UN Review Conference on Small Arms.

5.2. A global ecumenical review consultation should be organized to develop further policy and action on small arms control and demand reduction for adoption by the Central Committee and presentation to the 2003 UN Review Conference on Small Arms by a WCC /CCIA delegation. Two meetings of ecumenical partners and members of the CCIA Reference group on Demilitarization, Disarmament and Prevention of Armed Violence should be held to prepare for the global consultation process and identify post-conference follow-up. The Ecumenical Network on Small Arms should be strengthened through provision of seed funding to selected faith-based grassroots initiatives on practical disarmament.

5.3. In the field of nuclear disarmament, follow-up should be given to the 2002 ecumenical visit to capitals of non-nuclear member states of NATO. Building on the proposed Southern Asia policy statement of the Central Committee, a regional consultation should be organized on the threat of nuclear weapons and to assist the churches in their advocacy efforts to encourage the governments of India and Pakistan to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to declare the sub-region a nuclear weapons free zone.