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Expression of concern about threats of retaliation following the September 11th attacks in the U.S.A.

01 October 2001

Letter to H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1 October 2001.


Dear Mr Secretary-General,

     I write to thank you for the wise and measured leadership you have given your staff, the United Nations and the peoples of the world in the difficult period since the tragic, heart-rending day of 11 September.

     We were especially grateful for your address to the General Assembly on 24 September. Your words of encouragement in the face of widespread despair, your message of hope, and your call for the rejection of the path of violence were both poignant and timely.

     As you have so clearly pointed out, these attacks have shown the extreme vulnerability of all nations, and indeed the fragility of the present global system. A world in which ever greater numbers of nations and peoples are being consigned to extreme poverty while great wealth accumulates in others is inherently unstable and vulnerable to acts of extreme violence. A world in which the spirit, logic and practice of war dominate the policies of powerful nations, and is reflected back to the peoples of the world through an increasingly monochrome global media, is a world that breeds violence.

     The violence of terrorism - in all its many forms - is abhorrent to all who believe human life is a gift of God and therefore infinitely precious. Every attempt to intimidate others by inflicting indiscriminate death and injury upon them is to be universally condemned. The answer to terrorism, however, cannot be to respond in kind, for this can lead only to more violence and terror. Instead a concerted effort of all nations is needed to remove any possible justification for such acts.

     So long as the cries of those humiliated by unremitting injustice, by the systematic deprivation of their rights, and by the arrogance of power of those who possess unchallenged military might are ignored or neglected by a seemingly uncaring world, terrorism will not be overcome. The answer to terrorism must be found in redressing these wrongs that breed violence between and within nations.

     We hope and pray that the response to the terrible tragedies of 11 September will mark a turning point for a global reassessment of our collective responsibility to heal the wounds and offer new perspectives to our world. Certainly it is this, not the language of war, that would be the finest tribute to those who lost their lives in these terrible attacks.

     In the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence launched by the World Council of Churches early this year, churches and individual Christians around the world are striving to break the rising spiral of retributive violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to people through the ages. In declaring this Decade, the WCC Assembly in Harare (1998) gave recognition to the UN "International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World." The assembly was acutely aware of the fact that Christians have often contributed to shaping a culture of violence. We have often blessed the war-makers and offered justification for violence. Thus the Decade represents a call to repentance and calls churches and individual Christians to reflect deeply on the violence we bear within us and seek to free ourselves from its bondage. It also calls us to pursue ever more vigorously a Dialogue among Civilizations, and to deepen inter-religious dialogue with all those who believe that God wills justice and peace for all peoples.

     We hope that the nations and their leaders will now approach their responsibilities in a similar way. This is not a time for the building of coalitions of states that accede to or agree to participate in further acts of retaliation or aggression. It is rather an opportunity to rally the peoples and the nations to a renewed universal commitment to the aims of the Charter of the United Nations and to forge a new global force for justice. As you have so rightly put it, the most effective international coalition to overcome the threat of terrorism is the United Nations itself, and it is, as you put it, "the natural forum" that "alone can give global legitimacy" to this effort. Only together can the nations and their peoples hope to achieve true peace and security. The messages of compassion that have been sent from the four corners of the world to the government and people of the United States need to be embodied in policies and acts of compassion for all those who languish now in abject poverty and armed conflict.

     The reaction to these acts must not be greater isolationism, but rather should lead all nations to join fully in the efforts of the international community to face common challenges, and there to assume their full share of obligations under the Charter, financial and other, to the United Nations.

     The reaction to these acts must not be a global retreat back into militarism, doctrines of national security or states of emergency that suspend guarantees and protection of fundamental human rights. Democracy has been purchased at too high a price for its freedoms again to be sacrificed. Reliance on notions of security based on superior military power must give way to new approaches that seek human security based on justice for all.

     Respect for and the strengthening of the rule of law at both national and international levels is the basis of common security and true justice. It must not be allowed to erode further. Such justice must also extend to those alleged to be responsible for these and similar acts of terrorism who should be brought before impartial courts to answer to charges. Vigilante justice under any guise is another form of terrorism and cannot be condoned.

     At this session of the General Assembly intensive debates will be held on strengthening measures to combat international terrorism. In this connection we hope that all nations will now see the urgency of ratifying the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court in order that it can be established as soon as possible.

     The reaction to these acts must not be to close all doors to those seeking asylum from terror, to migrants driven from their homes by extreme poverty, to refugees fleeing from war and internal conflict. The international protection regimes must not now be weakened, but strengthened to comprehend those for whom international protections are still inadequate or not scrupulously respected.

     Finally, the response to these inhuman acts must not be to stigmatize any national, ethnic or religious group. The hypothesis of a "clash of civilizations" must not be allowed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the time for universal dialogue, tolerance and acts of compassion.

     We are grateful for your leadership in the realization of these goals, and reassure you and your staff of our continued prayers that God guide and sustain you in your efforts on behalf of a needy world. 

Respectfully yours,

Konrad Raiser
General Secretary