World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement on UN Reform

24 February 2006

WCC 9th Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 13-24 February, 2006


On many previous occasions the governing bodies of the World Council of Churches
have affirmed the unique role of the United Nations and the noble ideals embodied
in its Charter. The sixtieth anniversary of the UN and the process of reform
initiated before the recent summit meeting offer an occasion for this assembly of
the World Council to consider the present state of the international order and to
call on member churches to renew and strengthen their active support for and
engagement with the UN at a critical moment in its history. The churches, together
with the wider civil society, carry a responsibility to shape public opinion and
to generate the political will for multilateral cooperative action that is needed for
the UN to succeed in its mission.

Many of the "peoples of the United Nations" continue to cry for justice and peace.
We hear this cry especially from peoples living under occupation and oppressive
regimes, from victims of war and civil conflict, from the millions of uprooted
people, from Indigenous Peoples displaced from ancestral land and from those
suffering from the HIV and other pandemics, hunger, the lack of work, clean
water and access to land for cultivation. Many have become disappointed in view
of the limitations of the capacity of the UN to address their cries. Through
droughts, floods, hurricanes and severe climate changes we also hear the cry of
the earth that is groaning under the impact of human greed and brutal exploitation
of the resources of nature.

As Christians we live by the promise and the hope that God hears the cries of the
people and will deliver them from their sufferings. When we pray: "God, in your
grace, transform the world" we trust that God, through God's life-giving Spirit,
continues to offer life in its fullness. As we pray, we must be prepared to act in
order to become co-workers with God in transforming ourselves, our communities
and the international order and build a culture of life in dignity in just and
sustainable communities.

When the UN was founded in 1945 it was guided by the vision: to save succeeding
generations from the scourge of war, to affirm faith in fundamental human
rights, to establish the basic conditions for justice and the rule of law, and to promote
social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. People of faith
inspired this vision and it has been the basis for the strong support that the WCC
has rendered to the work and the aspirations of the UN and to the principle of
multilateralism throughout its 60-year history.

After the end of the Cold War and the rapid spread of globalization the UN finds
itself at a critical juncture. On the one hand, complex global problems require a
cooperative and multilateral response. Never before has it been so clear that the
challenges of communicable diseases and environmental degradation, of corruption
and organized crime, of proliferation of arms and the threat of terrorism cannot
be resolved by individual states alone. On the other hand, this very situation
has given rise to new fears, to mutual suspicion, and even to acts of indiscriminate
violence leading some to withdraw behind barriers of exclusion or to rush to
unilateral action believing that it is more effective.

The UN is based on the commitment of governments to act together and in solidarity
with one another. In spite of weaknesses of the UN and failures of governments
to cooperate through its forum, it is still the best instrument that we have
to respond to the contemporary challenges. In its 60-year history the UN and its
specialized agencies have been able to strengthen the international rule of law,
resolve many conflicts (e.g. in Kampuchea, East Timor, Namibia, and Liberia),
resettle millions of refugees, raise the level of literacy, support education for all,
introduce basic health care, fight poverty and respond to countless emergencies as
well as natural and man-made disasters. The adoption of the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) as well as the commitments for financing development and the
recent agreements regarding the cancellation of unpayable and illegitimate debt
are indications that this commitment for multilateral action is still alive.

The changed global situation, however, obliges the UN and member states to
engage in a serious process of reform in order to retain the capacity to respond to
the basic mandate of the UN and to the aspirations of the people of the world.

The reform process must continue to go beyond the framework of the UN organization
and aim at improving global governance based on the principle of multilateralism.

One significant achievement of the summit was the acknowledgement that the
realization of peace/security, development/social and economic justice and the
implementation of human rights are inseparably linked. This should serve as the
fundamental framework and policy orientation for the continuing process of
reform. In fact, for people on the ground it has always been obvious that there
can be no security in a situation of utter deprivation; that economic development
at the expense of the recognition of human rights, in particular the rights of the
marginalized, women, children, indigenous and differently-abled people does not
serve the cause of social justice; and that without basic human security and the
satisfaction of human needs the affirmation of human rights loses its meaning.

This acknowledgement of the linkage of the three pillars has implications for the
ways we conceive of and approach action in the fields of security, development
and human rights. We reaffirm the statement by the WCC assembly at Vancouver
(1983): "No nation can pretend to be secure so long as others' legitimate rights
to sovereignty and security are neglected or denied. Security can therefore be
achieved only as a common enterprise of nations, but security is also inseparable
from justice. A concept of ‘common security' of nations must be reinforced by a
concept of ‘people's security'. True security for the people demands respect for
human rights, including the right to self-determination, as well as social and economic
justice for all within every nation, and a political framework that would
ensure it." (Gathered for Life, 134) This position was also emphasized again with
the previous assembly at Harare (1998) in the statements on human rights and
globalization. "Human rights are the essential basis for a just and durable peace.

Failure to respect them often leads to conflict and warfare…There is an urgent
need to learn the lessons from the past, and to set up mechanisms of early intervention
when danger signals appear." (Together on the Way, 200ff.)

The fact that the outcome document of the 2005 UN World Summit recognizes
the inseparable linkage of the three pillars of security, development and human
rights speaks for determined efforts to strengthen organizational and policy coherence
in the UN system across borders and between specialized institutions, interests
and constituencies.

Compared to expectations raised and perceived needs, the outcome of the UN
World Summit in September 2005 was disappointing. Although, in the field of
security, important achievements were made with the endorsement of the principle
"The Responsibility to Protect" as a normative obligation and the commitment
to a more coherent approach to conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding
through the establishment of a Peace-building Commission, there was
no agreement on disarmament and non-proliferation. On terrorism, the summit
was not able to agree on a clear international definition, making attacks against
civilians for political purposes once and for all indefensible, nor to go beyond
intelligence, policing and military cooperation to embrace in cooperation to
addressing root causes. The highly politicized proposal for reform and reconstruction
of the Security Council also ended in a deadlock.

Although, on development, the outcome document of the summit reinforced
commitments towards the Millennium Development Goals and goals of full
employment and decent work, no new commitments in aid, debt relief or trade
were made. In failing to do so the world leaders failed to acknowledge the urgency
of action in this area. The WCC was the first organization to propose a target for
official development assistance, of two percent of national income. It is vital that
member churches in donor countries continue to be strong advocates to their governments
and the public of sustaining or increasing aid to the UN target of 0.7
per cent of GDP without harmful economic conditions. Combined with more
just trade policies and faster and deeper reduction of official debt, it is possible
to sustain development and poverty reduction to fulfill the MDGs, and even move
beyond these important limited goals.

The agreement to double the resources and approve a new action plan for the
High Commissioner on Human Rights is an important step. The new Human
Rights Council, if given a prominent role in the UN structure and with appropriate
tools, offers a potential to improve the Human Rights Mechanisms. While
the Commission on Human Rights played an outstanding role in generating core
standards on human rights, it has largely failed in achieving implementation, a
failure compounded by the current context of the "War on Terror", which has
seriously undermined the rule of law internationally and in particular the respect
for human rights law. The reluctance by some countries to ratify the Rome Statute
of the International Criminal Court is another example of undermining progress
of the international rule of law.

Non-governmental organizations play an important role at the UN providing
crucial information, monitoring decision-making processes, creating opportunities
for the voices from the grassroots, often the victims of international policies,
to be heard and to overcome attitudes of narrow self-interest and promote the
spirit of multilateralism. Churches are called to continue and strengthen their
efforts to play a part in this vital role of engaging with the UN and holding it
and member states to account for their decisions and policies. The unique role
that religions or religious organizations could play in addressing conflict, and
working for peace, human rights and ending poverty is not yet fully realized.

There is an urgent need for the UN and member states to strengthen the capacity
to deal with the growing interaction between religion and politics. There is
also an urgent need for the churches and the WCC to strengthen their own capacities
to continue and improve their engagements with the UN.

The real test for any steps in this reform process will be whether it increases the
chances for life in dignity and sustainable communities for the people on the
ground. This is the privileged context for the work and witness of the churches.

They are entrusted with a message of life and hope that can dispel suspicion and
paralyzing fears and set people free to gain courage and confidence in their capacity
to transform their lives in community.

Resolution:

The Ninth Assembly, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February 2006:

a) Adopts the statement on UN Reform, to advance the objective of a more
effective United Nations dedicated to the pursuit of global peace with justice.

b) Reaffirms the dedication of the World Council of Churches and member
churches to the principles and purposes of the UN, its Charter, and its role in
advancing the rule of law and in elaborating norms and standards of state
behaviour that serve the safety and wellbeing of all people. The effectiveness
of the UN depends on accountable and inclusive democratic decision-making
that does not sideline small, less powerful, and economically-deprived
members, and the success of UN reform is judged in terms of the capacity of
the UN to change the situation of the people on the ground and make a practical
positive difference and an improvement to their comprehensive wellbeing.
It reaffirms furthermore the dedication of the WCC to be present and
visible at the UN.

c) Encourages the churches to urge member states to cooperate actively with
the United Nations and to keep faith with their commitments to financing
the organization and ensuring that the organization and its agencies are adequately
staffed and funded to achieve their mandate.

On Security

d) Supports changes to the permanent membership of the UN Security Council
that would make it more geographically, politically and culturally representative
of today's world, and that would encourage working methods and decision-
making processes that enable fair, effective, and timely responses to the
needs of vulnerable people and to prevent the outbreak of violent conflict. All
current and aspiring members of the UN Security Council should fully comply
with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

e) Welcomes the establishment of the Peace-building Commission as a means
of developing new and appropriate ways of responding to civil conflict. The
Peace-building Commission should adopt and endorse peace-building principles
and practices, which emphasize local ownership in peace-building and
peacekeeping processes. These should also promote the full participation of
women (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325), the marginalized
groups, Indigenous Peoples, differently-abled people and youth. At
the same time current disarmament forums and mechanisms must be strengthened
and made more effective in advancing the already agreed global objectives
of the elimination of nuclear weapons and of controlling conventional
arms and arms transfers.

On Development

f) Underlines the importance of democratically selected, open and accountable
forums for discussion of global economic, social and environmental issues
and calls for increasing their significance in comparison with exclusive, unbalanced
and secretive forums. The UN Economic and Social Council should be
enabled to hold finance ministers, meetings on global macro-economic management,
to more actively address environmental issues integrated with social
and economic issues and to hold the International Financial Institutions to
account. Commitments made by governments in financing for development,
towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, debt cancellation and
for sustainable development should be seen as binding and the UN has to be
given instruments to ensure their implementation.

g) Encourages churches to work with member states to make the UN an initiator
and a global monitor for management of natural resources and public
goods and for strengthening the mechanisms to ensure that transnational corporations
are held accountable to global standards.

On Human Rights

h) Stresses that reform of the UN human rights architecture must result in
an improvement of the capacity of the UN to engage with and make a practical
positive difference in the lives of victims of injustice, discrimination and
oppression around the world. The system of Special Procedures developed by
the Commission on Human Rights, of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
as well as of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office should
be actively supported, and their independence respected and their capacity
substantially enhanced.

i) Urges member states to avoid politicizing the composition of the new
Human Rights Council and give it a status within the UN architecture that
reflects the central importance of human rights as one of the three pillars of
the UN system. Members of the UN Human Rights Council must demonstrate
through their policies, actions and domestic and international human
rights record a genuine commitment to the promotion and protection of human
rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights. Being a UN member
state or even a permanent member of the UN Security Council does not
by itself meet this criterion.

On Civil Society Participation

j) Asks all states to ensure the ongoing participation of civil society organizations
and faith communities in the work of the UN, at local and international
levels, as a means of encouraging transparency and accountability as
well as a means of availing itself of essential expertise and information. This
should be particularly emphasized with respect to the role of religions and
religious organizations in addressing issues of security, human rights, development
and the growing interplay between religion and politics.