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Clement John

Tribute to a respected WCC colleague and an outstanding advocate in the international struggle for human rights.

03 June 2008

Clement John, a respected colleague in the work of the World Council of Churches and an outstanding advocate in the international struggle for human rights, passed away unexpectedly on Monday 2 June 2008 at his home in the US state of Minnesota. His sudden absence leaves us in shock, for his activism and vision had been so much a part of our lives. Clement informed us less than a week ago that he had accepted the post of associate director of the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and that he planned to return to his native country this summer. He had recently been working on a new book with the working title Religion, State and Intolerance, in which he addressed recent controversies over laws on blasphemy and religious practice in Pakistan and throughout the world.

Clement John was an accomplished lawyer, yet his career came to be shaped by his dedication to the Church of Pakistan and the ecumenical movement toward Christian unity. As a young man, Clement was politically active in the National Student Federation, the Young Lawyer's Association and the Pakistan People's Party even as he served on the board of directors of the YMCA of Karachi and became a founding member of the joint committee for justice and peace of the Karachi dioceses of the Church of Pakistan and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1983, he left a prestigious partnership in a Pakistani law firm for a post in Hong Kong as executive secretary for international affairs of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). In that role, he became an organizer and the first general secretary of both the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Centre.

In 1993, Clement joined the staff of the international affairs department of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva. He specialized in the areas of human rights and the Asia-Pacific region, but his intellect and profound concern are reflected in almost every aspect of the public witness of the WCC. By the time of his official retirement from the WCC in 2006, he was serving as director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

Clement was an ecumenical pioneer. He organized fact-finding missions and pastoral visits to such regions as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, East Timor, Sudan, Nigeria and China. While in Hong Kong with the CCA, he helped create the South-South Exchange programme among churches of the southern hemisphere and the rest of the developing world. He helped design the contemporary strategies for advocacy by which churches bear witness before the UN human rights commission and other international agencies. He took particular pride in his support of the Dalit minority and its right to organize and give testimony in international settings. Clement John was never reluctant to speak the truth, even in the presence of worldly powers, even at the risk of being criticized for appearing "too political". He stood firm for justice and strove for peace.

Our prayers and our thoughts are with Clement's wife, Violet, with their children, with their extended family and innumerable friends. May we all find comfort and hope in the good news of the resurrection to eternal life, in God's great love for Clement and for all of us. And, at this stage of our lives, may the shining example of Clement's principled courage inspire us to continue his work.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary
World Council of Churches