World Council of Churches

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

First report (draft - for action)

14 February 2006

The Public Issues Committee (PIC) was asked to work on draft proposals for five statements and one minute prepared in advance through a series of consultations and reflections and endorsed by the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches in its meeting on February 13th, 2006. These were 

  1. Statement on Latin America
  2. Statement on the Responsibility to Protect
  3. Statement on Terrorism, Human Rights and Counter-terrorism
  4. Statement on Reforming the United Nations
  5. Statement on Water for Life
  6. Minute on the Elimination of Nuclear Arms 

In this first report the PIC presents to the Assembly the draft statements on Latin America, Reforming the United Nations and Water for Life and a draft Minute on the Elimination of Nuclear Arms. The draft statements on the responsibility to Protect and Terrorism, Human Rights and Counter-terrorism will be presented in the second report of the PIC.

In addition, the Public Issues Committee received from the Assembly participants within the stipulated 24 hours after the announcement of the proposal of the Executive Committee, seven proposals for statements endorsed by at least ten member churches. After careful examination of the proposals in the framework of the existing policy and criteria for Public Issues actions by the general Assembly of the World Council of Churches, the Public Issues Committee proposes:  

  • A Minute on Mutual Respect, Responsibility and Dialogue with People of Other Faiths which will be presented in the second report of the PIC.

In response to the six other proposals and issues raised, the Public Issues Committee proposes the following actions would be more appropriate:

1. Trafficking of women 

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal about the issue of trafficking of women and a request to pay special attention to the upcoming World Cup in Football taking place in June 2006 in Germany which will potentially bring tens of thousands of prostitutes mainly from Central and Eastern European countries to Germany.

The Public Issues Committee noted that in its meeting February 15 - 22, 2005 the WCC Central Committee issued a statement on uprooted people "Practising hospitality in an era of new forms of migration". The statement underlines human trafficking as one new trend in migration that "involves recruiting and/or transporting people using violence, other forms of coercion, or providing misleading information in order to exploit them economically or sexually (through for example, forced prostitution and bonded labour). Trafficked persons are often in conditions of slavery and are no longer free to move or to decide on their destinies. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking". The statement further recommeds that churches should "combat the trafficking of human beings, particularly women and children for sexual exploitation; to work with governments, churches and concerned non-governmental organizations to ensure that the victims of traffickers receive the necessary treatment and respect; and to oppose efforts by governments to use the existence of trafficking as an excuse to restrict further immigration.

Follow-up actions on human trafficking have been initiated in the regions and taken up by some member churches. The Public Issues committee recommends that the WCC General Secretary and staff work in collaboration with their regional and international contacts to continue to closely monitor the situation, give further support to member churches and take appropriate actions. 

2. Poverty

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal for a statement on Poverty. Poverty is indeed a major issue in our world and fighting poverty a priority for the World Council of Churches. The WCC gathered at its Eight Assembly in Harare strongly stated that the "reality of unequal distribution of power and wealth, of poverty and exclusion challenges the cheap language of our global shared community". The lack of a strong ethical and moral approach in responding to poverty is sinful in the eyes of God. The Public Issues Committee agrees that the issue of poverty in our world is a challenge that the churches and the wider ecumenical family are called to address in the 21st century. This, however, must be an intentional on-going process.

Considering seriously the implications of poverty on the lives of God`s people, the Public Issues Committee is presenting to the Assembly three statements where the issue of poverty is addressed. These statements, carefully written after much consultations and reflections, call upon churches and governments to address the various causes of poverty in our world. The statements on Water for life, Latin America and on Reforming the United Nations speak firmly and specifically on issues of poverty and how to fight poverty in different contexts.

3. Incarceration of the Orthodox Archbishop in Skopje, FYROM

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal to condemn the incarceration of Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje (FYROM). The World Council of Churches has addressed the situation of Archbishop Jovan by sending, on 31 August 2005, a letter to H.E. Branko Crvenkovski, the President of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, expressing deep concern for the imprisonment and reiterating that WCC considered that inter-church disagreements and disputes should be resolved through discussion and dialogue and judicial approach used only as a last resort.

The Public Issues Committee recommends the General Secretary and the staff to closely continue monitoring the situation and take appropriate measures as needed. 

4. Protection of Discriminated WCC member churches

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal on Protection of Discriminated WCC member churches making special reference to the Hungarian speaking minority churches East-Central Europe (Serbia-Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine).

On the particular situation of these minorities, the Public Issues Committee noted the report of the Central Committee in February 2005 where the situation of Vojvodina in Serbia-Montenegro was taken up as an area of great concern. Several church and government delegations have recently visited the region. WCC Programme Executive for Europe visited Serbia-Montenegro in April 2005 meeting the leadership of the minority churches. In additon the regional secretary and the WCC Commission of Churches on International Affairs monitor and follow-up the general situation in the region with special attention to minority situations in light of the WCC policy to give priority to the respect for Human Rights for all people and the unity between the different member churches in the region. Actions are being taken when appropriate with government institutions. The Public Issues Committee recommends that the CCIA and the Programme Executive for Europe, in consultation with the Conference of European Churches, follow the development and consider further actions as appropriate. 

The proposal highlights the issues of persecution, discrimination and oppression of member churches of the WCC also in general terms. The Public Issues Committee affirms that supporting member churches in these situations, acting on behalf of the whole WCC fellowship, is in the core of the mandate of the Commission of Churches on International Affairs, and whenever such situations arise the WCC will act to protect members of the body, take up the issues in government relations and inter-governmental meetings. 

5. Indigenous Peoples and language loss

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal for a minute on Indigenous Peoples and language loss. The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva in February, 2005, issued a statement on Human Rights and Languages of Indigenous Peoples. In that document, the Central Committee called on member churches to urge the establishment of a UN International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2006 or a subsequent year and to appeal to their governments to remove discriminatory laws against Indigenous Languages, to work towards removing the layers of educational and social pressures arrayed against Indigenous Languages, and to actively pursue compliance with international conventions and treaties that regard the use of the language of heritage as a basic human right. The Public Issues Committee regards the Central Committee statement of February, 2005 mentioned herein as important and relevant and request churches to consider practical ways in which they can respond to this world-wide crisis, calling attention to the critical issue of language loss and working towards remedies both in their local areas and at international level. The Central Committee remind churches and the Christian community of the diversity of spoken languages as a sign of the presence of the fullness of the Spirit of God in Acts 2 and the full diversity of languages as an integral part of the vision of worship in the presence of God in Revelation 7:9. These concerns have also been shared with the Programme Guidelines Committee of the Assembly.

6. Peaceful reunification of the Korean Pennisula

The Public Issues Committee received a proposal for a statement on Reunification of the Korean Peninsula. During the Korean War when the pennisula was divided WCC adopted the UN position which laid the entire blame on the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and resulting in enormous suffering of the Korean people.

The World Council of Churches continued to monitor the developments in the Korean pensinsula. In 1984, October, the WCC at the request of the Korean churches organised a consultation on Peace in North East Asia. Amongst others the consultation spoke of the peace and reunification of the Korean Penninsula and its people. This even took place in Tozanso, Japan.

Subsequent to the Tozanso meeting there were series of visits by Korean Christian Federation (KCF) and National Council of Churches- Korea (NCC-K) leaders at Glion, Switzerland. These meetings continued in Kyoto and Macau. The WCC in cooperation with the Churches in Korea prepared a framework for unification. Through the 1980´s and 1990´s there were visits and exchanges between member churches in Canada, USA and Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea including meetings with seperated families.

WCC continues to monitor developments in Korean peninsula including the 6 party talks. Last year the Korean working group comprising of NCC-K, KCF, National Council of Churches in Japan and Christian Conference of Asia and WCC reiterated support for 6 party talks and agreed to continue to monitor bilateral relations between North and South and the proposals made under the sunshine policy.

September 2004 the WCC Executive Committee meeting in Seoul made a statement on the unification issue but also on human rights and the nuclear concerns. WCC will continue to monitor the developments and take necessary action in cooperation with the member churches in Korea.

Statement on Latin America

1. The WCC Assembly meets for the first time in Latin America and would first like to express its deep thanks to the Latin American Churches for having hosted the Assembly, to the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) for its work in the construction of unity among the Christian Churches and to the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) who generously invited the WCC to hold the Assembly in this country. The present statement reflects issues and concerns received from Latin American Churches. 

2. The Assembly theme "God in your grace transform the world" recalls the different transformations the region has experienced throughout its history; a history where hope, life and joy prevail through the centuries as characteristics of the region and signs of God's grace; a history of transformations which continue to take place even now. Recent elections in Latin American Countries have resulted in the first Indigenous person to be elected as President of Bolivia and the first woman to be elected as President of Chile. These new political signs in the region follow other changes which need to be interpreted in the context of Latin American history if the presence of God who renews the whole creation (Rev 21: 5) is to be discerned. 

Recalling Latin America's history

3. After millennia of different indigenous cultures, with outstanding developments by, for instance, the Mayan and Inca civilizations, the "conquista" by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the XVI century gave a common recent history to this continent. This history, with a special recognition of the massacres of various indigenous populations and the introduction of slavery by the colonizers, was especially recalled in 1992, during the commemoration of the five hundred years of the colonization by the Europeans. In the XVIII century, wars against the Spanish and Portuguese paved the way to freedom for most Latin American states. Hence, during the first half of the XIX century, most of the countries achieved independence. However this political independence left different nations still economically dependent.

4. Since the wars of independence, many political leaders have called for the unity of the different Latin American states and in the last two hundred years many attempts to develop a Latin American unity have been made. Today, in the framework of the global political trends which support regional integration such unity is vital. Churches in the region, have clearly stated that current efforts to build bridges between states should be based not only on economic trade agreements but should also respond to the needs and rights of the people, especially the weak and vulnerable. In this way, the path towards unity may be a sign of the brotherhood and sisterhood to which God calls all human beings.

5. Several voices in the Assembly pointed to the struggle for life and dignity which has been a constant experience of Latin American people. Throughout history they have faced wars within and between states, confrontations, authoritative regimes and dictatorships, as well as irresponsible policies by governments and multinational corporations which have irreparably damaged their environment. Tribute should be paid to the testimony of thousands of Christians and other people of good will who gave their lives for human rights, dignity and care for the creation. Monsignor Romero from El Salvador, Mauricio López from Argentina, Chico Mendes from Brazil and Yolanda Céron from Colombia, are a few names among thousands, most of them unknown. The blood of these martyrs has helped to fertilize the seeds of God's kingdom which have borne the fruits of solidarity, life and democracy.

Overcoming poverty and injustice

6. Poverty affects dramatically the region. According to UN statistics, now as for decades, more than 40% of the population still live under poverty, while 20% live in extreme poverty. This cannot be considered separately from the implementation of structural adjustment programmes developed by the governments as a requisite from the International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The privatization of state companies brought in short term relief and economic welfare in a few cases, but in the medium and long term perspective, many judge that the implementation of these kind of policies have worsened the situation of the region, with huge economic crises in the late 90s and early 2000s occurring in several countries. Though in the last years, at the macroeconomic level the region seems to have recovered from these crises, poverty continues to be a challenge for governments and societies and a scandal for the churches. Even in those countries where poverty is relatively less, the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous and the distribution of wealth continues to be unjust.

7. The external debt has been a heavy burden for decades. Churches in the region have clearly stated the debt is illegitimate and immoral because it had been contracted during dictatorships with the complicity of International Financial Institutions and has already been paid. However, the need to continue to pay the service of the debt has prevented the implementation of effective social policies in most of the countries, seriously affecting education, health and work conditions. Furthermore, as a consequence of the economic crises, migration has increased and millions of Latin Americans are now living in the United States or in Europe, their remittances to family members back home becoming one of the most important incomes in some Latin American countries.

8. This economic situation further increases the exclusion of vulnerable groups such as Indigenous Peoples, African descendants and rural populations. Indigenous Peoples continue to struggle for the recognition of indigenous rights. African descendants still carry the consequences of slavery which has prevented them fully exercising their rights in countries which continue to suffer racism. In a region where poverty has often been related to issues of land ownership, landless movements in different countries, particularly in Brazil, have been claiming access to land. Churches and the ecumenical movement cannot be deaf to the cries of the poor and excluded in the region. Poverty is unacceptable in a region which is extremely rich in natural resources. The tragedy is that these have often been exploited in a way that has destroyed the environment through, for example, the contamination of rivers in large areas. Indeed the whole planet is threatened through the deforestation of the Amazonian region.

Healing the wounds of violence

9. Violence continues to be a major problem of the region. Some countries continue to face the consequences of political violence. In Colombia, for example, the armed conflict between political actors has largely affected the civil society. Because of this confrontation, thousands, mostly innocent people, have died and more than three million people have been internally displaced. The conflict has gone beyond national borders, having a serious impact on neighbouring countries. Colombian churches have strengthened their work with victims and have clearly asked the government of Colombia and armed groups to look for a negotiated solution of the conflict which could bring peace with justice.

10. Close to the region and to the Latin American Churches concern, Haiti is another country which has experienced extreme violence during the last years and experienced a political crisis, because of internal and external factors. Despite of the presence of a UN stabilization force, violence continues, especially in Port-au-Prince. The recently held elections, after many postponements, although important in the need to re-establish democracy in the country, have not brought peace. There is still an urgent need for a broad national dialogue and a process of reconciliation to heal the wounds of the country.  

11. The dramatic situations in which these countries live cannot be considered in an isolated way. They reflect a larger phenomenon which affects the whole region. The new dynamics of militarism that have developed in the last years in the region threaten to become even more apparent with the establishment of new US military bases in different countries. However, the influence of the United States in the region is not new. For decades the US has influenced politics, economics and culture and under the concern for hemispheric security the Latin American military have been trained by the US.

12. A particular focus of the US agenda towards the region has been Cuba. A blockade imposed in the sixties by the US government has continued to seriously affect the Cuban population. This blockade has been hardened during the current US administration. Nevertheless, Cuba has managed to develop effective policies regarding health, education and culture. Civil and political rights still need to be improved if the country is to respond to the process of economic transformation which is occurring. Spaces for dialogue between the different sectors of the society and the government are urgently necessary.

13. Urban, domestic, ethnic, gender or youth violence is also experienced in Latin America on a daily basis. Youth gangs ("maras") spread in most Central American countries. The churches have especially addressed the major problem of the proliferation of small arms. The Decade to Overcome Violence during 2006 will be the opportunity in the region to tackle some of the faces of violence and bring the efforts of the churches together to build a culture of peace.

Struggling for life and dignity

14. The peoples of Latin America have struggled hard to build peace with justice and achieve democratic regimes. Victims and Human Rights organizations, together with churches in many countries, have been at the forefront of this struggle. The Inter-American System has contributed to strengthening the rule of law and has dealt effectively with Human Rights violations and impunity in several countries.

15. Moreover, in recent years many countries have made significant changes through presidential elections, as an expression of participatory democracy of the peoples. Candidates and parties who have shown more sensitivity to the needs and rights of the peoples have often been elected. New governments have stood up in a stronger way in confronting International Financial Institutions, Trade Agreements and subsidized agriculture in Northern countries. Internal policies, more respectful of Human Rights and addressing poverty, hunger and other social needs have been developed. These governments have raised hope in the region and beyond, though the strong limitations they are facing, and the contradictions and corruption which threaten some of them, should not be overlooked.

Churches accompanying the peoples of Latin America

16. Christianity was brought to the region with the colonizers during the XVI and following centuries and has not been without controversies. Many times the persecution of those who didn't accept the Christian faith caused thousands of casualties. But through their history, the faith experience of the indigenous, African, mestizo and European descendants, have developed a Latin American face of Christianity.

17. For a long time, Latin America has been known as the Roman Catholic continent. But the composition of Christianity has changed over the centuries. In the 19th Century, for instance, missionaries from Protestant and Anglican Churches came to serve in the continent and the Orthodox Church was established and has contributed to build the social fabric of different communities. In the last decades, Evangelical churches, mainly Pentecostal ones, have been growing systematically and in some countries have become important percentages of the population. Responding to the need to grant equal treatment to all religions, raised by many WCC member churches, improvements have been made in some national legislations to recognize their rights.

18. Ecumenism has made important contributions to the history of Latin America, particularly in recent times. Churches and ecumenical organizations in the region have played a key role in struggling against dictatorial and authoritarian regimes and defending Human Rights all over the region. The WCC, through different programmes, and particularly through its Human Rights Office in Latin America, has been closely accompanying and supporting the churches and ecumenical, human rights and victims' organizations in their work to combat impunity, achieve peace agreements after civil wars, strengthen democracy and build up reconciliation.

19. The struggle for human dignity by the churches can be traced since the fervent defence of the Indigenous Peoples by Christians like Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in the XVI century. The struggle for human dignity has been a pillar of Latin American theology ever since. This particular consideration for the poor, the marginalized and the excluded in different societies throughout history has been at the origins of the particular theological approach known as Liberation Theology. Strongly incarnated in the social struggles of the 1960s and 1970s more recently it has expanded its foci towards the economic, ecological, gender and inter-religious dimensions. Therefore, nurtured in this theological methodology rooted in a deep spiritual experience, Latin American Christianity has become deeply involved in defending, caring and celebrating life in its multiple manifestations, recognizing God's presence in every life expression and especially in human life. This experience has been a gift of God to the whole Church.

Proposals

That the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Porto Alegre, Brasil 14-23 February 2006:

a) Adopts the statement on Latin America.

b) Commends the Latin American churches in their work to overcome poverty and injustice, heal the wounds of violence, struggle for life and dignity, grant equal treatment to all religions in national legislations and asks them to further develop their work and reflection on issues such as grace, economy, gender, youth, disability, ethnicity, ecology and violence as part of their contribution to the ecumenical movement and in preparation for CLAI's Assembly in 2007.  

c) Invites churches, ecumenical organizations and other civil society groups to have an active participation in the "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace" which focuses this year on Latin America.

d) Appeals to WCC member churches and staff to emphasize the exchange with Latin American churches and ecumenical organizations and look for new ways of interacting with the churches and peoples of the region.

e) Encourages Latin American peoples to continue in their struggle to build new societies which respect the dignity of the whole creation and pay special attention to the most vulnerable and excluded and to share their visions, concerns and lessons learned with peoples of other regions.

f) Calls on Latin American governments to strengthen their work towards a more effective integration of the region to face the challenges of the present world; to look for effective policies to overcome poverty, injustice and the degradation of the environment; to strengthen the rule of law and the respect and promotion of Human Rights and dignity and to continue to look for ways of enhancing democracy in their countries.

g) Urges the international community, the states and International Financial Institutions to revise the legacy of the external debt that burdens the region as well as the rationale of free trade agreements in order to effectively respond to the needs of the population and to the concerns expressed recently by the churches in the region regarding the consequences for peasants, workers and communities' rights, the environment and citizen's participation.

Statement on UN Reform 

1. 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 the public opinion and to generate the political will for multilateral cooperative action that is needed for the UN to succeed in its mission.

2. 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/Aids 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 years history.

5. 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 armsand 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.

6. 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 years 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.

7. 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.

8. One significant achievement of the summit was the acknowledgment 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.

9. 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).

10. 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.

11. 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 Peacebuilding 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 a cooperation to addressing root causes. The highly politicized proposal for reform and reconstruction of the Security Council also ended in a deadlock.

12. 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 on this area. The WCC was the first organization to propose a target for official development assistance, of two per cent 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 fulfil the MDGs, and even move beyond these important limited goals.  

13. 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.

14. 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 continue 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.

15. 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.

Proposals

That the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Porto Alegre, Brasil 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.

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 organisation and its agencies are adequately staffed and funded to achieve their mandate.

On Security

d) Supports changes to the 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 Peacebuilding Commission as a means of developing new and appropriate ways of responding to civil conflict. The Peacebuilding Commission should adopt and endorse peacebuilding principles and practices which emphasize local ownership in peacebuilding and peacekeeping processes. These should also promote the full participation of women (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325), the marginalised 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 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 give the Human Rights Council 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.

Statement on Water for Life

1. For Christians, water is a symbol of life. The Bible affirms water as the cradle of life, an expression of God's grace in perpetuity for the whole of creation (Gen 2:5ff). It is a basic condition for all life on Earth (Gen 1:2ff.) and is to be preserved and shared for the benefit of all creatures and the wider creation. Water is the source of health and well-being and requires responsible action from us human beings, as partners and priests of Creation (Rom 8:19 ff., Rev 22). As churches, we are called to participate in the mission of God to bring about a new creation where life in abundance is assured to all (John 10:10; Amos 5:24). It is therefore right to speak out and to act when the life-giving water is pervasively and systematically under threat.

2. Access to freshwater supplies is becoming an urgent matter across the planet. The survival of 1.2 billion people is currently in jeopardy due to lack of adequate water and sanitation. Unequal access to water causes conflicts between and among people, communities, regions and nations. Biodiversity is also threatened by the depletion and pollution of fresh water resources or through impacts of large dams, large scale mining and hot cultures (irrigation) whose construction often involves the forced displacement of people and disruption of the ecosystem. The integrity and balance of the ecosystem is crucial for the access to water. Forests build an indispensable part in the ecosystem of water and must be protected. The crisis is aggravated by climate change and further deepened by strong economic interests. Water is increasingly treated as a commercial good, subject to market conditions.

3. Scarcity of water is also a growing source of conflict. Agreements concerning international watercourses and river basins need to be more concrete, setting out measures to enforce treaties made and incorporating detailed conflict resolution mechanisms in case disputes erupt.

4. Both locally and internationally there are positive and creative responses to raise the profile of Christian witness to water issues.

5. Churches in Brazil and in Switzerland, for instance, have made a Joint Ecumenical Declaration on Water as a Human Right and a Common Public Good - by itself an excellent example for ecumenical co-operation. The Ecumenical Patriarch states that water can never be regarded or treated as private property or become the means and end of individual interest. He underlines that indifference towards the vitality of water constitutes both a blasphemy to God the Creator and a crime against humanity. Churches in various countries and their specialised ministries have joined together in the Ecumenical Water Network in working for the provision of freshwater and adequate sanitation and advocating for the right to water. Access to water is indeed a basic human right. The United Nations has called for an International Decade for Action, Water for Life, 2005 to 2015.

6. It is essential for churches and Christian agencies to work together and to seek co-operation with other partners, including other faith traditions and NGOs, and particularly those organizations that work with vulnerable and marginalized populations who hold similar ethical convictions. It is necessary to engage in debate and action on water policies, including dialogue with governments and multilateral or corporate institutions. This is essential to promote the significance of the right to water and to point to alternative ways of living, which are more respectful of ecological processes and more sustainable in the longer term.

Proposals

That the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Porto Alegre, Brasil 14-23 February 2006: 

  1. adopts the statement on Water for Life and calls on the churches and ecumenical partners to work together with the aim to:
  2. promote awareness of and take all necessary measures for preservation and protection of water resources against over-consumption and pollution as an integral part of the right to life;
  3. undertake advocacy efforts for development of legal instruments and mechanisms that guarantee the implementation of the right to water as a fundamental human right at the local, national, regional and international levels;
  4. foster co-operation of churches and ecumenical partners on water concerns through participation in the Ecumenical Water Network;
  5. support community based initiatives whose objectives are to enable local people to exercise control, manage and regulate water resources and prevent the exploitation for commercial purposes;
  6. urge governments and international aid agencies to give priority to and allocate adequate funds and other resources for programmes designed to provide access to and make water available to local communities and also promote development of proper sanitation systems and projects, taking into account the needs of people with disabilities to have access to this clean water and sanitation service;
  7. monitor disputes and agreements related to water resources and river basins to ensure that such agreements contain detailed, concrete and unambiguous provisions for conflict resolution;
  8. contribute to the International Decade for Action, Water for Life, 2005 - 2015, by exploring and highlighting the ethical and spiritual dimension of water crisis.

Minute on the Elimination of Nuclear Arms

1. Speaking out of love for the world and in obedience to the God of all life, we raise our voice again with convictions the church has held since nuclear weapons were used six decades ago.

2. In the nuclear age, God who is slow to anger and abounding in mercy has granted humanity many days of grace. Through the troubled years of the Cold War and into the present time, it has become clear that God has saved us from ourselves. Although many were and are deceived, God is not mocked. The vengeance of nuclear holocaust is not for human hands. Our place is to labour for life with God.

3. Churches are not alone in upholding the sanctity of life. One shared principle of world religions is greater than all weapons of mass destruction and stronger than any ‘balance of terror': we must do to others what we would have them do to us. Because we do not want nuclear weapons used against us, our nation cannot use nuclear weapons against others. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki there is uranium within the golden rule.

4. Indeed, governments in the year 2000 made an "unequivocal undertaking" to meet their obligations and eliminate all nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

5. Yet instead of progress there is crisis. The basic and compelling bargain at the heart of the treaty is being broken. The five recognised nuclear powers, who pledged "the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals" under the NPT, are now finding new military and political roles for nuclear arms instead. The other 184 states in the treaty pledged never to have nuclear weapons. If the bargain to eliminate nuclear weapons is being broken, they for their part may have an incentive to seek the weapons too. When states with the biggest conventional arsenals insist for their security on also having nuclear weapons, states with smaller arsenals will feel less secure and do the same. It must be recognized as well that external political and military pressure can provoke countries to pursue nuclear weapons. In short, there is nuclear proliferation now despite the NPT.

6. As more states acquire nuclear arms the risk of nuclear weapons falling into non-state hands increases—just when it is an international imperative to wisely overcome the violence of terrorism. Nuclear arms do not deter non-state agents and nuclear action against them would cause gross slaughter while shattering international law and morality. These are scenarios the parties to the NPT are obligated to prevent.

7. On the question of morality, all people of faith are needed in our day to expose the fallacies of nuclear doctrine. These hold, for example, that weapons of mass destruction are agents of stability; that governments have nuclear arms so they will never use them; and that there is a role in the human affairs of this small planet for a bomb more powerful than all the weapons ever used. With our aging sisters and brothers who survived atomic bombs in Japan and tests in the Pacific and former Soviet Union, and as people emerging from a century of genocides and global wars, we are bound to confront these follies before it is too late.

8. Churches must prevail upon governments until they recognize the incontrovertible immorality of nuclear weapons.

9. From its birth as a fellowship of Christian churches the WCC has condemned nuclear weapons for their "widespread and indiscriminate destruction" and as "sin against God" in modern war (First WCC Assembly, 1948), recognised early that the only sure defence against nuclear weapons is prohibition, elimination and verification (Second Assembly, 1954) and, inter alia, called citizens to "press their governments to ensure national security without resorting to the use of weapons of mass destruction" (Fifth Assembly, 1975).

10. Existing WCC policy urges all states to meet their treaty obligations to reduce and then destroy nuclear arsenals with adequate verification. Our position is that the five original nuclear weapons states (in alphabetical order: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) must pledge never to be the first to use nuclear weapons, never threaten any use, and remove their weapons from high alert status and from the territory of non-nuclear states. WCC policy calls the three states that have not signed the NPT (India, Israel, Pakistan), the one that has withdrawn (North Korea) and the one threatening to withdraw (Iran) to join the treaty as non-nuclear states or make a fully verifiable return (WCC Executive Committee Statement on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 19.02.04; WCC Central Committee Statement on Nuclear Disarmament, NATO Policy and the Churches, 05.02.01). These measures have broad support across the international community, yet they remain undone.

Proposals

That the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Porto Alegre, Brasil 14-23 February 2006:

a) Adopts the minute on the Elimination of Nuclear Arms;

b) Calls each member church to urge its own government to pursue the unequivocal elimination of nuclear weapons under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Governments that have decided to abstain from developing nuclear weapons should be affirmed; states that are not signatories of NPT must be pressed to sign the treaty.

c) Urges churches to work to overcome the ignorance and complacency in society concerning the nuclear threat, especially to raise awareness in generations with no memory of what these weapons do.

d) Strongly recommends that, until the goal of disarmament is achieved, member churches prevail upon their governments to take collective responsibility for making international disarmament machinery work including mechanisms to verify compliance, for securing nuclear weapons and weapons-useable material from non-state actors, and for supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its critical mission of monitoring fissile material and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

e) Calls on member churches and parishes to mobilise their membership to support and strengthen Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, which are established in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa and are proposed for other inhabited regions of the earth; and especially commends churches to engage other religions and to advocate for these zones during the WCC ‘Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace - 2001-2010'.