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4. Statement on terrorism, counter-terrorism and human rights

23 February 2006

The following report was presented to and received by the Assembly.
Its resolutions were proposed by the Public Issues Committee and approved by the Assembly through consensus.
Dissent expressed by Assembly delegates is recorded as endnotes.

1. "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 to more violence and more terror. Instead, a concerted effort of all nations is needed to remove any possible justification for such acts."

2. This message, included in the letter of the General Secretary of the WCC to the Secretary General of the United Nations on October 1, 2001 is reaffirmed by the 9th Assembly of the WCC.

3. In recent times, acts of terror and some aspects of the so-called "war on terror" have introduced new dimensions of violence. In addition, fundamental international laws and norms, including long-established standards of human rights, have come under threat.

4. Terrorists base their actions in absolutist claims. Religion is sometimes used as a pretext for the use of violence as being divinely sanctioned. Assembled as representatives from churches in all corners of the world, we state unequivocally that terror, as indiscriminate acts of violence against unarmed civilians for political or religious aims, can never be justified legally, theologically or ethically.

5. The WCC's 9th Assembly supports the stated goal of the Decade to Overcome Violence to "relinquish any theological justification for violence and to affirm a new spirituality of reconciliation and active non-violence".

6. Acts of terror are criminal acts, and should be addressed by the use of the instruments of the rule of law, both nationally and internationally. These instruments should be strengthened. The internationally accepted norms and standards of human rights and humanitarian law are the result of common efforts and are specifically meant to deal with situations of crisis and threats to individuals and societies. There is a danger that these instruments will be eroded in the response to terror. It is of critical importance to resist this erosion of rights and liberties. The "war on terror" has redefined war and relativised international law and human rights norms and standards. A military response to terror may become indiscriminately destructive and cause fear in affected populations. It may provide legitimacy to a violent approach rather than the criminal justice approach which is appropriate in dealing with cases of terror. The international community should co-operate in addressing terrorism, especially by strengthening the International Criminal Court to respond to acts of terror. Terror can only be overcome by the international community that upholds respect for the dignity of human beings and the rule of law.

7. Churches and all other faith communities are called to respond to the reality of living in a world terrorised by fear. At such a time it is appropriate to point to the rich resources in religion which can guide us to peace and reconciliation. These resources should be utilised when religious communities and religious leaders come together to speak out against all acts of terror and any attempt to legitimise it. They should also take action against any attempt at meeting terror with military means and disrespect for human rights and the rule of law. Religious communities and leaders should be in the forefront of the struggle for a society which is ruled by law and respect for human dignity. Churches have a pivotal role in framing the issues within a culture of dialogue.

Resolution:

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

a) Adopts the Statement on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights.

b) Affirms the role of the churches to seek peace and pursue it. Violence against unarmed and innocent civilians for political or religious aims by states and non-state actors can never be justified legally, theologically or ethically.

c) Requests UN member states with urgency to agree on a clear definition of Terrorism. 

d) Urges that terrorist acts and threats as well as organisational support for terror be considered as matters of criminal justice. Measures to counter terrorism must be demilitarised and the concept of "war on terror" must be firmly and resolutely challenged by the churches.

e) Appreciates the theological work done by the churches on the concept of security and calls for its further development.

f) Expresses the need to accompany and support the churches as they respond prophetically and creatively in a pastoral and prophetic mission to assist those that are caught up in fear.

g) Encourages interfaith initiatives to mobilise alternate responses to terrorism that do not rely on violence. They should reject all attempts to justify acts of terror as a response to political and social problems and play an active role in the prevention of conflicts by serving as an early warning system and by building a culture of peace for life.

h) Affirms that all acts to counter terrorism by the state must remain within the framework of the international rule of law ensuring respect for human rights and humanitarian law. Legislation to counter terrorism should not result in humiliation and violation of the human rights and dignities. It is necessary for the states and the international community to go beyond policing and military co-operation and embrace co-operation in order to address root causes of terrorism.