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Second report (draft - for action)

22 February 2006

Vulnerable populations at risk
Statement of the Responsibility to Protect


1. In January 2001, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) received the document "The protection of endangered populations in situations of armed violence: toward an ecumenical ethical approach". The document, which requested the churches to further study the issue, was also the beginning of a study and consultation process within the WCC, carried out by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA). A deeper reflection on ethical and theological aspects of the Responsibility to Protect is not only of concern to the churches. In a meeting in New York City in 1999, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan asked the WCC General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, to contribute to the international debate on "humanitarian intervention" by bringing a theological and ethical perspective on the issue of intervention for humanitarian purposes.

2. The use of force for humanitarian purposes is a controversial issue in most intellectual and political spheres. While some believe that the resort to force must not be avoided when it can alleviate or stop large-scale human rights violations, others can only support intervention by creative, non-violent means. Others again, give a very high priority to territorial integrity and sovereignty. Churches too have necessarily entered this debate and the current dilemma among the WCC's constituencies has prevailed since the very beginnings of the Ecumenical Movement. During the 1948 WCC first Assembly in Amsterdam, the Assembly restated the opposing positions:

"a) There are those who hold that, even though entering a war may be a Christian's duty in particular

circumstances, modern warfare, with its mass destruction, can never be an act of justice.

b) In the absence of impartial supra-national institutions, there are those who hold that military action is the ultimate sanction of the rule of law, and that citizens must be distinctly taught that it is their duty to defend the law by force if necessary.

c) Others, again, refuse military service of all kinds, convinced that an absolute witness against war and for peace is for them the will of God, and they desire that the Church should speak to the same effect."

3. In history, some churches have been among those legitimising military interventions, leading to disastrous wars. In many cases, the churches have admitted their guilt later on. During the 20th century churches have become more aware of their calling to a ministry of healing and reconciliation, beyond national boundaries. The creation of the WCC can be interpreted as one result of this rediscovery. In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to go beyond loving the neighbour to loving the enemy as well. This is based on the loving character of God, revealed supremely in the death of Jesus Christ for his enemies, absorbing their hostility, and exercising mercy rather than retributive justice (Rom 5:10; Luke 6:36). The prohibition against killing is at the heart of Christian ethics (Mt 5: 21-22). But the biblical witness also informs us about an anthropology that takes the human capacity to do evil seriously. The challenge for Christians is to pursue peace in the midst of violence.

4. The member churches of the World Council confess together the primacy of non-violence on the grounds of their belief that every human being is created in the image of God and shares the human nature assumed by Jesus Christ in his incarnation. This resonates with the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The WCC has therefore initiated an ecumenical "Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace" parallel to the United Nations "Decade for the Culture of Peace. 2001-2010". It is in those who are most vulnerable that Christ becomes visible for us (Mt 25). The responsibility to protect the vulnerable reaches far beyond the boundaries of nations and faith-traditions. It is an ecumenical responsibility, conceiving the world as one household of God, who is the creator of all. The churches respect the strong witness of many individuals who have recognised the responsibility to protect those who are weak, poor and vulnerable, through non-violence, sometimes paying with their lives.

From "humanitarian intervention" to the "responsibility to protect"

5. The concept of Responsibility to Protect was developed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in its December 2001 report. It shifted the debate from the viewpoint of the interveners to that of the people in need of assistance, thus redefining sovereignty as a duty-bearer status, rather than as an absolute power. This innovative concept focuses on the needs and rights of the civilian population and on the responsibilities of sovereignty, not only the rights of sovereignty. Hence, the shift from intervention to protection places citizens at the centre of the debate. States can no longer hide behind the pretext of sovereignty to perpetrate human rights violations against their citizens and live in total impunity.

6. The churches are in support of the emerging international norm of the responsibility to protect. This norm holds that national governments clearly bear the primary and sovereign responsibility to provide for the safety of their people. Indeed, the responsibility to protect and serve the welfare of its people is central to a state's sovereignty. When there is failure to carry out that responsibility, whether by neglect, lack of capacity, or direct assaults on the population, the international community has the duty to assist peoples and states, and in extreme situations, to intervene in the internal affairs of the state in the interests and safety of the people.

Our primary concern: Prevention

7. To be faithful to that responsibility to protect people means above all prevention - prevention of the kinds of catastrophic assaults on individuals and communities that the world has witnessed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other instances and locations of human-made crises. WCC studies showed that although churches have different views on the use of force for human protection purposes, they agree on the essential role of preventive efforts to avoid and, if possible, tackle the crisis before it reaches serious stages. Protection becomes necessary when prevention has failed. Hence, churches emphasise the need to concentrate on prevention. While external intervention - by the use of force or non-violently - may seem unavoidable in some situations, churches should nevertheless be engaged in increasing the capacity of the local people to be able to intervene themselves by strengthening structures of the civil society and modern public-private-partnerships, in terms of prevention as well as protection. Churches are called to offer their moral authority for mediation between differently powerful actors.

8. The prevention of catastrophic human insecurity requires attention to the root causes of insecurity as well as to more immediate or direct causes of insecurity. Broadly stated, the long-term agenda is to pursue human security and the transformation of life according to the vision of God's Kingdom. The key elements of human security are economic development (meeting basic needs), universal education, respect for human rights, good governance, political inclusion and power-sharing, fair trade, control over the instruments of violence (small arms in particular), the rule of law through law-biding and accountable security institutions, and promoting confidence in public institutions. On the other hand, the more immediate preventive attention to emerging security crises must include specific measures designed to mitigate immediate insecurities and to instil the reliable hope that national institutions and mechanisms, with the support of an attentive international community, will remain committed to averting a crisis of human insecurity.

9. At the national level, governments should undertake self-monitoring to become aware of emerging threats, establish mechanisms for alerting authorities and agencies to such emerging threats, engage civil society and churches in assessing conditions of human security and insecurity, initiate national dialogues, including dialogue with non-state actors, to acknowledge emerging problems and to engage the people in the search for solutions, and develop national action plans.

10. Prevention requires action to address conditions of insecurity as they emerge, before they precipitate crisis, which in turn requires specific prevention capacities such as early warning or identification of emerging threats or conditions of insecurity, and the political will to act before a crisis occurs. To act before a crisis is present requires a special sensitivity to and understanding of the conditions and needs of people, which in turn requires the active cooperation of civil society, and especially faith communities which are rooted in the daily spiritual and physical realities of people. Faith communities are playing a major role in trust-building and truth finding processes in many contexts of crisis, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, trauma-healing centres, providing safe meeting places for adversarial groups, etc.

Forming the ecumenical mind on the dilemmas of the use of force

11. It is necessary to distinguish prevention from intervention. From the church and ecumenical perspectives, if intervention occurs, it is because prevention has failed. The responsibility to protect is first and foremost about protecting civilians and preventing them from any harmful human rights crisis. The international community's responsibility is basically a non-military preventive action through such measures as the deployment of humanitarian relief personnel and special envoys, through capacity building and the enhancement of sustainable local infrastructure, and the imposition of economic sanctions and embargoes on arms, etc. The international community has a duty to join the pursuit of human security before situations in troubled states degenerate to catastrophic proportions. This is the duty of protection through prevention of assaults on the safety, rights, and wellbeing of people in their homes and communities and on the wellbeing of the environment in which they live.

12. In calling on the international community to come to the aid of vulnerable people in extraordinary suffering and peril, the fellowship of churches is not prepared to say that it is never appropriate or never necessary to resort to the use of force for the protection of the vulnerable. This refusal in principle to preclude the use of force is not based on a naive belief that force can be relied on to solve intractable problems. Rather, it is based on the certain knowledge that the objective must be the welfare of people, especially those in situations of extreme vulnerability and who are utterly abandoned to the whims and prerogatives of their tormentors. It is a tragic reality that civilians, especially women and children, are the primary victims in situations of extreme insecurity and war.

13. The resort to force is first and foremost the result of the failure to prevent what could have been prevented with appropriate foresight and actions, but having failed, and having acknowledged such failure, the world needs to do what it can to limit the burden and peril that is experienced by people as a consequence. This force can be legitimised only to stop the use of armed force in order to reinstate civil means, strictly respecting the proportionality of means. It needs to be controlled by international law in accordance to the UN Charter and can only be taken into consideration by those who themselves follow international law strictly. This is an imperative condition. The breach of law cannot be accepted even when this, at times, seems to lead - under military aspects - to a disadvantage or to hamper the efficiency of the intervention in the short term. Just as individuals and communities in stable and affluent societies are able in emergencies to call on armed police to come to their aid when they experience unusual or extraordinary threats of violence, churches recognise that people in much more perilous circumstances should have the right to call for and have access to protection.

14. Churches may acknowledge that the resort to force for protection purposes in some circumstances will be an option that cannot guarantee success but that must be tried because the world has failed to find, and continues to be at a loss to find, any other means of coming to the aid of those in desperate situations. It should be noted that some within the churches refuse the use of force in all circumstances. Their form of responsibility is to persist in preventative engagement and, whatever the cost - as a last resort - to risk non-violent intervention during the use of force. Either of these approaches may fail too, but they both need to be respected as expressions of Christian responsibility.

The limits of the use of force

15. The churches do not, however, believe in the exercise of lethal force to bring in a new order of peace and safety. By limiting the resort to force quite specifically to immediate protection objectives, the churches insist that the kinds of long-term solutions that are required - that is, the restoration of societies to conditions in which people are for the most part physically safe, in which basic economic, social, and health needs are met, where fundamental rights and freedoms are respected, where the instruments of violence are controlled, and which the dignity and worth of all people are affirmed - cannot be delivered by force. Indeed, the limiting of legitimate force to protection operations is the recognition that the distresses of deeply troubled societies cannot be quickly alleviated by either military means or diplomacy; and that in the long and painstakingly slow process of rebuilding the conditions for sustainable peace, those that are most vulnerable are entitled to protection from at least the most egregious of threats.

16. The use of force for humanitarian purposes can never be an attempt to find military solutions to social and political problems, to militarily engineer new social and political realities. Rather, it is intended to mitigate imminent threats and to alleviate immediate suffering while long-term solutions are sought by other means. The use of force for humanitarian purposes must therefore be carried out in the context of a broad spectrum of economic, social, political, and diplomatic efforts to address the direct and long-term conditions that underlie the crisis. In the long run, international police forces should be educated and trained for this particular task, bound to international law. Interventions should be accompanied by separate humanitarian relief efforts and should include the resources and will to stay with the people in peril until essential order and public safety are restored and there is a demonstrated local capacity to continue to build conditions of durable peace.

17. The force that is to be deployed and used for humanitarian purposes must also be distinguished from military war-fighting methods and objectives. The military operation is not a war to defeat a state but an operation to protect populations in peril from being harassed, persecuted or killed. It is more related to just policing - though not necessarily in the level of force required - in the sense that the armed forces are not employed in order to "win" a conflict or defeat a regime. They are there only to protect people in peril and to maintain some level of public safety while other authorities and institutions pursue solutions to underlying problems.

18. It is the case, therefore, that there may be circumstances in which affected churches actively call for protective intervention for humanitarian purposes. These calls will always aim at the international community and pre-suppose a discerning and decision-making process in compliance with the international community, strictly bound to international law. These are likely to be reluctant calls, because churches, like other institutions and individuals, will always know that the current situation of peril could have been, and should have been, avoided. The churches in such circumstances should find it appropriate to recognise their own collective culpability in failing to prevent the crises that have put people in such peril.


That the 9th Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil February 14-23, 2006:

a) Adopts the statement on the Responsibility to Protect and expresses thanks to all member churches and individuals involved in the study and consultation process on "The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflection" and asks the Central Committee to consider further developing guidelines for the member churches, based on the principles in this report.

b) Fosters prevention as the key tool and concern of the churches, in relation to the Responsibility to Protect. Because churches and other faith communities and their leadership are rooted in the daily spiritual and physical realities of people, they have both a special responsibility and opportunity to participate in the development of national and multilateral protection and war prevention systems. Churches and other faith communities have a particular responsibility to contribute to the early detection of conditions of insecurity. Prevention is the only reliable means of protection, and early detection of a deteriorating security situation requires the constant attention of those who work most closely with, and have the trust of, affected populations.

c) Joins with other Christians around the world in repenting for our collective failure to live justly, to promote justice, and to refuse to participate in injustice. Such a stance in the world is empowered by acknowledging that the Lordship of Christ is higher than any other loyalty and by the work of the Holy Spirit. Critical solidarity with the victims of violence and advocacy against all the oppressive forces must also inform our theological endeavours towards being a more faithful church. The church's ministry with, and accompaniment of, people in need of protection is grounded in a holistic sojourning with humanity throughout all of life, in good times and in bad.

d) Reaffirms the churches' ministry of reconciliation and healing as an important role in advancing national and political dialogue to unity and trust. A unifying vision of a state is one in which all parts of the population feel they have a stake in the future of the country. Churches should make a particular point of emphasising the understanding of sovereignty as responsibility. Under the sovereignty of God we understand it to be the duty of humanity to care for one another and all of creation. The sovereignty exercised by human institutions rests on the exercise of the Responsibility to Protect one another and all of creation.

e) Calls upon the international community and the individual national governments to strengthen their capability in preventive strategies, and violence-reducing intervention skills together with institutions of the civil society, to contribute to and develop further the international law, based on human rights, and to support the development of policing strategies that can address gross human rights violations. 

f) Urges the United Nations Security Council, in situations where prevention has failed and where national governments cannot or will not provide the protection to which people are entitled, to take timely and effective action, in cooperation with regional organisations as appropriate, to protect civilians in extreme peril and foster emergency responses designed to restore sustainable safety and well-being.

g) Further calls upon the international community and individual national governments to invest much greater resources and training for non-violent intervention and accompaniment of vulnerable peoples.

h) Asks the Central Committee to consider a study process engaging all member churches and ecumenical organisations in order to develop an extensive ecumenical declaration on peace - dealing with topics such as just peace, the Responsibility to Protect, the role and the legal status of non-state combatants, the conflict of values (for example: territorial integrity and human life), - to be adopted at the conclusion of the Decade to Overcome Violence in 2010.

Statement on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights

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, 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' 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.


The Ninth Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 14-26, 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 aims by states and non-state actors can never be justified legally, theologically or ethically.

c) Urges that terrorist acts and threats as well as organisational support for terror are 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.

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

e) 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.

f) 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 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.

g) Affirms that all acts to counter terrorism actions 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 shall not result in humiliation and violation of the human rights and dignity of ordinary citizens. It is necessary for the states and the international community to go beyond policing and military cooperation and embrace cooperation in order to address root causes of terrorism. 

Minute on Mutual Respect, Responsibility and Dialogue with People of other Faiths

1. The international community must work together to nurture global respect for diversity, culture and religion. Religious communities and leaders have a special responsibility to promote tolerance and address ignorance about others. Representatives of 348 Churches from 120 countries, gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the 9th Assembly of the WCC, reaffirm their commitment to respectful dialogue and cooperation between people of different faiths. Through dialogue we learn about the faith of the other and better understand the underlying pain and frustration. We see ourselves through the eyes of the other. We can also better perceive the role of religion in national and international politics.

2. In a world where we recognise a growing interaction between religion and politics, many conflicts and tensions carry the imprint of religion. The WCC has always encouraged interfaith dialogue both on the global and the local level. We urge member churches and national councils of churches to create platforms for such dialogues. Dialogue should be accompanied by cooperation where faith communities together can address the rest of civil society and governments on issues of common concern, and particularly when religion, holy places, minority rights and human rights are threatened.

3. Faced with the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, starting in Denmark in September last year, it is crucial to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. The publications have caused world-wide controversies. Further publication and the violent reactions to them increase the tension. We deplore the publications of the cartoons and the violent reactions to them.

4. Freedom of speech is indeed a fundamental human right which needs to be guaranteed and protected. It works at best when it holds structures of power accountable and confronts misuse of power. By the publication of the cartoons, freedom of speech has been used to cause pain by ridiculing peoples' religion, values and dignity. Doing so, the foundation of this right is being devalued. We remind ourselves of what St. Peter wrote: "As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil - honour everyone" (1.Pet.2; 16-17). Misuse of the right to freedom of speech should be met with non-violent means like critique and expressions of firm disagreement.

5. We recognise that there are more than just religious aspects to the present tensions. Failure to find a just and peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, difficulties to accept outcomes of free elections, together with the war on Iraq and the war in Afghanistan add frustration to historical experiences marked by crusades and colonialism. In large parts of the world people feel politically and economically excluded, and they often feel that dominant powers and cultures apply double standards in dealing with issues which are important to them. In many countries in the rich and dominant parts of the world, integration policies have failed to welcome new minorities. Instead, they meet racism, stereotyping, xenophobia, and a lack of respect for their religion.

6. The real tension in our world is not between religions and beliefs, but between aggressive, intolerant and manipulative secular and religious ideologies. Such ideologies are used to legitimise the use of violence, the exclusion of minorities and political domination. The main victims of the controversies are religious minorities, living in a context of different majority culture. Nevertheless, we recognise a growing respect and tolerance in all cultures. Many are learning that it is possible to be different, even to disagree and yet remain in calm dialogue and work together for the common good.

7. The recent crisis points to the need for secular states and societies to better understand and respect the role and significance of religion in a multicultural and globalised world, in particular as an essential dimension in human identity. This can help religion and people of faith to be instruments for bridging divisions between cultures and nations and to contribute to solving underlying problems.


That the 9th Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February 2006:

a) Adopts the minute on Mutual Respect, Responsibility and Dialogue with People of other Faiths.

b) Asks member churches and ecumenical partners all over the world to join in an expression of solidarity with those who experience attack on their religious symbols and feelings, and defend the integrity of their faith with non-violent means are defending the integrity of their faith.

c) Recommends all member churches, National and Regional Councils of Churches to contribute to the creation of platforms for dialogue with people of other faiths, and to address immediate as well as underlying social, economic and political reasons for division.

d) Urges member churches and ecumenical partners in contexts where religion interacts with politics in a way which causes division, to deepen dialogue with leaders of other faiths, seek common approaches and develop common codes of conduct.

e) Calls on member churches and ecumenical partners all over the world to continue to address racism, stereotyping and xenophobia in their respective societies and together with people of other faiths nurture a culture of respect and tolerance.

f) Reaffirms our commitment to the right to freedom of speech, at the same time as member churches are called to contribute to a needed reflection on how to uphold the need for ethical behaviour and good judgement in using this right.