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Report on Public Issues

Report on Public Issues

WCC Central Committee Kolympari, Crete, 28 August - 5 September

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

The public issues committee worked on eight statements and minutes from among the proposals adopted by the Central Committee in an earlier session. However, in consultation with His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania, the public issues committee decided that the issues related to Christian worship places in Albania is to be addressed by the general secretary in another public issue action. Hence the proposal for a statement on freedom for use of Christian worship places in Albania has not been dealt with by the public issues committee. It was also suggested that this issue could be highlighted in the proposed CCIA study on religious freedom as well as in the proposed statement on religious freedom for the 10th Assembly.

The public issues committee decided to accept the proposal of the 51st meeting of CCIA (as per the GEN PRO 05, page 5) and recommends to the Central Committee that the WCC 10th Assembly consider following statements as part of assembly public issues actions:

1. Freedom of religion and rights of all religious communities in the context of politicisation of religion;

2. Peace and reunification in the context of the Korean Peninsula;

3. Just peace.

APPROVED

The committee discussed the question raised on how ‘follow up’ on public issues actions reported in Doc. No. GEN PUB 03 have had an impact. It was noted that it was difficult to know how such monitoring could be done effectively. In addition to trying to pay attention to the stories and feedback that are received, the members of the Central Committee are encouraged to pay particular attention to the issues that affect their churches or regions and to do what they can, as well, to publicize, act on, and call attention to the statements and minutes that the WCC has issued. The general secretary might also be encouraged to include references, in his reports in future, about ways that the statements and minutes have been implemented.

The public issues committee presents the following statements and minutes to the Central Committee for approval:

I. Statement on re-inscription of French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) on UN List of Countries to be Decolonized

Statement on the re-inscription of French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) on the United Nations List of Countries to be Decolonized, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      The present day French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) became a French protectorate in 1842 and a French colony in 1880, although it was not until 1946 that the indigenous Maohi people acquired French citizenship. By the end of the 19th century, France had annexed all the islands that now constitute French Polynesia. The islands were governed by France under a decree of 1885.

2.      In 1945, when the UN was founded, one of the first initiatives was to engage in a proper decolonization process, hence establishing a list of territories yet to be decolonized. Article 73 of UN Charter (non-self-governing territories) as well as UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples) describe the UN’s mission to decolonize the remaining non self-governing territories. The French colonies of New Caledonia and French Polynesia were on the list of countries to be decolonized. However, in 1947 France succeeded in having French Polynesia withdrawn from the list, with no prior consultation with the people of Maohi Nui.

3.      In 1958, France held a referendum among its colonies in the Pacific islands, but the opposition to French colonization was suppressed. Subsequently, Maohi Nui remained as a French colony. Moves towards increased local autonomy began in 1977, and new statutes creating a fully elected local executive were approved in Paris in 1977. In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of an ‘overseas collectivity’ and in 2004 it was declared an ‘overseas country’.

4.      Today, French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own parliament, assembly, president and executive government. Nonetheless, France continues to exert influence on domestic affairs. Leaders have limited power over many essential domestic and international matters. For example, France administers the justice and education system, defence, currency, health, emigration, land rights, environment and international maritime borders without the consent or participation of the Polynesian people.

5.      The political and church leaders in French Polynesia believe that their struggle for freedom, autonomy and right to self-determination should be addressed by the UN. In August 2011 the French Polynesian Assembly voted for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the United Nations decolonization list. France does not recognize this resolution which was adopted by the majority in the Territorial Assembly.

6.      Effective advocacy efforts for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of territories to be decolonized is an essential first step towards self-determination. The primary work should be done through the UN Committee of 24 (Special Committee on Decolonization). In order to achieve this goal, the support of the international community is vital.

7.      In September 2011, the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) organized a consultation with political, church and regional actors in the Pacific to discuss strategies on advocating for re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of countries to be decolonized. The WCC member constituencies in the Pacific asked for WCC’s support for their advocacy initiatives during the visit of the WCC general secretary to the Pacific in September 2011.

8.      The Council of the Maohi Protestant Church in its 2012 synod, decided to call on “the support of the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches to support its efforts for re-inscription of French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) on the UN list of territories to be decolonized”. The Maohi Protestant Church Synod also stated that: “the Council considers the re-inscription of French Polynesia on this list as means to protect the people from decisions and initiatives taken by the French state contrary to its interests; the re-inscription constitutes the recognition of the human rights of the people of French Polynesia; the Council reiterates that it is their faith that will save the Maohi people whose conscience has been manipulated and that it is the people who will take the decision regarding the sovereignty of their nation”.

It is in this context that the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012:

A.     Recognizes the universal human rights of all people and in particular the right to self-determination of all oppressed, colonised, indigenous people in the world, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

B.     Calls on France, the United Nations, and the international community to support the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of countries to be decolonized, in accordance with the example of New Caledonia;

C.     Encourages the French authorities to fulfil their obligations and provide all necessary means for the economic, social and cultural development of the Maohi people;

D.    Urges France to compensate all those affected by nuclear testing and radioactivity;

E.     Invites its member churches and international faith-based organisations to support through advocacy efforts for the re-inscription of French Polynesia to the UN list of countries to be decolonised and its eventual full decolonisation;

F.     Calls on the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs to facilitate the global advocacy initiative for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list, especially the primary work through the UN Committee of 24;

G.    Prays for the people and the churches of Maohi Nui as they embark on their peaceful and just struggle for self-determination.

APPROVED

II. Statement on abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan

Statement on abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      Despite the fact that Pakistan was created 67 years ago with a pledge of equal rights for all its religious minorities, today the minority religious communities in the country are facing serious threats to their existence. Pakistan’s Father of the Nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, laid down the “foundations of a modern, tolerant and progressive Pakistan”. He had promised to create a secular and liberal country where all religions could co-exist without any discrimination. The preamble to the constitution of Pakistan guarantees that adequate provision shall be made for minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their culture. Article 25 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 states that "All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law". But a gradual Islamization has been taking place in the country since the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq who introduced enforcement of the controversial blasphemy law in the 1980s.

2.      Persecution and discrimination against religious minorities has forced more and more Hindus and Christians to abandon their religions and convert to Islam. Today, a significant number of young women of religious minorities, especially Hindus and Christians who live in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, face violence, including sexual assault, including rape, threats, and persecution. These minority communities are living in a state of fear and terror due to the rising incidence of abduction of young girls and their forced conversion to Islam. The victims of these forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds and are unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenceless and marginalised.

3.      When young Christian and Hindu women are abducted, kept in confinement, converted to Islam and forced to marry Muslim men, the political authorities seem to be powerless to stop the Islamist fundamentalist forces that are responsible for these heinous acts and that are freely operating in the country. Although Christian and Hindu leaders and members of their religious communities have constantly challenged the government of Pakistan about the continued abduction and forceful conversions of young women, their voices have been ignored. This lack of protection of religious minorities by the government of Pakistan is unacceptable.

Expressing deep concern on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012:

A. Calls on the government of Pakistan to ensure adequate protection mechanisms for all religious minorities in the country;

B. Urges the government of Pakistan to take immediate action to prevent the abduction, forced conversion to Islam and forced marriage of young women from minority religious communities and to bring to justice all those who engage or have engaged in these heinous crimes;

C. Requests the governments and other international civil society organizations, interfaith groups, and churches to exert continued pressure on the government of Pakistan to prevent the abductions, forced conversion to Islam and forced marriages of young women from religious minorities.

APPROVED

III. Statement on crisis in Syria

Statement on the crisis in Syria adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      Ever since the people in Syria started their claim for reforms in the country in March 2011, the World Council of Churches has been closely following the developments in the country. The WCC affirms the principle that governments and civil society have a duty to protect the lives and dignity of all citizens. This basic obligation is clearly stipulated under international human right law according to the Geneva Conventions, which stipulates that even during conflicts, indiscriminate attacks on civilians by any party are not acceptable, and that combatants and non-combatants must be strictly distinguished. The crisis in Syria and the ongoing violence violates or negates these basic principles and obligations related to human rights and human dignity.

2.      A message from the WCC executive committee addressed to the heads of churches in Syria, in February, 2012, affirmed the message by three heads of churches in Syria His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I, and His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III (issued on 15 December 2011) – in which they refused “the use of any type of violence” and called for the “respect of the principles of justice, freedom, human dignity, social justice and citizenship rights”.

3.      Christians in Syria, as well as in the whole Middle East region, are indigenous, very much rooted to their traditions, and their continuous presence and witness have borne both challenge and responsibility throughout the country’s history. While underscoring this reality the executive committee of WCC expressed confidence that “the churches in Syria, which are deeply rooted in the land, and have developed a long historic experience of engagement in the life of the society will have an important role in national dialogue especially in this critical and difficult moment”.

4.      In a minute on “The Presence and Witness of Christians in the Middle East”, the Central Committee of WCC, in its meeting in February 2011, expressed the Council’s principles that guide its policy concerning the Middle East region: “God’s justice and love for all of creation, the fundamental rights of all people, respect for human dignity, solidarity with the needy, and dialogue with people of other faiths”. The minute also noted that “political developments in the region point to signs of hope for democratic changes, respect for human rights and the rule of law in several countries”. In this context we reaffirm the principle expressed by the Central Committee in 2011 that “peace and reconciliation must be conditioned by justice”.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A.     Calls for an end to the violence in all forms.

B.     Urges all parties to honour and respect their commitments and obligations in regard to the right of all Syrian people to live in dignity and to fulfil their aspirations for peace and solidarity for their life together

C.     Calls for all parties to engage in dialogue  – as the only solution – in order to safeguard the unity and pluralistic nature of historic Syria for a better future for generations to come, and in order to promote respect for the principles of justice, freedom, human dignity, social justice and citizenship rights.

D.    Appeals to the international community to respect the ability and responsibility of the Syrian people to find solutions to the crisis, and to refrain from outside military interventions;

E.     Encourages the UN peace plan initiative, and support the efforts of the UN envoy, Al Akhdar – Al Ibrahimi, hoping that peace will prevail.

F.     Affirms that the Christian presence in the Middle East is part of the social and cultural constituency of the society they live in and have a historical role to play in building up a future society based on the mutual respect and dialogue of life.

G.    Encourages the WCC member churches and related ministries in the Ecumenical family to respond to the needs that many Syrians are experiencing in their challenge to provide for many of the basic necessities of life in this time of crisis, including refugees and internally displaced persons

H.   Prays for the reign of peace with justice in Syria and in all countries in the Middle East, so that peoples of different faiths live together in harmony and love, and manifest God’s love for all of creation; “God of Life: Lead us to Justice and Peace”.

RECOMMENDATIONS APPROVED

IV. Statement on the Marikana-Lonmin Massacre in South Africa

Statement on the Marikana-Lonmin Massacre in South Africa, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      It is with great dismay that the World Council of Churches received the news about the Marikana-Lonmin Massacre in South Africa on 16th August. The clash between the protesting mine workers, mine managers and police resulted in the deaths of 34 protesting mine workers on 16 August at the Marikana-Lonmin, which is one of the worst death tolls in violent protests since 1994. A total of 44 people have lost their lives, including 10 others (eight mine workers and two police officers) who were killed in conflicts in the weeks leading up to the incident on 16 August. In addition to the deaths, 78 people were injured. At the present time, communities, the families of the victims, police officers and the workers have all been traumatized by the violence and shootings at Marikana.

2.      In many ways, the member churches of the WCC, in many parts of the world, have found great inspiration and hope in the peaceful transition from apartheid in South Africa. We believe that the people of South Africa have set an incredible example for the rest of the world in their work to undo the devastating history of apartheid in ways that are rooted in truth, reconciliation, forgiveness and non-violence. The WCC continues to believe that ongoing situations of conflict and challenge can – and must – be addressed in ways that do not resort to the use and/or threat of such destructive violence as occurred in the Marikana situation.

3.      For a long period of time, the plight of mine workers in South Africa has been characterized by low wages, exploitative working conditions and poor housing and is therefore a matter of serious concern that needs to be addressed urgently. While the mine workers continue to live in inhumane conditions and in abject poverty, those who are managing the mine fields amass enormous wealth. In the 18 years of democracy the South African government has failed in its policies to effectively redistribute the wealth and natural resources of the country in its transition from an era of apartheid to democracy. This has led to increasing trends of deep social and racial divisions leading to mistrust, crime and violence in society. The consequences of this are frustration and alienation which contribute to situations such as the unrest in Marikana-Lonmin. It is also a matter of serious concern that violence continues to be a matter of daily experience for many South Africans.

4.      As the South African Council of Churches (SACC) observes in a recent statement, issued in August 2012, that the inhabitants of the earth have an inherent right to participate and share in the wealth of their nations. The World Council of Churches joins and affirms this position by calling for a more concerted effort at addressing the issue of the gap between the rich and the poor. According to a number of important economic and social indicators, South Africa is currently one of the most unequal societies in the world and unless this disparity between the rich and the poor is addressed then social dissension is likely to continue. In particular the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches joins the SACC and the churches of Southern Africa in their call for examining the living conditions and the wages of workers vis a vis the profits of mining companies in the country.

5.      The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches is shocked at the blanket charge of murder at all the workers who were protesting against their poor wages. While we decry the violence that some of the workers committed in this situation, the Central Committee is shocked at the use of an apartheid law on a case such as this. This law which criminalizes everyone who was part of the protest action, irrespective of what they did, is unjust and not good for democracy.

6.      The WCC stands in solidarity with the churches of South Africa as they seek to minister and bring healing to the families that lost their loved ones in the massacre, and to all who have been affected by this terrible situation. We pray with the churches and the people of the Region – “God of life; lead us to justice and peace”.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A.     Laments the tragic events that occurred at Marikana and prays for comfort, healing and peace in the lives of all those affected;

B.     Encourages all the concerned parties to return to the negotiating table with the view to ending the impasse and enabling the protesters to return to work;

C.     Supports the establishment of commission of enquiry in response to this tragic situation and hopes that it will identify the root causes of this conflict, bring to justice those who are responsible, and establish fair, just and non-violent methods of conflict resolution in potentially volatile situations;

D.    Calls on the South African government to address the historical economic and social injustices that continue to affect mining communities and mine workers in South Africa and the region;

E.     Expresses concern about the use of the “Common Purpose” law in relation to this situation and urges the civil authorities to prosecute those individuals who are directly responsible for the deaths that occurred; and

F.     Stands in solidarity with the churches in Southern Africa which are seeking to bring healing by accompanying the community of Marikana and all those that have been affected by the recent events.

APPROVED

V. Minute of support for the Indigenous Peoples of Australia

Minute of support for the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      The World Council of Churches has a long history of concern for the Indigenous peoples of Australia. They have suffered dispossession of their lands and loss of language and culture and had to cope with decades of attempts at forced assimilation. Still today the Indigenous peoples of Australia suffer grievously in socio-economic terms, and they are seriously disadvantaged compared to other Australians.

2.      Following a WCC “Living Letters” visit to Australia in September 2010, the WCC Central Committee in February 2011 approved a “Statement on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Australia”. This statement noted the 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as the “Intervention”, which imposed severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Indigenous families and communities in the Northern Territory and was highly discriminatory in nature.

3.      The most objectionable factor about the Intervention is that it was imposed without any consultation with Indigenous communities and their leaders. The outcry from Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory resulted in some relief from the more discriminatory measures in the years 2007-2010, but still left most restrictions in place and no sense of partnership between Indigenous peoples and the Australian Government.

4.      In April 2009 the Australian Government officially endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Both the Australian Government and Indigenous Peoples acknowledged this as an important step in resetting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and moving forward towards a new future. However, Indigenous leaders in Australia have identified the necessity to implement the UN Declaration, particularly Article 3 which recognizes that Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination.

5.      In June 2012 the Australian Parliament approved new legislation titled “Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory”. While this legislation is less severe than the 2007 legislation, in that it removes some previous restrictions, contains fewer punitive measures against Indigenous families and communities, and commits increased amounts of financial support aimed at improving the plight of Indigenous peoples, it still disempowers Indigenous families and communities in the Northern Territory and for the first time extends some control and punitive provisions beyond the Northern Territory.

6.      In the months prior to the passing of this 2012 legislation, the Australian Government did undertake a consultation process with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. However, Indigenous leaders throughout Australia continue to be outraged at the lack of notice taken by the Government of their views and suggestions. Indigenous communities and their leaders feel the Government approach is that of imposition, discrimination, control and punishment.

7.      The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on all parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to “Ensure that members of Indigenous peoples have equal rights in respect of effective participation in public life, and that no decisions directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their informed consent”. Indigenous leaders in Australia are extremely critical of the Australian Government for the Government’s repeated failure to abide by this call.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A.     Reaffirms its solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

B.     Affirms the many leaders of Indigenous communities who have protested against those elements of the “Stronger Futures” legislation which have been implemented without any meaningful and effective negotiations with the people most affected by the legislation.

C.     Expresses support for actions which empower Indigenous peoples to take control of their own lives and destinies, and which enable partnerships between Indigenous communities and the Australian Government towards culturally appropriate efforts for improvements in the areas of health, housing, education, employment, self-sufficiency and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

D.    Endorses the actions of Australian churches in protesting against the “Stronger Futures” legislation and in continuing to advocate for policies that build partnerships between Indigenous communities and the Australian Government;

E.     Encourages the Australian churches to give further support to the efforts of Australia’s Indigenous peoples as they seek the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples especially the right to self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples;

F.     Urges the Australian churches to work with the Australian members of the UN Peoples’ Forum on Indigenous Issues.

G.    Reiterates its call on WCC member churches to continue to uphold in prayer and to raise awareness about the specific issues facing Indigenous Peoples and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations and needs of Indigenous Peoples in Australia and elsewhere.

APPROVED

VI. Minute on the unlawful detention of Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid

Minute on the unlawful detention of Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje of the Serbian Orthodox Church, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

I was in prison and you came to visit me’. . .‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

(Matt. 25:36,40)

1.      His Beatitude, Archbishop Dr Jovan of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje of the Serbian Orthodox Church was arrested whilst crossing the border from Greece into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on 12 December 2011. Unfounded charges were brought against Archbishop Jovan, following which he was tried and sentenced in absentia, without the basic right to defence, to two and a half years imprisonment by the Court of Appeals in Veles. Initially detained unlawfully at Veles, he was transferred to more solitary confinement in Idrizovo Prison on 16 January 2012. This is his sixth consecutive detention, despite two acquittals by the Municipal Court in Veles.

2.      Amnesty International in 2005, predicated on the staged court cases and state persecution on religious grounds against Archbishop Jovan by the courts of FYROM, initiated ten years ago on the grounds of different religious beliefs, declared Archbishop Jovan a "prisoner of conscience".

3.      The persecution against the Archbishop now continues and has been extended to include the intimidation of members of the Archbishop’s family, the interrogation of hierarchs, clergy, monastics and faithful of the Archdiocese of Ochrid with added threats of confiscation, whilst denying Archbishop Jovan the essential right to visitations and external communications.

4.      The World Council of Churches (WCC) has denounced the arrest and unlawful detention of His Beatitude Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skopje at the request of His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The general secretary of WCC has written letters to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and to the President of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), expressing concern that Archbishop Jovan’s persecution over the past years constitutes a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A. Decries the unlawful imprisonment of Archbishop Jovan and the continued persecution of the members of the Archdiocese of Ochrid, and the members of the Archbishop’s family;

B. Calls upon the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to immediately release Archbishop Jovan and to cease and desist persecuting the Archdiocese of Ochrid;

C. Urges the authorities in FYROM to recognize the essential right to freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

D. Requests the member churches of the WCC to join in prayer and solidarity with Archbishop Jovan by writing letters of protest to the relevant authorities;

E. Encourages the CCIA to organize a solidarity visit and continue to advocate for the release of Archbishop Jovan.

APPROVED

VII. Minute on reconciliation and peace building in Myanmar

Minute on churches’ participation in reconciliation and peace building amidst ethnic conflicts in Myanmar adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

1.      Following the general elections held in 2011, Myanmar entered into a new era of changes and reforms in its political landscape. The reforms introduced by the new government so far have created the potential for increased freedom in the country. This is apparent particularly through the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and her election to the parliament together with the victory of more than forty other members of the National League for Democracy in a by-election. The new government has introduced several positive changes. However, the major concern of ethnic communities in conflict-affected regions is that the centrally-directed reforms have not had much impact on ordinary people's lives, especially in the conflict-ridden country sides.

2.      In a country such as Myanmar where ethnic communities constitute over 30 per cent of the total population, genuine political reforms cannot be achieved if the grievances of ethnic minorities and their demands for rights are not addressed. For more than half a century, various armed ethnic groups have been fighting against “Burmanization” and the control of a militarized government. In order to reach the goal of sustained peace, ceasefires agreed between the government and armed ethnic groups must include a wide range of stakeholders.

3.   Christians in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, have often been accused as the agents of waging war against the government. The new political climate and prospects for changes are now giving opportunities for the meaningful participation of Christians in nation-building as well as peace and reconciliation. It is widely recognized now that Christians in Myanmar can continue to play an active role in peace building, especially in facilitating talks between ethnic minorities and the government in addition to initiating peace building within local communities. The Christian leaders in the country, especially those who are in the Karen and Kachin states, are hopeful of the renewed attempt at peace talks.

4.      The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), the main Christian denomination in Kachin State, has long been involved in peace building at community levels. The leaders of KBC have been instrumental in negotiating peace between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government. The Kachin State had witnessed peace for a while after the KIA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the central government in 1994. However, that agreement failed to produce a political solution to the Kachin ethnic group's calls for autonomy and other rights. It is heartening that the new government is currently pursuing negotiations with 12 armed ethnic groups and has so far signed ceasefire agreements with some of them. The peace talks with the Karen National Union (KNU), involved in the longest-running insurgency in the country, have had some positive results. It is an alarming trend that inter-communal violence started in June this year between ethnic Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists in Rakhine has evolved into large-scale state sponsored violence against the Rohingyas. In the Rakhine state, the ethnic Rohingyas live as stateless people as the Rohingyas are perceived as not part of the ethnic nationalities and have not been issued citizenship.

5.      The World Council of Churches through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) has been engaged in advocacy on democratization, human rights, peace and reconciliation in Myanmar. The executive committee of the WCC issued a statement in February 2010 calling for free and fair election in Myanmar. The CCIA recently organized an international consultation jointly with the Christian Conference of Asia and the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) on ‘peace, security and reconciliation in Myanmar’ which was addressed by the Nobel Peace Laurite Aung San Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest for 15 years. The consultation tried to identify the role of Churches and ecumenical bodies in Myanmar as well as the role of Christian participation in peace building.

6.      The MCC has now engaged in a process to reflect on the pathway to reconciliation, sustainable peace and security in Myanmar and the role of the Churches in serving justice and peace. While expressing “the concern about the involvement of business interests in current peacemaking efforts, which could obstruct efforts towards peace”, the MCC in a statement recently urged “the need for all parties to ensure that fragile ceasefire does not break down but develop into firm and sustainable peace agreements”. The statement of the MCC also stated: “listening to the voices of the churches and other faith communities, who are rooted in the local communities, should remain essential for a genuine peace process”.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A. Appreciates the initiatives taken by the Myanmar churches in peace building in Myanmar

B. Encourages WCC member churches and specialized ministries to accompany and support the initiatives of the Myanmar churches in peace building at the grass root levels;

C. Supports the facilitation of Myanmar churches in encouraging peace negotiations between the ethnic insurgencies and the government of Myanmar;

D. Encourages the Myanmar churches to advocate for the cessation of violence against the Muslim Rohingyas and a safe return of internally displaced Rohingyas to their homes.

E. Recommends the CCIA to continue to monitor the situation and global advocacy on peace, security, reconciliation in Myanmar and support the Myanmar Council of Churches in its mission and witness in coordinating the peace and reconciliation initiatives.

APPROVED

VIII. Statement on the financial crisis

Statement on the current financial and economic crisis, with a focus on Greece, adopted as part of the Report of the Public Issues Committee by the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

04 September 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.
The goal is equality…

(2.Cor. 8. 14, NIV)

1.      We live in an interconnected and interdependent world which is experiencing more than ever before, a severe financial crisis. This crisis is due to various reasons such as unjust economic and financial policies; structural weaknesses of political, economic and financial institutions; and a lack of ethical values in a world that is increasingly dominated by the greed of the powerful seeking short-term advantages and maximum profit and denial of the need of the powerless. The events since 2008 have caused severe strains in the global economy, and have strained public finances even as the millions of people who lost their jobs, pensions and homes in the aftermath continue to clamour for social protection.

2.      Europe has been at the centre of the most recent economic problems, and the immediate challenge for the Euro zone is the financial crisis in Greece. In addition, Italy and Spain, the third- and fourth-largest economies in the euro zone respectively, represent another major problem, with investors pushing the interest rates on their bonds to unsustainable levels. The fear is that financial instability in the Euro zone will provoke another global panic similar to – and potentially graver than – the one in 2008 with adverse consequences for socio-economically weak nations and peoples.

3.      Triggered by the 2008 global financial fallout, Greece’s debt problem arose partly from government mismanagement, but blame also attaches to irresponsible lenders that offered easy loans and stimulated housing bubbles, regulators that failed to regulate, and political leaders who were blind to the challenges of establishing a single European currency system among diverse economies. In Greece, the harsh austerity packages aimed at stabilizing markets and satisfying international creditors have created a new "underclass" of the unemployed, homeless and hungry. Since 2010, taxes have been raised especially indirect taxes of up to more than 20 per cent on food; pensions and state salaries slashed across the board, and retrenchment of public workers in tens of thousands. An alarming unemployment rate, more than 20 percent in general and more than 50 percent among the youth, has caused deteriorating living standards leading to frustration, anger and violence, especially against immigrants. Public nursing programmes for the elderly have been shut down. Small businesses are being forced to close or struggle to survive. Women’s unpaid labour is substituting for cutbacks in social programmes. Suicides have spiralled in the last couple of years.

4.      The ministries of many church congregations are being directly challenged and affected by these changes. As an example, many churches’ feeding and shelter programmes are struggling to keep up with the growing numbers of people availing their services; and the spiritual and pastoral needs of those experiencing these challenges in their families are increasingly profound.

5.      Despite many severe measures, Greece’s debt has not been brought under control. Tax evasion is a significant issue in certain sectors of Greek society. Austerity is resulting in a vicious cycle of economic decline, hampering recovery by dampening domestic demand and eroding national tax revenues, and therefore making it even more challenging for the country to settle its debt. There is no justice when those who had little part in generating the crisis pay the highest price for it. It is immoral to demand austerity and debt repayment at human and social cost which falls unfairly on the weaker members of society. Moreover, there is a need for a healthy approach to creativity, personal and corporate financial responsibility for the sake of the common good, productivity and small business in order to create the optimal conditions for the exercise of generosity, compassion and justice. 

6.      The World Council of Churches (WCC) has been closely observing the global financial situation since the unravelling of financial markets in 2008 and has issued letters addressed to the United Nations General Assembly and the Group 20 as well as statements calling on governments to go beyond short-term measures and to address the roots of the financial and economic crisis.

7.      We believe that reforming the international financial and monetary systems in the context of global public authority is an urgent priority. We need to be engaged in a process of searching for a viable model of sustainable development and associated financial systems.

8.      In this painful financial crisis, the church is being called upon to defend the dignity of all people, as made in the image of God. The crisis is spiritual and moral, as well as economic. The Christian values of justice and love have a renewed importance in Europe today. The excessive differences between the wealthy and the poor, and the growing levels of unemployment, especially among young people, which have developed in recent decades are immoral, and will not form the basis for a healthy society. The church is bound to believe that current events embody a message from God, and will give us an opportunity for discernment to shape our visions for a better future of equality and justice to all God’s people.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, therefore:

A.     Affirms its solidarity with the people of Greece, and others who are particularly suffering from the current crisis

B.     Reiterates our call for economic policies which do not encourage irresponsible debt, national or private, and which spread the benefits of wealth more fairly to all citizens, especially the weak and marginalized, including young people ;

C.     Urges the prevention of the recurrence of crises in the future, by the regulation and restructuring of the banking industry, and continuation of search for deep- seated transformations in the current international financial regime, as outlined in the WCC Central Committee statement on “Just Finance and an Economy of Life,” issued in September 2009;

D.    Supports the principle of a financial transaction tax (FTT) as a sensible tool that will enable governments to meet their obligation to protect and fulfil the economic, social and cultural rights of their people. The FTT would not only help to curb speculation, but would also ease sovereign debt loads, transfer the burden from ordinary people to the private sector which set off the crisis in the first place, and considerably expand government fiscal space for spending on urgently needed social protection policies;

E.     Calls up on Churches in this time of crisis to address these issues with a particular focus of talking to power on the one hand and seeking ways of supporting those who are now marginalized by the current financial policies on the other, and commend them for their ongoing attention to the spiritual and pastoral needs of those, including youth, whose lives will be most directly affected by these troubling economic challenges;

F.     Urges the Churches in Europe to stand together and to advocate for common European solutions to the financial and social crisis that help to deepen the project of European Unity as a project of just peace on the continent;

G.    Invites churches and faith based organizations to continue to mobilize and to support one another for the immediate relief and assistance of the weakest members of our society.


APPROVED