number 4, december 8, 1998

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Invest in human rights education, church told

An Armenian theologian has challenged the World Council of Churches and its member churches to promote human rights education to equip potential victims of oppression with the knowledge to defend themselves.

Speaking from the floor during a weekend plenary session to discuss reports by the WCC’s moderator and its general secretary, Dr Rubina Peroomian (Armenian Apostolic Church) said that lack of information was one of the worst human rights violations. She said that oppressors were taking full advantage of the public’s ignorance about their rights.

Peroomian urged the church to go beyond making declarations on human rights. "Declarations and statements alone cannot prevent victimisation of the media," she said. "We should educate the people and make them aware of their rights. This should start at school. Pupils must learn about abuse, human rights violations and their rights."

She added that church organisations had an important role to play in realising this goal and urged the church to invest in human rights education.

A strong affirmation of human rights had been made in the report given earlier by the moderator of the WCC’s central committee, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia (Armenian Orthodox Church). Delegates had applauded when he called for those who violated human rights to be prosecuted.

On a related issue, Mr Timothy Royle of the Church of England challenged the WCC to confront squarely the increasing problem of corruption, which he said was rife not only in political circles but even in the church. Corruption was one of the most serious threats to human rights.

Mr Royle said that it did not help much to speak about debt relief when loans were taken with no intention of repaying them and without an account of how the money was used. If that happened, he said, "it’s the ordinary people who suffer". He added that "corruption has become a disease that is worse than Aids and the assembly should condemn it".

Other interventions centred on the critical issue of the council’s relationship with its Orthodox members. Delegates largely concurred with the moderator on strengthening interaction among the parties.

In his summing up after speeches from delegates, Aram said that the current assembly should take the challenge presented by WCC-Orthodox relations responsibly.

"This process is going to be a critical one to the WCC even after the assembly. We need mutual responsibility as part of a process of our ecumenical movement," he said.

Responding to more than 20 speeches made by the delegates, the general secreary, Dr Konrad Raiser, said that the ethics of good governance should be upheld if the ecumenical movement was to tackle issues such as globalisation and human rights violations.

The human rights issue surfaced again at a press conference last Saturday. Aram was asked what he meant by punitive measures for violators of human rights and whether this harmonised with forgiveness.

Aram replied that forgiveness was important and part of the whole approach to the problem. But churches should also support all legal action taken by the United Nations and other legitimate authorities. Perpetrators of massacres and genocide had to be dealt with. Raiser added that the WCC had clearly ruled out capital punishment as an acceptable punitive measure.

The year 1998 has been declared the International Year of Human Rights. This Thursday, the assembly will join the world in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Read other articles in this issue:

A day of hearings
Attention! Debt to be chained up
Padare' to showcase vitality of ecumenical movement
Harare liturgy marks growth of Orthodox Church in Africa
Invest in human rights education, church told
Assemblies: Nelson has seen them all
Church doing well in Africa?
Decade plenary reveals consensus and division
The topic was sin

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor