8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
Breaking the Cycle of Debt
Debt forgiveness linked with ending corruption

"Cancel the debt!" became one of the rallying cries at the eighth assembly, especially among representatives of churches in Africa and Latin America. One afternoon more than 300 people chanting that slogan formed a human chain around the assembly plenary hall. The chain was organized by young people, but others joined in with enthusiasm.

Ann Pettifor, director of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, urged the WCC to make "a very strong statement" that the churches will not tolerate the level of debt of the world's poorest countries. She said church leaders must take "real leadership" on the issue, because "right now debt is killing billions of people".

Since its founding in 1996 Jubilee 2000 has pushed for the cancellation of unpayable third-world debt by the year 2000 to mark the start of the new millennium. Estimates of the unpayable external debt of the world's poorest countries range up to US$250 billion. Some African countries spend four times as much servicing debt each year as they do on health care for their citizens. According to figures released by organizations campaigning for debt relief, for every dollar given in development aid, three dollars goes back to rich countries in debt-service payments.

A human chain around the plenary hall,
calling for debt forgiveness
Photo by David Lawrence/Reform Magazine

In discussions of the issue, assembly participants insisted debt cancellation or reduction should be linked with efforts to root out corruption in government. "Corruption is a chronic disease," declared Timothy Royle of the Church of England. The funds released through debt cancellation should "be rechannelled into social services and good government", said Alice Kirambi, a Quaker from Nairobi who took part in the human chain. "The governments have to be accountable to the people."

On its last day of business the assembly adopted a "Jubilee Call to End the Stranglehold of Debt on Impoverished Peoples". This policy statement cites the biblical call in Leviticus for a "year of Jubilee", when slaves were to be freed, debts forgiven and land restored to its original owners. The statement calls churches to work for:

  • debt cancellation for severely indebted, impoverished countries;
  • substantial debt reduction for severely indebted middle-income countries;
  • ethical lending and borrowing practices to prevent recurrence of the debt crisis;
  • ethical governance and legislative action against all forms of corruption and misuse of loans.

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