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CHURCHES CHALLENGED TO PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION
Speaking from the floor Friday (4 December) at the WCC's Eighth Assembly, during a plenary session to discuss reports by the WCC's two senior officers, the Moderator and the 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.
Dr 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. Students 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 any 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 Assembly, meeting at Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December, 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, the Rev. 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 Saturday (5 December). The Moderator 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 that the churches should also support all legal action taken by the United Nations and other legitimate authorities. Perpetuators of massacres and genocide had to be dealt with. Dr Raiser added that the WCC had clearly ruled out capital punishment as an acceptable punitive measure.
The year 1998 was declared the International Year of Human Rights and the Assembly will join the world in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December.
Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.