World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 35

The decision by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to allow the extradition of the former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was a profound step, signalled an end to human rights being violated with impunity, and heralded a new stage in international law-making.

These were the views of panellists at a World Council of Churches press conference Thursday (10 December) dealing with human rights. Answering journalists' questions at the WCC's Eighth Assembly, in Harare, Zimbabwe, were Bishop Aldo Echegoyen (Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina), a member of the working group on human rights of the WCC's Churches' Commission on International Affairs; Thomas Hammerberg, ambassador and special adviser to the Swedish government on humanitarian issues; Priyanka Mendis, a WCC president who is involved in human rights issues in Sri Lanka; and Janice Love, Professor of International Affairs and moderator of the WCC's International Affairs Commission.

Straw will allow Pinochet's extradition to Spain to face charges of gross violations of human rights while he was Chilean dictator. But legal battles appealing against the British government's decision may take years to settle. "This is only the start of the extradition process, but it sets a serious precedent," Hammerberg said.

Concern that it would be unsafe for present or other previous heads of state to travel abroad were exaggerated, he said. Not every misdemeanour would lead to extradition. "We are talking about crimes against humanity," he said.

Echegoyen welcomed international law courts becoming involved in bringing perpetrators of torture and gross human rights violations to book. "In Latin America,the military have great power, which makes it difficult sometimes to consolidate democracy," he said.

Love was asked whether the WCC would come out in support of the Zimbabwean trade unions, who face a ban on strikes, or against corruption in Zimbabwe. She replied that it had always been the policy of the WCC not to criticise host countries while Assemblies were taking place.

Asked whether the WCC had missed an opportunity by not challenging some statements by Zimbabwe's President Mugabe during his speech to the Assembly on Tuesday (8 December), Mendis responded: "The good thing about the speech is that the churches here can now challenge him on what he said, rather than the WCC doing so now and being a bad guest."

Hammerberg said that many human rights violations were being perpetrated in the name of religion. "That needs to be addressed" by the ecumenical movement, he said.

Asked about trends in the observance of human rights in Africa, the ambassador replied that, on the whole, the United Nations had noted a positive trend in many countries. Non-governmental organisations speaking out for more justice had grown in many countries, and it was important for the Church to have a role in this field.

Love replied to a question about the WCC's involvement in protecting the human and religious rights of Chinese Christians. In the first instance, those rights would support each other, she said, while the WCC explored the varied other avenues open to it. "But often public pronouncements are counterproductive," she warned.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, 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.