World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

15 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 56

Public statements have been issued by the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches on urgent social, political and economic matters that engaged its attention during 12 days of deliberation and debate at Harare, Zimbabwe. On the closing day, Monday 14 December, delegates agreed to statements on:

"Gathered in sub-Saharan Africa, we have heard the cries of the millions of people who have borne the social, political and ecological costs of the tenacious cycle of debt," the Assembly said. The issue was symbolised for it by the biblical tradition under which every seventh year was to be proclaimed a Jubilee, involving release from debts and slavery and restoration of family lands. "Debt bondage by the poorest countries to Western governments and creditors is today's new slavery."

The Assembly appeals to leaders of the G8 nations to cancel the debts of the poorest countries "to enable them to enter the new millennium with a fresh start", and to reduce substantially the debts of middle-income countries. There should be a new, independent arbitration process for negotiating debt cancellation.

The WCC says it "accepts that tough conditions should be imposed on debtor governments", but these must not be a prerequisite for cancellation. The conditions for the process should be determined and monitored by community organisations, including the churches. The G8 nations should use their powers to ensure that funds illegitimately transferred to secret foreign bank accounts are returned to debtor nations.

The Assembly describes globilisation as "a competing religious vision to the Christian commitment to the unity of humankind and the whole inhabited earth". It calls on churches and social movements to monitor the activities of transnational corporations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund and similar bodies. It recommends a campaign for a new ethics and system of lending and borrowing. Churches and social movements should co-operate with initiatives for a new financial system, including a tax on financial systems that could be used to support alternative options and limits to the unregulated flow of capital. Churches should review the ethics of their own dealings on such matters as investment of pension funds and use of agricultural land.

The Assembly calls for violators of human rights to be brought to international justice and welcomes the agreement to set up the International Criminal Court. "We affirm the right and duty of the international community to hold all State and non-State actors accountable for violations of human rights which occur in their jurisdiction or control, or for which they are directly responsible." Justice should not be limited to current abuses: "We support the efforts of churches and human rights groups in their struggle to overcome impunity for past crimes whose authors have been given official protection from prosecution."

The statement acknowledges that religion has become "a major contribution to repression and human rights violations". Churches and other religious groups were often urged by governments to support narrow national, racial or ethnic aims. "No religious community should plead for its own religious liberty without active respect and reverence for the faith and basic human rights of others." The Assembly acknowledges that resolving human rights violations cannot be done by Christians alone and calls on churches to emulate the WCC's own efforts for interfaith co-operation in this area.

The Assembly says that violence against women is increasing all over the world and includes discrimination, sexual harassment, genital mutilation and rape. It calls on churches to urge their governments to ratify a proposed optional protocol to the UN convention on eliminating discrimination against women. The protocol would allow individual women's complaints on violation of their rights to be received.

Settling Jerusalem's status must be done under an international aegis and as part of, rather than after, a comprehensive settlement on the Middle East, says the statement on the city. Access to the holy places of Jerusalem must be secured for all faiths, and Palestinians assured of their rights to free access, property, building and residency.

More than 300,000 children are engaged in armed conflicts, the Assembly notes. Many had been lawfully recruited, others kidnapped or coerced. The statement condemns the use of children in warfare, calls for an immediate moratorium on their recruitment, the demobilisation of those now serving and a United Nations protocol raising recruitment age from 15 to 18. The WCC especially calls on African churches to press their governments for early ratification of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which prohibits recruits under 18.

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.