World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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9 February 2000

WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser calls for an "early warning system" to identify potential mass violations of human rights

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr Konrad Raiser, has criticized the growing tendency to legitimize the use of military means in humanitarian interventions. These should "remain an exception, for which clear and binding rules and criteria must be established under international law," Raiser urged on Tuesday, 8 February, addressing participants at the 11th International Military Chiefs of Chaplains Conference taking place in Geneva from 7 to 11 February, 2000.

Particularly the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and NATOís intervention in the Kosovo conflict, but also the "UNís self-critical examination" in the light of the "tragic events in Rwanda" had made further discussion of the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions inevitable, Raiser said in his address.

Raiser announced a WCC study on the ethical issues surrounding humanitarian intervention. The study will be prepared in consultation and cooperation with church aid agencies, humanitarian organizations and research institutes and will be submitted to the WCCís Central Committee at its next meeting in January 2001.

Raiser expressed regret that "the political-ethical discussion has focussed principally on the question of the legitimacy of armed humanitarian intervention". "As a result," he said, "other forms of intervention to protect human rights, stopping short of armed intervention, have received less attention." In order to limit cases "where armed intervention is seen as absolutely essential", the range of other possible instruments should be developed and expanded, the WCC general secretary urged.

As positive and effective examples of this type of action Raiser mentioned the appointment of UN Special Rapporteurs for certain countries and categories of human rights violations, and the despatching of teams of observers to monitor elections and human rights. Such measures needed to be systematically organized and developed, he said.

Raiser called for the setting up of a "permanent monitoring body" within the framework of the United Nations and an "early warning system to identify potential mass violations of human rights". Another aspect which the WCC general secretary described as particularly urgent was "the development of measures for the protection of minorities and population groups who have become refugees in their own countries as a result of armed conflict".

If these other possibilities are to be effectively used and developed, however, it would be necessary to change mindsets away from "the predominantly military logic of crisis reaction to genuine humanitarian measures". This would need to be accompanied by "resolute steps to divert material and financial resources away from the formation of military intervention forces, as currently happens, and use them instead to strengthen civil instruments for humanitarian action and the protection of human rights," Raiser said.

The "striking imbalance" between the means poured into NATOís intervention in Kosovo and the slow process of bringing together the necessary human and financial resources to rebuild the social order once the military action was completed showed, however, that "the will for this change of direction does not as yet exist, either among the general public or among the responsible governments".

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.