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16 March 2000

Beyond charity, Mozambique needs justice, says WCC

Bearing out its view that "debt bondage is a modern form of slavery", the World Council of Churches (WCC) has asked its member churches in G8 countries to appeal to their governments to forgive their bilateral debts with Mozambique and to advocate with multilateral creditors, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, for "the immediate, total and unconditional cancellation of the money owed by Mozambique". And only complete cancellation and not simply postponement - as for Honduras after Hurricane Mitch - will do, the WCC insists.

The appeal has come in reaction to the situation caused by the floods that devastated large parts of Mozambique in February and March. It was the subject of a letter signed on 13 March 2000 by acting general secretary Georges Lemopoulos to the WCC member churches.

"You and other member churches," the letter says, "have accompanied the churches and people of Mozambique during their costly struggles for independence before 1975. We have remained with them during the crippling sixteen years of civil war that followed, and through the years of subsequent drought and famine that claimed a million lives. We have continued to support the churchesí courageous peace and reconciliation efforts leading up to and since the 1992 peace agreement between the government and RENAMO. Thus we know well the terrible waste of civil war and the economic instability that haunted the country even before the floods."

Since the 1970s, the global debt crisis has been a priority for the WCC. It has spoken on several occasions in solidarity with the victims of indebtedness. A June 1999 statement by WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser, is one example.

The statement referred to the Councilís eighth assembly in Harare in December 1998 and its support to the goals of the Jubilee 2000 coalitions, and appealed to G8 governments about to meet in Cologne, Germany, to:

  • recognize the urgent need to cancel the debts of the poorest countries and substantially reduce those of the middle-income ones,
  • accept that debt cancellation cannot wait until conditions set by creditors are met,
  • introduce "a new, independent and transparent arbitration process for negotiating and agreeing upon international debt cancellation", and
  • when debts are relieved, to implement measures determined and monitored by local community organizations "to ensure that debt cancellation leads to a just distribution of wealth".
These are general principles. The appeal for debt relief for a specific country is something new however. It is because the floods further undermined an extremely fragile economy that the "dramatic situation now in Mozambique" warrants immediate urgent action, the WCC argues.

Even though Mozambique is not the only Southern African nation to suffer badly from the floods and to confront a debilitating debt, it also has hundreds of thousands of unexploded and hidden landmines and 75,000 demobilized soldiers still to be reintegrated into society.

Amazingly, last year for the first time, it was able to produce enough food to feed its population. "These efforts cannot now be sacrificed", the WCC holds. For the Council, the exceptional situation in Mozambique requires a form of international solidarity that goes beyond charity to offering justice and making "jubilee" a reality.

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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.