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

16 March 2001

UN Commission on Human Rights - WCC to focus on globalisation
and religious freedom

At the forthcoming 57th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), 19 March-27 April, the World Council of Churches (WCC) plans to raise thematic as well as country-specific concerns.

"This year the WCC has filed two written statements on thematic concerns: one on economic, social and cultural rights in the context of globalisation and the other on religious freedom, liberty and religious intolerance," explains Clement John, WCC executive secretary for International Relations.

In its written statement on economic, social and cultural rights the WCC welcomes the preliminary report of the UN special rapporteurs, Joseph Oloka-Onyango and Deepika Udagama, on "Globalisation and its impact on the full enjoyment of human rights". The WCC says the report "draws attention in clear and lucid terms to the negative aspects of globalisation that lead to the exclusion of large sections of people in the Global South from the social benefits of globalisation".

The WCC written statement notes that the report "rightly points out that the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund 'must cease treating human rights issues as peripheral to their formulation and operation'". The WCC is therefore looking forward to the follow-up of the rapporteurs' recommendations. These call for guidelines that would provide a framework for establishing basic human rights obligations of the main actors of globalisation. "If implemented," the WCC statement concludes, "this would provide badly needed checks on the unfettered actions of international financial institutions".

Religious freedom, liberty and religious intolerance have been major concerns of the WCC and its member churches for many years. This year's written statement is based on intensive contacts with WCC member churches in conflict situations "with significant religious dimensions" - as in Sudan or Indonesia. Based on this experience and reports received, the WCC is drawing the attention of the UNCHR and of the special rapporteur to factors contributing to growing religious intolerance, such as

  • inequitable distribution of economic resources and denial of political power-sharing in governance;
  • "the return of religion to the centre of national life", welcomed by some and seen as a threat by others;
  • religion being increasingly used as a "tool and a catalyst in the escalation" of conflicts;
  • religious minorities' appeals for intervention - which often stir nationalist sentiments, leading to further polarisation;
  • places of worship being used to promote religious hatred and violence;
  • "use of outside financial resources and personnel to fuel the fires of religious intolerance and violence";
  • non-Muslim religious minorities' fear of the application of Sharia'h laws; such minorities often view Sharia'h application "as discriminatory and a violation of the fundamental human rights of the minorities as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally accepted norms and standards".

    The WCC's written statement therefore advocates vigorous promotion of interreligious dialogue at international as well as at community levels: "Such dialogue should be promoted by both governments and religious groups through education and awareness-building programmes where members of communities are taught to respect each other's religion and culture...".

    Besides the two written statements, John foresees that the WCC will place special focus on country-specific human rights situations addressed by the recent meeting of its Central Committee: Colombia, Sudan, Indonesia, Palestine and Cyprus.

    The WCC will also support small church-related delegations coming from Indonesia and Guatemala to Geneva to attend parts of the UNCHR session.

    For more information contact:
    the Media Relations Office
    tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
    e-mail: media
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    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.