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29 January - 6 February 2001
Potsdam, Germany

6 February 2001

WCC Central Committee asks member churches to discuss, reflect on concerns related to protection for endangered populations

Committee also adopts proposals on specific conflicts

Following debate over several days in committee and plenary, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee, meeting in Potsdam, Germany, conveyed to its member churches its concerns to protect civilian populations in situations involving armed violence. The Central Committee asked member churches to study and reflect on the concerns, and asked for a report of the responses at a later date.

The concerns, contained in 13 pages, are titled "The Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Violence, Toward an Ecumenical Ethical Approach." They are intended to address the complicated issues of international intervention into nations where armed conflict threatens civilians. Recent examples of such situations were conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia.

The concerns were substantially revised during the Central Committee's meeting January 2) to February 6. The original title was "The Use of Armed Force in Support of Humanitarian Purposes: An Ecumenical Ethical Approach."

"It is understood efforts to overcome violence are done in a violent world where populations are endangered even as these discussions are going on," the introduction said. "The debate on the draft again revealed clearly the different theological perspectives among member churches with respect to violence and non-violence."

Members of the Central Committee emphasized that their action on "The Protection of Endangered Populations," was not intended as adoption of a policy. "This is not for adoption," said His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, moderator of the WCC Central Committee. "We receive this for a long process of reflection."

Eden Grace, Friends United Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, said she was grateful the concerns of the so-called peace churches were heard. While there is broad agreement among the churches related to concern for civilians, she said differences remain with respect to the use of force.

Rev. Fernando Enns, Mennonite Church, a historic peace church, said that the paper is a big challenge for his church. "If we don't challenge each other on this, we lose the fellowship of the WCC."

"I hope the historic peace churches could recognize the desire for all churches to be peace churches," Bakkevig said to Enns.

With the concerns is a 4-page attachment, "Considerations and Criteria for Discussions Related to the Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Violence."

The Central Committee also commented on other issues of public significance, and asked member churches to learn more and advocate for innocent people:

  • It called upon the WCC staff to "continue their efforts towards a negotiated peace in the Middle East based on international law." It called for special attention to the future status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and measures to enforce existing United Nations resolutions, including those regarding withdrawal from occupied territories.
  • It called on the government of Sudan to immediately cease bombing of civilian targets in the country and abide by international law. The Committee called for the establishment of a no-fly zone, except to protect transport of humanitarian supplies.
  • It joined with the Latin American Council of Churches to oppose a United States plan known as "Plan Colombia." The plan would provide "additional military equipment and action" in Colombia, the Central Committee said.
  • It renewed the WCC appeal for "justice, peace, reconciliation and reunification of Cyprus."
  • It reiterated its support for people and churches in Indonesia, where conflict has left thousands dead or displaced. It called on Indonesian leaders to seek a peaceful resolution and asked the WCC to monitor developments there.

    Photos from the Central Committee

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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.