World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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28 August 1999


The United Nations secretary-general’s special representative for Children and Armed Conflict has asked the World Council of Churches (WCC) to put its moral weight behind the recently-passed Security Council Resolution aimed at saving children from the scourge of war.

"We are witnessing unspeakable abominations against children," said Dr. Olara A. Otunnu, addressing the WCC Central Committee in Geneva on Aug. 28. "Over the last decade alone two million children were killed in conflict, one million made orphans, six million injured or permanently disabled, and 10 million left with psychological problems," he said. About 20 million children are displaced within their own country or have become refugees, according to the UN official.

His plea came just three days after "unprecedented" as the council normally deals with large geo-political issues rather than specific social problems.

Otunnu said children were the "most innocent and blameless" victims of armed conflict and suffer disproportionately when wars break out. "Almost all the conflicts in the world today are civil wars," he said, "fought among those who know each other very well and marked by widespread social breakdown and lawlessness."

He termed the problem a "moral and spiritual" failing because the enemy is "demonized", and often defined in religious, racial, ethnic or regional terms. Traditional protections of civilians in combat have been set aside, he said, and "the village has now become the battlefield."

Otunnu said that in backing the UN resolution, the world’s churches should help in launching an era of energetically applying international standards such as the Geneva convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Support is also needed, he said, for traditional value systems that once provided an ethical basis for behavior. "The most damaging loss for a society to suffer is the collapse of its value system," he said. "Today the moral center is no longer holding, and all have become fair game in a single-minded struggle for power."

Otunno said children should be made a "zone of peace". He told the WCC Central Committee that warring parties must -- under threat of international sanctions -- be obilged to allow the distribution of relief aid, provide for "humanitarian ceasefires", and agree not to use land mines or recruit children for combat.

Recruitment of children for conflict, he said, "is one of the most horrendous developments of recent times". However, he admitted that the UN resolution did not define "children" clearly. He and others favour the age of 18, but he noted that there is no consensus on that age. Many nations consider 18-year-olds fit for combat, but recent civil wars have found children as young as 10 carrying weapons.

Nations should also take special note of the needs of children when conflicts end, Otunnu said. "When war is over, it is not over for children for whom violence has become a part of life," said the UN official. "We need to recuperate the young and restore to them a sense of renewed hope."

Citing his long familiarity with the WCC, Otunnu, a native of Uganda, said the care for children was part of a campaign of spiritual renewal. "More than ever before," he said, "We need spiritual renewal and when we see signs of this around the world, let us embrace people of faith -- of all faiths -- and have them embrace each other and promote fundamental values of faith, love, forgiveness and reconciliation."

He urged the WCC to become an advocate within the churches and civil structures for children suffering from the effects of war, and asked the WCC to lift up the needs of those children in its regular programmes.

The concern for the effects of wartime violence on children is likely to be a major part of the WCC’s "Decade to Overcome Violence", an initiative growing out of the WCC Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, last December.

UN Security Council Resolution 1261, passed August 25, strongly condemns targeting children in armed conflict, and outlines a number of actions aimed at providing relief for children when conflicts break out, including "days of tranquillity" so that relief supplies can be delivered. Concern for the rights of children during peace negotiations, and notes the impact of the proliferation of small arms on the security of refugees and children.

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, 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.