world council of churches

world council of churches
International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

Human Rights and the Churches: New Challenges
A Statement by the International Ecumenical Consultation
Morges, Switzerland, 23-27 June 1998

Christians' Commitment to Human Rights
As Christians we are called to share in God's mission of justice, peace, and respect for all Creation and to seek for all humanity the abundant life which God intends. Within scripture, through tradition, and from the many ways in which the Spirit illumines our hearts today, we discern God's gift of dignity to each human person and their inherent right to acceptance and participation within the community. From this flows the responsibility of the Church, the Body of Christ, to work for universal respect and implementation of human rights.

We celebrate the churches' continuing commitment to the cause of human rights as expressed through the World Council of Churches from its first assembly in 1948, the year in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The churches' commitment to the principles of the Declaration has been enunciated in theological terms by subsequent assemblies. The Nairobi Assembly in 1975 stated: "God wills a society in which all can exercise full human rights. All human beings are created in God's image, equal, infinitely precious in God's sight and ours " The Vancouver Assembly, under the theme, "Jesus Christ, the Life of the World", reaffirmed the churches' commitment "to work even more fervently for the elimination of all forms of inhumanity, brutality, discrimination, persecution and oppression "

In 1974, in St. Pölten, Austria, representatives of churches from all parts of the world - South, North, West and East - were brought together to review the first 25 years of ecumenical concern for human rights and to recommend to the Fifth Assembly in Nairobi the following year a new statement of ecumenical policy on human rights. The St. Pölten Consultation on "Human Rights and Christian Responsibility" emphasized the indivisibility of human rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration and the two International Human Rights Covenants. It shifted ecumenical thinking into a new phase by acknowledging that violations of individual human rights were not simply aberrations of an essentially just world order but rather most often the result of unjust structures which exploit the poor. The struggle for human rights was seen as central to struggles for liberation from poverty, colonial rule, racist systems and military regimes. The St. Pölten Consultation recognized the struggle for rights of peoples as primary and without which the observance of individual human rights could not be guaranteed. At the same time it cautioned that the effectiveness of such an approach would always have to be measured in terms of the freedoms and rights of every individual.

The St Pölten Consultation's new approach also included the admonition that the essential global ecumenical solidarity in support of human rights could only succeed if each church took primary responsibility for safeguarding and promoting human rights within its own national context and for caring for the victims of human rights abuse.

The Nairobi Assembly subsequently affirmed the emerging ecumenical consensus on human rights outlined in St. Pölten, emphasizing:

the right to basic guarantees of life;
the right to self-determination and cultural identity and the rights of minorities;
the right to participate in decision-making within the country;
the right to dissent;
the right to personal dignity; and
the right to religious freedom.
The new insights gained in St. Pölten enriched the churches' expression of God's mission and practice in the field of human rights in the succeeding years.

In preparation for the Eighth WCC Assembly, the Central Committee called for a new global review of ecumenical policy and practice on human rights. This consultation in Morges has gathered together the results of that review. It has reaffirmed the theological consensus stated by the Fifth Assembly, considered the results of this new series of regional seminars on the evolution of human rights thinking and practice of the churches over a second period of 25 years, noted continuing concerns and emerging issues, and provided guidance for the future work of the churches and their ecumenical movement in this field.

We celebrate the remarkable achievements in human rights over these past 50 years: the heightened awareness by the peoples that they have rights, and the creation of instruments to enforce the rights enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, we are painfully aware that respect for human rights remains far from universal and that human rights continue to be violated throughout the world. Whole populations are deprived of the basic necessities of life. Many people still suffer persecution and even torture for their political opinions or persecuted for their religious beliefs. Many continue to suffer from various forms of discrimination, are marginalized and excluded from the benefits of society, and many peoples and communities are prevented from attaining the wholeness to which they aspire and to which they are entitled. In a spirit of repentance, we recognize the complicity of many Christians and churches in this continuing denial of full humanity to human beings created in God's image.

We reaffirm the World Council of Churches' assertion that human rights are indivisible and universal. We further affirm the many achievements of the past five decades which have laid the foundations of international human rights norms and standards, derived in part from the churches' work and their cooperation with the United Nations and with other non-governmental organizations committed to human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now recognized as a fundamental reference point for peoples around the world and provides the cornerstone of human rights work. It was adopted as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," and the universality and indivisibility of human rights were re-affirmed at the UN World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993.

The UN Human Rights Commission and other oversight bodies have provided forums for the exposure of gross and systematic violations of human rights. They have progressively assumed new responsibilities for monitoring, extended the provision of technical services, established new international standards and elaborated new enforcement mechanisms. The UN's effectiveness has been enhanced since the end of the Cold War. Peace processes under its auspices have included a human rights component in several countries. The establishment of the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and restructuring of the UN have further strengthened this work.

The World Council of Churches has played a significant role in these developments. The Council and the churches have urged governments to ratify the Conventions, supported UN efforts to eliminate racism, and contributed to the development of standards such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Declaration on Religious Intolerance, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and many others. The WCC has also supported the development of more effective mechanisms for implementation of these standards, and for the protection of human rights defenders. Through insisting on the indivisibility of human rights, the WCC has actively challenged the ideological division between civil and political rights, on one hand, and social, economic and cultural rights on the other, the latter having been largely ignored in the official international human rights implementation processes of the United Nations until recently.

Ecumenical practice over the past 25 years has therefore worked to embed the insights of St Pölten and Nairobi in global human rights methodology and practice and to strengthen international mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement. The ecumenical movement has worked to expose the abuses of anti-democratic, authoritarian and military regimes and deny legitimacy to them. Its methodology has included:

  • the promotion of solidarity among churches;
  • studies of specific causes of human rights abuses including systemic issues such as the link between militarism and human rights violations;
  • workshops and training programmes for church-related human rights workers, church leaders and others in the regions in cooperation with regional and national councils and churches;
  • dialogue encounters;
  • regionally-focused initiatives, especially in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East;
  • cooperation with other specialized international non-governmental organizations;
  • the provision of assistance to local and national churches and groups engaged in the struggle for human rights, and to victims and their families;
  • sending delegations to critical situations to express solidarity and to offer pastoral accompaniment to churches and people in crisis, and to investigate the nature and causes of massive human rights violations;
  • intervening with governments on behalf of threatened persons and groups;
  • facilitation of direct testimony in international forums such as the UN Commission on Human Rights by the victims of human rights violations;
  • contributions to the development of new international standards, showing the interrelationships between human rights, peace and economic well-being, and expanding the parameters of specific human rights protections to women, children, indigenous peoples, and to refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons;
  • international advocacy by speaking out with or in support of churches in their prophetic role of critiquing the principalities and powers responsible for oppression, repression and systematic violation of human rights;
  • the provision of training and sharing of expertise between regions on early warning and preventative measures, on issues related to impunity, forgiveness and reconciliation.
This consultation honors and affirms these achievements, acknowledging the deep commitment of those who have labored in these fields and recalling with heartfelt sorrow the toll in human life represented by the continuation of human rights violations.

At the same time, we have examined the reports of regional consultations and must acknowledge that there have been shortcomings in the work of the churches and of the World Council of Churches. Our commitment has sometimes wavered despite the pressing needs which confront us. It is reported that knowledge of ecumenical policy on human rights has eroded and that churches in several regions have assigned lower priority and fewer resources to human rights than was the case 15 years ago.

At the close of this century, new challenges arise from the increased concentration of political and economic power in the hands of elites in the major industrialized countries in cooperation with elites in other countries. New and complex relationships of dominance and exploitation with a more comprehensive global reach require the churches to equip themselves for a new phase of the struggle for human rights. These challenges are of such magnitude that many of the achievements affirmed above may be at risk. Revitalized commitment and concrete engagement are urgently required of the churches in order not only to affirm ecumenical positions and understandings which are the essential basis for human rights work, but also to develop new approaches capable of addressing the new and complex challenges facing us on the threshold of a new millennium. We reaffirm the holistic, inclusive vision of the oikoumene for a peaceful, sustainable society based on justice and human dignity which must inform such new initiatives.

New Challenges
Over the past 50 years, the churches have confronted in their human rights work the realities and consequences of colonialism and racism, the brutal authoritarianism of national security regimes, the subsuming of human rights to national development objectives by national political elites, and the imperatives of political loyalty generated by superpower rivalry and militarism. The structures and ideologies associated with these forms of political and economic dominance were critiqued by churches and by movements for justice and democracy which grew in response to these inhuman forces.

These threats to human dignity and freedom remain, albeit in altered form, and the gains made and lessons learned from this period of human rights struggle must be further consolidated.

With the end of the Cold War, however, the context has changed radically. It offers the opportunity for greater international cooperation in defense of human rights, but it has also intensified injustice, exploitation and inequality in most parts of the world. The global entrenchment of the economic, political and military domination of particular elites threatens peoples everywhere.

The shift towards greater concentration of power is most clearly seen in its economic form: the intensification of global economic integration under the ideological commitment to the unfettered free market. This is commonly called "globalization", a term which misleadingly implies an equality of participation in the costs and benefits of international economic integration while obscuring the actual effects of such an approach to the global economy.

Underlying the present forms of trade and investment liberalization which tend to render national economies even more vulnerable to outside economic forces and their extra-national priorities, is the construction of political partnerships between national elites whose interests are served by the dominant pattern of economic development. These new economic-political alliances systematically remove from ordinary people the social power to order and direct their lives. Traditional life-styles are undermined as people are integrated into the routine of an industrial life-style which encourages consumption-oriented aspirations, but denies the majority the means to fulfil them. These strong pressures for social regulation consign to the margins or punish those who cannot sell their productive labor or those who resist processes of cultural and political integration and homogenization. This exercise of coordinated global economic and political power is undergirded by an increasingly integrated global military system of control.

Free market ideology engages in the fiction that economic power is unrelated to political power. It claims that competition and commodification -- not only in the production and distribution of goods, but also in most aspects of people's daily lives -- is natural and moral. Yet this development of an international free market continues to intensify inequality within and between societies, to fragment societies by fomenting new, destructive religious, ethnic, linguistic and other divisions. It forces millions of people into jobs with inhuman working conditions, into casual labor with no assurance of continuing subsistence, or into unemployment, poverty and despair.

Thus the dominant model of economic growth based on the ideology of the free market exhibits almost total disrespect for the human person made in the image of God, excludes alternative models and punishes those who advocate them, and ignores fundamental spiritual values.

Associated with the trend towards economic integration through globalization are the strategies of de-regulation and privatization. Often justified in terms of efficiency and good business management, these strategies have eroded the political role and responsibility of the state to defend the interests of its citizens.

De-regulation is actually a process of re-regulation which shifts many of the regulatory functions of the state into the private economic sector where there is no public political accountability. Similarly, privatization shifts control of national economic assets away from democratic processes, which ensure their management in the public interest, to publicly unaccountable private corporations which seek to maximize profits in the interests of groups of investors, many of whom may not reside in the country.

Thus, globalization increasingly undermines the political participation of large sectors of society in the democratic process and their ability to influence state policy in the wide public interest. Elites in all countries, interested in this development of economic power for the few, seek to escape from social regulation and political accountability to democratic structures. This does not mean that the state is stripped of power, but that it is increasingly obliged to function less in the interests of the people than of the international movement of capital for the benefit of a few. In some exceptional cases, even the state's role in law enforcement has been sub-contracted to private groups which are not directly accountable to the public.

Globalization also erodes democratic participation at the international level, promoting the fiction that economic and political decision-making can be separated. The increasing dominant role of such multilateral economic' mechanisms as the Group of Seven, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund circumvents the political' mechanisms of international cooperation embodied in the UN Charter, rendering economically vulnerable countries virtually powerless to defend their interests either individually or collectively.

The qualitatively new combination of financial capital (transnational banks and financial institutions) and productive capital (transnational corporations) constitutes social power of an order previously unseen. This return to the ideology of unlimited economic growth and the reassertion of exclusive private ownership of advanced science and technology lays claim to ownership of creation itself. Refusing the demands of the Rio de Janeiro "Earth Summit," it is destroying the global environment and endangering the lives of all people.

In this context of globalization, the international human rights discourse is being politicized once again. While during the period of the Cold War, the foreign policy interests of the dominant powers held weaker nations hostage to ideological confrontation, today the polarity has shifted to a South-North divide between industrialized and developing countries. While focusing much-needed attention on the abuses of authoritarian governments in the South, this shift has reemphasized civil and political rights and further minimized economic, social and cultural rights. The selective indignation' of some major powers -- who refuse to be held accountable for their own violations of international civil and political rights standards -- has given rise to the charge that human rights cannot be considered universal. Ruling elites in some developing countries counter external pressures for compliance with civil and political rights norms, claiming a similar immunity on cultural grounds, and appealing to nationalist and ethnocentric sentiments at home in a way which often obscures the underlying common interest or partnership of these elites with their counterparts in the North.

Thus, globalization today poses significant challenges to the churches as they approach their human rights task. But globalization -- with all its potential for destruction of human community, for economic and other forms of exploitation and repression -- also has within it elements which, if effectively used, could be used to counteract its worst effects. Increased possibilities for communication and information flow have made possible new global alliances of people joined in the struggle to achieve the protection of human rights in their own and other societies. These have made possible the burgeoning of an international civil society movement which demonstrated its force at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro and subsequently has powerfully influenced successive UN world conferences. Its impact has also been felt in UN policy discussions on sustainable development, the global environment, population, women's rights, human settlements and many areas of human rights standard setting and monitoring. The world's peoples are not oblivious to the dangers inherent in globalization, nor have they remained immobile or complacent. Civil society groups in nations around the world, and across all divides are sharing both information and strategies. As demonstrated by the successes of the international campaign to ban landmine, people's movements can have a substantial impact when they come together in forms of cooperation on issues they hold in common across borders. Churches and church-related movements have often taken a lead in these new civil society efforts. They must continue to encourage and participate in counter-force alliances to resist the many negative trends of globalization and to forge a future based on respect for human rights, international law, and democratic participation.

Continuing Concerns and the Emerging Ecumenical Human Rights Agenda
In the period since the 1975 Nairobi Assembly, the ecumenical movement and the churches have significantly expanded the social agenda through stimulating a wide new awareness of issues which were not previously taken enough into account in the field of human rights. These need now to be incorporated clearly in global ecumenical policy on human rights.

The Rights of Women. Despite the excellent and persistent work done by women's groups in national, regional, and international arenas, and by churches, especially during the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women, progress toward effective protection and promotion of women's human rights remains slow, and often inadequate, both within and outside the church. Violence against women -- including rape, sexual slavery and trafficking, domestic violence and discriminatory practices in public and private spheres -- is rampant and becoming ever more widespread. International standards have been substantially improved in this area, but the need for the churches to stand at the forefront of the struggle for women's rights needs to be reiterated.

The Rights of Uprooted People. The International Year of Churches in Solidarity with Uprooted People raised global awareness of the fact that the number of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons has reached unprecedented levels as a consequence of civil conflicts, human rights abuses, misguided development schemes and extreme poverty. This too is characteristic of the age of globalization. The WCC has long been at the forefront of advocacy for improved international standards for the protection of the human rights of refugees and migrants.

We welcome, in this context, the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of Rights for All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and urge the churches to promote the wider dissemination and discussion of these standards and to press upon their governments for ratification of the Convention.

Refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons have too often been considered, even by the churches, more as objects of humanitarian concern than as human beings invested with universal rights. Effective national and international standards and mechanisms remain woefully lacking. We encourage the WCC and the churches to continue to support and cooperate with the important work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and to seek there significant further improvements in international standards and their implementation. This is particularly needed with respect the protection of the rights of internally displaced persons where few enforceable norms currently exist.

Churches need to be encouraged and assisted to address this concern at local, national and international levels, facilitating the involvement of affected persons and groups in decisions about their own rights, welfare and future.

Colonialism and Self-Determination. Over these past fifty years, colonial rule has given away almost universally to national self-determination for colonies and non-self-governing territories. But the legacy of colonialism continues. Many former colonies have yet to recover from its impact, or to overcome the economic, political and cultural domination of their colonizers. This legacy also continues to mark the policies and behavior of former colonial powers. Some territories have still not been able to exercise their right to self-determination or to accede to independence. In some cases, the United Nations has been prevented by metropolitan powers from assisting such peoples to proceed to acts of self-determination and independence. In a number of these cases, dominant powers have converted territories under their formal or effective control into military zones, areas for testing nuclear and other weapons, and for the dumping of nuclear and other toxic wastes. The pleas of indigenous peoples for self-determination, or greater autonomy on their historical lands, have still not been heeded in many places. National or ethnic minorities within existing nation-states often clamor, too, for independence or greater autonomy in order to be able better to defend their traditions, languages and cultures.

The right to self-determination should be understood as ensuring every individual, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or political status to participate fully in every aspect of the social, economic, cultural and political processes that affect their lives.

The churches should offer their solidarity with peoples in such situations in ways which promote peaceful solutions through dialogue and build friendly relations among minorities and between them and the majority. Churches should attend especially to the needs of small minorities who cannot aspire to autonomy, seeking to assure for them opportunities to participate fully in national life and democratic institutions. Every effort should be made to avoid situations in which frustrated aspirations give rise to extremism and open conflict.

The Rights of Indigenous People. Extensive work has also been done by the churches to support the centuries-long struggles of indigenous peoples for survival, land rights and sovereignty, and against militarization, systematic campaigns of extermination, population transfers and forced assimilation. The WCC, through its Program to Combat Racism, has been an important instrument and facilitator of indigenous peoples' struggles to gain full recognition of their human rights, and to give voice to their demands in UN human rights forums. The churches and the ecumenical movement need to continue to address indigenous peoples' demands for self-determination with regard to culture, land ownership, spirituality, language, traditions and forms of organization, and to the protection of indigenous peoples's knowledge, including intellectual property rights.

Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination. The ecumenical movement has a long history of involvement in the struggle against racism and racial discrimination, especially, since 1969, through the WCC's Program to Combat Racism. This concern has long been addressed in ecumenical policy on human rights. But over the past quarter-century awareness has grown in the churches and in society at large of a range of violence, human rights abuses and discrimination suffered by social groups whose plight has been widely ignored or hidden as a result of social stigmas. The recognized non-discrimination rights of every person need to be broadened, calling upon states to take appropriate action to protect all people resident in their territory from discrimination in accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declares: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Economic and Social Justice. We reaffirm the position taken by the Nairobi Assembly which strongly renewed the historical commitment of the ecumenical movement to a holistic, interrelated approach to the full range of civil and political rights, and social, economic cultural rights. Further steps are needed to provide effective international oversight of compliance especially with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The present reporting procedures by states parties through the UN Economic and Social Council are inadequate to present needs. This Convenant needs to be strengthened through the creation of a body with powers equivalent to the Human Rights Committee for which the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides.

The trend towards globalization of the world economy, with its highly materialistic and profit-oriented approach to human existence, requires that the churches reassert their conviction that God intends for people to live in community, assuming responsibility for one another, and not as isolated individuals interested solely in their own personal freedoms, benefits and privileges. Globalization has not resolved the question of the debt burden of the least developed nations. It has, rather, institutionalized the problem and provided only superficial relief. The WCC and the churches should continue to address the issue of foreign debt and its debilitating effects on the least-developed countries and to lobby with lending countries and multilateral institutions for debt forgiveness or concessional terms for debt repayment.

Now, more than ever, the indivisibility of rights is an essential component of the churches' understanding of and commitment to the protection of groups and individuals.

Torture, Forced Disappearances, Extra-judicial Executions and the Death Penalty. In the period since the Nairobi Assembly, the WCC Central Committee has adopted significant policy statements in these areas of critical concern. The churches need to reaffirm these policies and act upon them in light of the lasting effects and the continuation or resurgence of such violations.

Forced disappearance has been seen as a crime against humanity which effects not only individual persons, but whole families. Families suffer from the loss of family members, the theft of goods belonging to the family when a family member is abducted, and the hiding of information about the fate of disappeared loved ones. Affected families have the right to know the truth, and to demand it from civil authorities, the armed forces, the police and from other groups or bodies responsible for disappearances. Individuals and families have the right to the restitution of stolen goods or property, or to fair compensation for their loss.

The dramatic increase in recourse to the death penalty in both poor and highly-developed societies should also be of particular concern to the churches.

The Rights of the Child. Churches have long been at the forefront of efforts to protect the rights of children. Particularly during this past decade efforts have been made to assure that the right of children to participate in decisions having to do with their own future. New awareness has been built and efforts made to protect children from exploitation and abuse, especially in times of war, and to address the root causes of this dramatic social ill. Substantial progress has been made toward the adoption of effective international protections, but the work is far from done. Further standards are required, greater public awareness needs to be built, and effective protections put in place to prevent female infanticide, abusive child labor, sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the use of children in armed conflict.

A particular new concern needing to be addressed by churches and civil-society in general is the plight of children orphaned as a result of death of parents from AIDS and the abandonment of, or discrimination against children living with HIV/AIDS.

Impunity. More recently, the WCC has begun to address intentionally the question of impunity for crimes involving violations of individuals' and peoples' human rights. Ecumenical attention was first drawn to this question by human rights defenders in Latin America, but the experience of many parts of the world has shown that impunity is a fundamental obstacle to the full realization of human rights and the construction of democratic societies.

Impunity refers to those measures which, de facto or de jure, authors of violations of human rights, taking advantage of privileges granted by the state, are exempted from being brought to justice and punished. In countries undergoing transitions to peace and democracy, governments often are confronted with the need to opt between social harmony and justice. But from the perspective of the churches, the absence of justice for the victims of crimes committed or condoned by the state impedes reconciliation.

Impunity often involves hiding truths whose revelation is essential to satisfy victims and society as a whole that previous crimes against them have been acknowledged, and for the process of reconciliation to begin. The absence of truth is particularly grave when it hides facts related to forced disappearance of family members or loved ones. The recovery of historical memory is basic to this process of achieving justice with respect to the past and is pedagogical for the future.

The recent tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda illustrated again, and most dramatically, the dangers which society encounters when the wounds of the past are not healed. As in these cases, the culture of impunity in many parts of the world is a major factor responsible for continued or reiterated violations of human rights.

The international community and national governments have just begun to grapple with the ethical, theological, social and political implications of this question through the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions and international tribunals. Discussions are underway as this Consultation is being held on the creation of an International Criminal Court. We look forward with hope to the prospect of its creation. In order to be effective it must be independent, impartial, and free from all political constraints. It should not be bound exclusively to decisions of the UN Security Council, but be empowered through the appropriate participation of all countries. Such a court should be given sufficient powers to act de jure without relaying on externally initiated charges or authorization.

The role of churches is essential to eradicating impunity, since they respond to a Gospel to which truth, justice, reconciliation and forgiveness are central. The churches should address the question of impunity especially from the perspective of the victims, and seek to replace cultures of impunity with a culture of accountability and justice.

Ecological rights. The full exercise of human rights requires a healthy environment. Nuclear and other toxic wastes, atmospheric pollution, climate change, massive deforestation, depletion of fish stocks and other forms of assault on God's creation threaten the survival and well-being of individuals and societies and sacred lands. Churches must connect their work for human rights with their concerns for the environment. A number of issues are particularly pressing:

As noted above, economic globalization and the growing power of transnational corporations increases the potential of large scale industrial pollution and resource exploitation with negative consequences particularly for vulnerable indigenous peoples and populations in countries of the economic South.

The burgeoning field of biotechnology poses new challenges such as the patenting of biological resources by pharmaceutical companies with no or minimal reimbursement of financial benefits to indigenous peoples from whose lands the resources are extracted, and upon whose traditional medical knowledge these companies rely.

The increasing use of intellectual property rights threatens to privatize many technologies and resources, making them more expensive and less accessible to the poorer nations and to peoples seeking to pursue sustainable agriculture. Churches should be proactive in the protection of the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples.

Religious Freedom. Ecumenical concern for the right to religious liberty dates back to the International Missionary Conference of 1910. Today, in the post-Cold War period, it has taken on new dimensions as religion has re-emerged as a significant and sometimes dominant factor in internal conflicts and in national and international politics. Many Christians and churches have worked untiringly for peace, tolerance and harmony in such situations. However, from time to time, and in dramatic ways, religion has been manipulated to promote narrow nationalist or selfish interests and objectives. This has lent credence to the notion of the "clash of cultures" debate which has tended to divide the world along religious lines.

We reaffirm the statement of the Nairobi Assembly that "Religious liberty should never be used to claim privileges. For the Church this right is essential so that it can fulfil its responsibility which arises out of the Christian faith."

The list of countries that have declared an official state religion grows, giving to religion constitutional and legislative powers and privileges. In a number of these cases, the freedom of citizens to choose and practice the belief of their choice is more and more severely restricted. The secular and plural basis of the state is under widespread assault, and religious extremism and intolerance is on the rise.

Former Communist countries struggle to revise or adopt new basic laws on religion and religious practice under pressure to pattern such legislation after Western models, creating a "free market" of religions. Churches and other faith bodies argue for protection against an invasion of exogenous religious movements and proselytism as they seek to recover from decades of repression and atheist rule. Difficult new questions arise for the ecumenical movement which has declared opposition to proselytism, and at the same time advocates for religious freedom based on the provisions it has been instrumental in having included in international human rights standards.

Religious intolerance and restrictions of religious freedom grow almost universally. Questions arise related to the degree to which religious freedom is an absolute right, the relationship between religion and culture, the role of religion in the political sphere, the relationship between religion and national and ethnic identity, and the place of religious freedom in inter-faith dialogue. And these questions connect immediately with others related to the role of religion in promoting social justice, tolerance, harmony, peace and reconciliation. All of these will require the concerted attention of the churches in the next period.

Universality v/s Cultural Relativity. The renewed politicization of human rights in the post-Cold War period noted above, and its selective' use in determination of economic, trade and political relations by the countries of the North have led many countries of the South to challenge the universality of human rights on grounds of cultural and religious particularity. The churches should pursue dialogue more vigorously to bridge differences, real or perceived, in order to use the humanitarian and liberating aspects of all religions to undergird the principles of universality.

The Bahia World Mission Conference was devoted to the question of Christianity and Culture, and shed some light on these questions. Similarly, the WCC program on inter-faith dialogue has taken up this subject in a series of dialogue encounters. Such dialogue must be pursued ever more vigorously to promote and protect human rights.

Erosion of Power and Authority of the State. Globalization and the fragmentation it tends to produce in human community have introduced a new dimension to the human rights discourse. Since the creation of the United Nations the state has been regarded as the basis of international relations. It has been the state which has been expected to provide the basic framework for the people to protect their land, culture, traditions and freedoms from foreign imposition. Since the end of the Cold War, the role of the State has been severely eroded by the imposition of a free-market ideology which seeks to lower all barriers to the free flow of capital. As a result, real political power now increasingly resides with economic and financial institutions and corporations with a global reach. From within, the state is under attack by religious, ethnic, and national forces that are becoming increasingly violent and destructive. State power, so far as it remains, tends more often now to be exercised more in the interest of capital and economic growth than of the rights, dignity and social well-being of its own people.

The 1937 Oxford Conference on "Church, Community and State," called for a strengthening of the state in its role of servant and defender of its people. There is need for the churches once again to attend to this concern, and to reconsider their roles vis-à-vis the state. Today, the churches must continue to hold the state accountable to the people for the protection and promotion of their human rights, but at the same time to seek to transform and strengthen the state in ways which would enable it to perform its legitimate role. For example, in many situations, particularly those of emerging new democracies, new human rights alliances need to be formed with government, economic actors, and other civil society movements in the interest of equipping society as a whole to overcome violence and to respect and defend of the rule of law and international human rights standards, especially in the social, economic and cultural spheres. In this connection, the churches should seek to strengthen the human rights instruments both of their states and of the regional inter-governmental institutions of which they are a part.

Information Technology and Access to Information. The 1991 WCC Seoul Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation affirmed the right of everyone to have access to reliable and timely information and to free communication. Today the need for the exercise of this right is ever more critical in view of the new challenges arising through globalization and the tendency to monopoly control of means of communication.

Everyone has the right to participate in global culture. At the same time, peoples also have the right to protect their cultures from the imposition of the cultures of those who control the means of communication. New issues also arise related to the rapid pace of development of new technologies for the transmission of information.

We recall that Art. 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the corresponding Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights give populations the right to benefit from scientific advances, particularly with respect to developments in the fields of medicine and pharmaceuticals. The present flow of information and technology violates this right by denying the poor in the industrialized world and poor nations access both to the technology and the products of such advances in the scientifically advanced nations.

This right to information is an increasingly complex area which requires vigilance, analysis and advocacy on the part of the churches.

Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, Peace Building and the Promotion of a Culture of Peace. In the post-Cold-War period human rights have been shown to be key not only to the prevention of war and strife, but to the resolution of conflict and the healing and reconstruction of societies after formal peace has been established. Nevertheless, conflicts have not diminished, but have only been transformed. As noted above, the massive violation of human rights, the increasing distance between the rich and the poor, and the progressive marginalization of broad social sectors is the most important cause of violence in the contemporary world.

On the other hand, many of the new conflicts respond to false or distorted causes which manipulate national or religious feelings or ethnic and cultural differences in order to engender violence. Closely examined, many of these supposed causes are seen to be only excuses offered by economic or personal interests or mere power struggles.

Prevention strategies should, therefore, be linked to the promotion and realization of human rights, the unmasking and denunciation of false justifications of conflict, and the struggle against the dangerous and destructive arms race in which the majority of nations are involved as producers, sellers or purchasers, or conveyors of arms.

Efforts need to be exerted, therefore, to seek to prevent conflicts from exploding into violent confrontations. In this respect the WCC's Program to Overcome Violence needs to be continued and strengthened as a means of equipping and supporting the churches in their calling to be peacemakers through engaging in conflict prevention, mediation and peaceful resolution of conflict.

At the same time, the churches should redouble their efforts and improve their ability, when open conflict has broken out, to assist civilian populations, victims of violence and those who are uprooted by force, be they refugees or internally displaced persons. The proliferation of ethnic and nationality conflicts in the period since 1991 has given rise to what have been termed "complex emergencies," in which serious questions have been debated with respect to ethical norms which should undergird emergency response. It is necessary to reaffirm and safeguard the rights of the victims of humanitarian crises. We note with appreciation the work done in this connection by the WCC and other NGO partners to develop Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement for more effective protection of internally displaced persons in times of conflict, and of a Code of Conduct to safeguard victims. The churches should be encouraged to support these initiatives as they are proposed to governments for adoption, and to work further on the elaboration of compliance procedures and mechanisms which will ensure that the application of the new "best practice" principles not be misused to deny local churches and humanitarian bodies a leading role in response to humanitarian need.

International humanitarian law applicable in times of war, and other relevant instruments of international human rights law should be scrupulously applied. Especially to be condemned are arms, like anti-personnel mines, which inflict cruel and inhuman injury, and the forced recruitment of children into military service. The argument of "due obedience to superior orders" should be universally rejected as a justification for violation of human rights.

Crimes against humanity cannot go unanswered. Until adequate instruments of international justice are put in place, such crimes should be judged by national tribunals in whatever country may be affected.

Among the various strategies to be employed for the construction of a lasting peace, we commend those processes known as "Peace Missions" promoted by the United Nations in recent years. Such missions should be continued and complemented by similar ones initiated by other international, regional or sectoral organizations, including those of the ecumenical movement. Once armed conflict has been stopped, social and legal structures need to be reformed to promote ideological pluralism and political participation of all citizens.

In the 1980s, the WCC did ground-breaking work on the causes, dynamics and effects of militarism and the militarization of society. This work contributed significantly to the development of new international standards, and is reflected in them. The churches have more recently been instrumental in international campaigns to ban anti-personnel land mines, and are taking the lead in new efforts to control the production, transfer and commerce in small arms. This work needs to be retaken and strengthened now in the light of a changing world wracked by violence and internal as well as international armed conflicts which result in massive violations of human rights.

The global review of ecumenical policy and practice on human rights, undertaken in 1994 at the request of the WCC Central Committee, brought churches in all the regions together in a process of study and reflection on their work since the St. Pölten Consultation on "Human Rights and Christian Responsibility" held twenty years before. At this Consultation, we have reviewed the results of regional meetings and find that there is much to be celebrated in the work of the ecumenical movement in support of those engaged in the struggle for human rights. But a great deal remains to be done to secure more effective protections, particularly for disadvantaged, vulnerable and minority groups. As churches enter the next millennium, it is apparent that despite the progress made in promotion and protection of human rights, violations of human rights continue, and have become more intense in large parts of the world. There is a marked increase, in particular, in violations of social, economic and cultural rights of peoples. This situation has worsened during the last decade as a result of the rapid globalization of economies. This, together with divisions and conflicts within societies as a result of growing ethnocentrism, religious extremism and nationalism has torn societies apart and often led to wars and massive human rights violations.

These emerging trends pose a serious challenge to the churches in the years ahead. To counter these forces of evil and darkness, churches must renew and reaffirm their common commitment to the core values that uphold human life and dignity. The affirmation at the Sixth Assembly reminded us that "The biblical vision of peace with justice for all, of wholeness, of unity for all God's people is not one of several options for the followers of Christ. It is an imperative of our times." Fifty years of struggle to promote human rights have made the churches aware of their strengths, but more especially of their weaknesses. It has led them to the realization that it is not enough to react to situations where human rights violations occur. The root causes of violations must be addressed.

In confronting the continuing and new challenges identified in this consultation:

The WCC and its member churches must embody in their own structures the respect for the full range of human rights, participation, accountability and democracy that they demand of others, reaffirming that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

Widespread extreme poverty and growing social exclusion constitute violations of human dignity and pose still a serious challenge. Their alleviation and ultimate elimination must remain a priority for the churches, realizing that the root causes of these violations often lie in the unjust international order and in huge military expenditures incurred which lead often to corruption of government officials and massive neglect of social needs, reminding us of the need to reaffirm the indivisible character of human rights, democracy and development.

New efforts must be undertaken to promote and support education and training programs in human rights at regional, national and local levels, including the strengthening of youth internship programs, recognizing that education on human rights and dissemination of information are essential to the promotion and respect for human rights. Education programs must be geared to promote understanding, tolerance, peace and friendly relations between racial, religious, ethnic and national groups. They must build peoples' awareness that they have rights, and encourage education for civic responsibility and participation in democratic institutions.

Special efforts must also be made to help in the implementation of established rights through of the strengthening civil society organizations, and of national legislation and human rights institutions, including an independent judiciary committed to the rule of law.

The WCC and its member churches should strengthen their capacity in the areas of study and analysis of trends and structures which are at the root of violations, including: the causes and effects of armed conflicts; poverty and marginalization of the people; cultures of impunity, violence and intolerance; globalization, international debt, and the roles of transnational corporations and international finance institutions; the exploitation of nature and the eco-system.

International solidarity work remains essential for protection of human rights, bearing in mind the affirmation of the Fifth Assembly that the chief task of the churches is "to work for the realization of (human) rights where we are, but when there are those elsewhere who are powerless to cry out, we are called to be the voice of the voiceless and the advocates of the oppressed." Actions of solidarity should be based on accurate information, and guided by those engaged in struggles for human rights in other societies. They should take into account diverse goals and strategies appropriate to different situations and not be used to impose one's own cultural, political or other norms. Churches in the North should work to rebuild their capacity to address human rights violations in their own societies, and help build and/or sustain the capacity of churches in the South to do similar work in the places where they live and witness.

Churches should not only react when violations of human rights occur, but be proactive, seeking to foresee such violations and to remove their causes.

The WCC should continue to provide opportunities for churches to consider together priorities for work on human rights, conflict prevention and transformation, solidarity, sharing and advocacy, paying attention to identification of the particular role to be played by the churches and ecumenical institutions.

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Council of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor