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Staying engaged - for justice Ecumenical team readies for the International Conference on Financing for Development

28 January 2002

cf. WCC Press Feature, Feat-01-18, of 24 October 2001

"Justice demands the transformation of global economic governance and the international financial system so that their institutions are accountable to and serve all people, not simply the wealthy and powerful."

This message was at the heart of a paper entitled "Staying engaged - for justice" presented at the fourth and final meeting of the Preparatory Committee (Prepcom) for the International Conference on Financing for Development (ICFD). The paper, expressing its commitment to justice, was presented by an ecumenical team participating in the 14-25 January Prepcom. The ICFD is to be held at Monterrey, Mexico, from 18-22 March this year.

In its paper, the ecumenical team demanded that the conference produce international commitments to fair trade, debt cancellation for poor countries and democratization of the system led by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization.

The team sees all these issues as interrelated and important for a "people-centred approach"; some team members, however, concentrated on only one issue - such as trade or debt or system reform - during the Prepcom.

Frustrated but determined

Government representatives had not concluded their work at the scheduled end of the two-week Prepcom at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. But observing the governmental process left team members "frustrated and pessimistic, though still determined to continue reminding governments that justice is the heart of the matter".

The ecumenical team, coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC), was composed of some 30 people from a variety of churches and countries, as well as of two people representing other religions: Demba Moussa Dembele, a Muslim from Senegal, and Hiroko Sugimoto, a Japanese woman working in New York with the International Shinto Foundation.

Fidon R. Mwombeki, a Lutheran minister who is general secretary of his church's diocese in Northwestern Tanzania, said he had focused particularly on trade issues and had become "very frustrated". His view was that Northern governments were "trying very hard to derail the movement for justice".

Lioba Diez, a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany who works with Kairos-Europe, said that dealing with world poverty requires a "redistribut ion of wealth" and "a change in the underlying economic structure". Seeing "no big steps forward" in the Monterrey document, "The international economic system works in a very unjust way, and these systemic questions are not addressed," she concluded.

Several team members identified the United States as leading the wealthier countries' effort to block the kind of actions needed to deal with world poverty. During the Prepcom, the US opposed mention of the goal of getting the industrialized countries to give 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product for developmental assistance, and argued that the obstacles to development are primarily within the countries of the underdeveloped world, team members reported.

David Pfrimmer, a Lutheran minister representing the Canadian Council of Churches, said a "captivity to Washington policy" had brought a "whittling away of anything that is creative" and "diminishing expectations". But he, like others, said that the team - the largest among the NGO groups at the Prepcom - needs to "hang in there" and show its "staying power" as an encouragement to others working on the same issues.

Bernardino Mandlate, a Methodist bishop from Mozambique, agreed that the Monterrey document was being "watered down", but that the ecumenical team has to remain involved and continue "suggesting alternatives".

Most ecumenical team members at the Prepcom will attend the Monterrey conference. Although they expect few specific accomplishments, they hope that the conference will provide opportunities for an NGO forum, media contacts and governmental lobbying that will help keep people aware of issues.

The WCC was mandated by its 1998 assembly in Zimbabwe to take up the challenge of globalization as a central part of the ecumenical agenda. Since then, the WCC has been working to promote better understanding of the impact of economic globalization and to provide an ecumenical platform to respond to its consequences. It is also preparing for two upcoming global events: a UN Financing for Development (FFD) Summit in March 2002 in Mexico, and a September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

The text of "Staying engaged - for justice" can be found on this website