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GEN/PUB 5 Second report of the Public Issues committee

Table of contents: Introduction Minute on economic measures for peace in Israel/Palestine Human rights and languages of indigenous peoples Countries affected by the tsunami International Criminal Court Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay Iraq crisis: enhancing peace, accountability and the rule of law Practising hospitality in an era of new forms of migration

22 February 2005

The Public Issues Committee received the following proposals for action by the Central Committee.

  1. Statement on Iraq
  2. Statement on the International Criminal Court
  3. Statement on Human Rights and Languages of Indigenous Peoples
  4. Statement on Uprooted People

B. Submitted proposal from the floor by members of the Central Committee within 24 hours of the announcement of the proposals from the Executive Committee:

  1. Statement on Tsunami
  2. Appropriate Action related to the 90 years Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide
  3. The issue of divestment related to business supporting the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian territory.
  4. Appropriate Response to the UK Governments initiative for African development
  5. Appropriate Response to the Human Rights situation in Guantanamo Bay
  6. Appropriate Action to the situation for the Hungarian Minority in Vojvodina, Serbia-Montenegro

The Public Issues Committee discussed all proposals received and dealt with them in the following manner.

Sunday April 24 2005 will be the 90 years Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, the tragic massacre of one-and-a-half million Armenians in Turkey and the deportation of another million from their homeland.

The World Council of Churches has addressed the need for public recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the necessity of Turkey to deal with this dark part of its history. The importance of Turkey evaluating its history has recently also been addressed by the Conference of European Churches relating to Turkey's relation to the European Union.

From the Christian perspective, the path towards justice and reconciliation requires the recognition of the crime committed as a sine qua non condition for the healing of memories and the possibility of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting but to look back with the intention to restore justice, the respect for Human Rights and relationships between perpetrators and victims.

The Public Issues Committee recommends the General Secretary and the staff to propose to all member churches to make Sunday April 24 a day of memory of the Armenian Genocide and to consider further appropriate actions related to the 90 years Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

The situation in Vojvodina in Serbia-Montenegro continues to be of great concern. Several church - and government - delegations have recently visited or are about to visit the region. For the WCC it is a priority to support the respect for Human Rights for all people and the unity between the different member churches in the region. The Public Issues Committee recommends the CCIA, in contact with the CEC, to follow the development and consider appropriate actions.

Following the report of the General Secretary to the Central Committee, the Public Issues Committee was asked to consider appropriate action in response to the initiative of the Government of the United Kingdom for African development.

This is a kairos year for Africa, where important decisions will be made on trade rules, debt cancellation and development assistance. During the coming months, the role of the United Kingdom in this respect will be crucial. This role was discussed during a visit to the WCC recently by a senior representative of the UK Government. Steps taken by the UK will provide deeper and wider debt relief for poorer countries, particularly those in Africa. The UK will provide 100 % debt relief to the poorest countries and has called for matching actions for cancellation of multilateral debt. The objective of the proposed International Finance Facility is to assist the world's poorest countries and for the international community to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The UK approach includes setting up the Commission for Africa.

Given the colonial history of the UK and the country's difficulties to meet the UN Aid-target of 0.7 per cent of GNP, this is indeed an encouraging development. And the key-role of UK Government as chair of the G8 and incoming chair of the European Union, can make this leadership role multiply in political impact. These initiatives should therefore be welcomed.

The Public Issues Committee calls on the Central Committee to ask the General Secretary and the staff to continue to be engaged with the British Government and monitor how this and other initiatives will affect African countries on debt, trade and aid and explore how the ecumenical movement can advocate for a fair and equitable solution for the challenges faced by the African continent and its people.

The Public Issues Committee also requested and received with appreciation a report from Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat on the progress made in the peace process in Somalia.

The Public Issues Committee proposes Actions by the Central Committee on the following issues.

The Public Issues Committee proposes the Central Committee to adopt the following minute on Israel/Palestine.

Minute on Certain Economic Measures for Peace in Israel/Palestine.

In the conflict in Israel and Palestine there is a renewal of hope although there is not yet a reduction of the threats that separate the parties to the conflict. Palestinians have now organized two elections with constructive effect, despite continuing occupation, and plan another at mid-year. The churches welcome that momentum is building for peace and for solutions which credibly engage those who must make peace, the powerful as well as the weak.

The churches note the growing witness and impact of church engagement that includes both Israelis and Palestinians. The WCC-led Ecumenical Accompaniment Program (EAPPI) is present and supportive of both Palestinians and Israelis who suffer under current circumstances. There is also growing interest among churches in taking new actions that demonstrate commitment to and enhance prospects for a just, equitable and lasting peace in both Israel and Palestine.

Notable among these are initiatives within churches to become better stewards of justice in economic affairs which link them to on-going violations of international law in occupied territory. The Central Committee takes note of the current action by the Presbyterian Church (USA) which has initiated a process of phased, selective divestment from multinational corporations involved in the occupation. This action is commendable in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith, and calls members to do the "things that make for peace" (Luke 19:42).

The concern here is to abide by law as the foundation for a just peace. Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes, and are involved in the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied territory, and in other violations of international law being carried out beyond the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel determined by the Armistice of 1949.

In this 38th year of occupation the desire for a just and equitable peace is growing. For churches of the WCC such hopes are guided by positions and programmes that reflect a search for truth amid much trouble.

The WCC has called, since 1969, for "effective international guarantees for the political independence and territorial integrity of all nations in the area, including Israel" and restated the concern at regular intervals, most recently in recognizing, in 2004, Israel's "serious and legitimate security concerns".

In 1992, the WCC Central Committee stated that "criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish". During the Oslo peace process of the 1990s churches supported civil society projects of rapprochement between communities in conflict in the Holy Land.

In 1995, the Central Committee established criteria for economic actions in the service of justice, namely, that these must be part of a broader strategy of peacemaking, address flagrant and persistent violations, have a clear and limited purpose plus proportionality and adequate monitoring, and are carried out transparently.

In 2001, the WCC Executive Committee recommended an international boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements on occupied territory, and the WCC-related APRODEV agencies in Europe are now working to have Israeli settlement products fully and properly identified before shipment to the European Community in accordance with the terms of the EU's Association Agreement with Israel.

Yet illegal activities in occupied territory continue as if a viable peace for both peoples is not a possibility. We are not blind to facts and must not be complicit in them even unwittingly. The Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 15-22 February 2005 therefore:

encourages member churches to work for peace in new ways and to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent;

persuades member churches to keep in good contact with sister churches embarking on such initiatives with a view to support and counsel one another;

urges the establishment of more and wider avenues of engagement between Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities pursuing peace;

reminds churches with investment funds that they have an opportunity to use those funds responsibly in support of peaceful solutions to conflict. Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action.

The Public Issues Committee proposes that the Central Committee adopt the following statement on Human Rights and Languages of Indigenous Peoples:

1. Statement on Human Rights and Languages of Indigenous Peoples

The World Council of Churches has addressed the issue of the rights of Indigenous Peoples since the 1980s. It has monitored and supported the work of the special working group on Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations system including the drafting process of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The World Council of Churches remains committed to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that represents the minimum standards for the survival of Indigenous Peoples with dignity. The WCC Central Committee Statement in Geneva, July 1982, appealed to member churches, amongst others, to listen and learn from the Indigenous Peoples in order to deepen Christian understanding of (and solidarity with) their legal rights, their political situations, their cultural achievements and aspirations and their spiritual convictions. It further called on the churches to become politically involved on the side of the Indigenous Peoples and join the struggle against those powers and principalities which seek to deny the land rights and human rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Seventh WCC Assembly Statement in Canberra, 1991 on Indigenous Peoples and Land Rights called upon member churches to move beyond words to action specifically: to negotiate with Indigenous Peoples to ascertain how lands taken unjustly by churches from them can be returned; to recognize, acknowledge and vigorously support the right of self determination and sovereignty of the Indigenous Peoples, and to use their influence with governments and international bodies to actively seek the goal of justice through sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples.

While the Council, over the years, has addressed various aspects relating to the rights of the Indigenous Peoples it has not spoken clearly on the issue of their languages.

The World Council of Churches is aware of its responsibility to care for human life and is concerned by the global phenomena of loss of the world's languages. According to the figures put out by UNESCO, on average one of the world's languages is lost every two weeks. It is estimated that up to 90% of the world's 6,700 languages will become extinct by the end of the century. Indigenous languages carry critical knowledge about how to maintain bio-diversity in the given place of the community and thus can provide means to sustain life of the planet. Increasingly, scholars are recognizing the critical link between linguistic diversity and bio-diversity acknowledging an analogous relationship between the two.

The mission history of the churches has many ambiguities, one of which is in relation to Indigenous Peoples languages. In many instances Bible translation has helped to preserve and develop indigenous language, while in others the policy of the use of colonial language has had an adverse impact.

There is a need to revitalise the world's indigenous languages with respect to cultural, intellectual and spiritual diversity of humankind. These languages carry a storehouse of indigenous knowledge, accrued and refined over millennia - knowledge essential for understanding local ecosystems, medicinal use of plants, specialised agronomies and careful adaptations to regional environments

In view of the need to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly their languages, the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, February 15-22, 2005, reiterates its support for the right of self-determination and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples as they are defined in church and society and calls upon member churches:

  • to urge the establishment of a UN International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2006 or a subsequent year;
  • to appeal to their governments to remove discriminatory laws against indigenous languages, to work towards removing the layers of educational and social pressures arrayed against Indigenous languages, and to actively pursue compliance with international conventions and treaties that regard the use of the language of heritage as a basic human right;
  • to challenge NGOs and foundations concerned with indigenous issues to raise as the highest priority the need to protect the global linguistic diversity through offering funding and structural support as communities around the world seek to keep alive the heart of their ancient traditions through their Indigenous languages;
  • to remind churches and the Christian community of the diversity of spoken languages as a sign of the presence of the fullness of the Spirit of God in Acts 2 and the full diversity of languages as an integral part of the vision of worship in the presence of God in Revelation 7:9;
  • to continue to support language-based services and activities, especially scripture translation with member societies of the United Bible Society which is currently translating into 500 to 600 languages, providing an important catalyst for language stabilisation and development;
  • to encourage reflection on their role and possible complicity in patterns of cultural repression through boarding schools for indigenous children or other agencies and processes;
  • to request churches to consider practical ways in which they can respond to this world-wide crisis, calling attention to the critical issue of language loss and working towards remedies both in their local areas and at international level;
  • to call on member states of the United Nations to resolve their outstanding differences and disagreements to pave the way for the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which specifically protects indigenous language rights;
  • to also call on all states with indigenous population to sign and ratify ILO's 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 which includes Indigenous language rights in Articles 28 and 30.

The Public Issues Committee proposes the Central Committee to adopt the following statement on the tsunami:

2. Statement on Countries Affected by the Tsunami

We are challenged by the vision of a church that will reach out to everyone, sharing, caring, proclaiming the good news of God's redemption, a sign of the Kingdom and a servant of the world. (Our Ecumenical Vision, 8th WCC Assembly, 1998.)

It is with profound sadness and deep anguish that the Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2005 takes note of one of the world's deadliest natural catastrophes ever that struck the Indian Ocean region on 26th December 2004. The massive waves that rushed in from the earthquake's epicentre hours later engulfed the coastline cities of Indonesia, Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, Tanzania and Myanmar (information of damage and loss of life in the latter country is not available because of the nature of the ruling military junta) causing immeasurable loss of lives, of local people and tourists, destruction of whole communities, destruction of properties and human suffering. It is a matter of deep regret that technology available to warn of imminent tsunamis was not in place in the Indian Ocean. An advance warning system would have saved thousands of lives. Steps must now be taken for the installation of an advance warning system in all unprotected oceans.

The plight of children who have suffered as a result of the tsunami is a cause of major concern for us. Around one third of the total casualties are children. Thousands of those who have survived have been orphaned or separated from their families. There are growing fears of human traffickers exploiting children as sex slaves, as sweatshop labour or child soldiers. Children are our signs of hope. Their well being today ensures us a better world tomorrow. Our hope would find its fulfilment in our ability to protect these vulnerable children from abuse and dehumanisation. All efforts must be made by the churches and others to stop the exploitation of children who have already suffered trauma of such great magnitude in their tender years.

We lift up the impact of tsunami on women. In some cases widows do not hold title to their homes and given gender inequalities they have to face greater constraints in rebuilding their lives. UNIFEM has reported cases of rape and sexual abuse of women displaced by the tsunami.

We are encouraged by the spontaneous response to this crisis by the international, national and local communities as well as the religious communities in the region and beyond. Such responses included both pastoral and material aid. The ecumenical family and its related agencies within ACT (Action by Churches Together) were quick to respond to the needs of all the people in the affected areas. They provided crucial food aid and medical supplies, besides helping with emergency medical assistance and beginning of rehabilitation efforts. We thank God for revealing the strong spirit of compassion, caring and fellowship that unites us as one human family.

The churches in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand have set an exemplary path of interreligious cooperation in its response to the tsunami tragedy by using the liberating and humanitarian aspects of all religions to serve the needs of the survivors. The Christian communities in Indonesia, especially the PGI (Christian Council of Indonesia) and KWI (Catholic Bishops Conference of Indonesia) rejected all efforts to wrongfully use humanitarian mission as a way of "christianising" people and said it is time for all faith communities to work together to overcome the disaster as swiftly as possible.

For the churches the mandate to work with the people affected by the tsunami comes from the Biblical imperative to proclaim the sacredness and value of life. God never forgets "the cry of the afflicted". (Psalm 9: 12).

We also recognize the contribution made by donor governments, national and international NGOs as well as the UN related agencies to mitigate the sufferings of the survivors and their families. By their action they have shown an exemplary commitment to the people caught up in this immense tragedy. This unprecedented response to the tsunami should not distract donor partners from meeting their obligations to the needs of people in distress in other regions of the world as a result of "complex political emergencies" and natural calamities.

We are grateful for all the humanitarian aid and assistance, the immediate assistance of military personnel from various countries and the foreign workers who have provided their expertise. However we would be failing in our duty if we did not emphasise the importance of keeping the local people at the centre of the initiatives for relief and rehabilitation. While aid and assistance from abroad will go a long way to alleviate the immediate suffering and to cater to the needs of the affected people, in the long run there is need for constructive cooperation amongst different faith communities and for spiritual accompaniment to reconstruct their lives and overcome the trauma. These activities will have to be located in and be respectful of the context of local customs and communities - the churches in the region need to be empowered to do this.

All countries co-operating in this relief will have to work out a proper infrastructure of accountability and transparency so that there are no complaints of corruption as time passes. The UN Humanitarian Affairs division has already set an example by engaging a well-reputed independent international auditor's firm to carry out comprehensive audits of funds received and disbursed.

The Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland 15-22 February, 2005:

  • Expresses its condolences and prayers for those who lost their kith and kin, including foreigners who were there when the tsunami hit the coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia;
  • Appreciates the spontaneous response of the international community, the local community, the churches, the ecumenical family, and its related agencies within ACT in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to the survivors and their families affected by the tsunami;
  • Commends the ecumenical partners, the churches and national councils in the region to strengthen their management and leadership capacities in order to efficiently and effectively utilise the aid and assistance received from abroad;
  • Deeply concerned about the welfare of the children who survived the tsunami that they should be properly cared for and looked after and that children and women do do not become victims for the second time at the hands of human traffickers;
  • Also concerned about the long-term implications of redirection of development aid programmes, foreign military involvement in humanitarian assistance programmes, particularly in areas of intrastate conflicts in the region; it is hoped that the crisis will help to bring the parties to the conflicts together to resolve their differences to care for the welfare of the people and serve their needs.
  • Urges churches and humanitarian organizations engaged in relief and assistance programmes to remain alert and sensitive to the local ethos, culture and needs of the people and carry out their operations in close consultation with local churches;
  • Calls on the churches to provide long-term spiritual accompaniment and trauma counselling for social reconstruction of the lives of the survivors and their families;
  • Encourages the World Council of Churches to send living letters to churches and countries affected by the tsunami.levels.

The Public Issues Committee proposes the Central Committee to adopt the following statement on the International Criminal Court:

3. Statement on the International Criminal Court

  1. Introduction
    The pursuit of justice, peace and reconciliation has been at the core of the mission of Christian churches as a response to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5: 6-9).
  2. Importance of the International Criminal Court

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is one of the most important steps forward in International Law in the last decades. The Court provides the international community with an instrument to defend human rights and pursue justice, for specified crimes that otherwise would be committed with impunity. The action of the ICC is an important step in the process of building reconciliation within and among nations and communities.

Entered into force in July 2002, the ICC, according to the Rome Statute on which the Court is based, will try individuals within its jurisdiction, which is limited to the following crimes:

  • the crime of genocide, i.e. the intention to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group;
  • crimes against humanity, includes murder, extermination, deportation, imprisonment in violation of fundamental rules, torture, rape and sexual enslavement, enforced disappearance;
  • war crimes, includes grave breaches of the Geneva Convention and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, especially those addressed to the civilian population;
  • the crime of aggression (once a provision is adopted by the states party to it).

Human history is filled with examples of horrendous cruelties, aggressions and inhumanities. In just the 20th century there are four recognized genocides - 90 years ago the Armenian genocide, 60 years ago the Holocaust, nearly 30 years ago the Khmer Rouge and the most recent genocide in Rwanda, a little more than 10 years ago. There were very different ways of addressing these horrific crimes: there was almost no consequence for the Armenian genocide, the victors' justice in the Nuremberg trail for the Nazi war criminals, a failed local response with UN support to the Khmer Rouge and the ad-hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

In accordance with principles of criminal jurisprudence, ICC cannot exercise jurisdiction retroactively to take legal action against the perpetrators of the unpunished genocides of the 20th century. However ICC will provide a permanent tribunal to deal with such future crimes in a coherent way, pursuing justice and reconciliation and thus addressing issues such as impunity and accountability.

The world is presently experiencing many violent conflicts in different regions and many states have been caught in the cycles of violence and revenge. Prosecuting individuals for atrocities committed will contribute to the process of achieving justice for the victims, the perpetrators and for society as a whole. It will also help create respect for the rule of law, establish an accurate historical record and act as a deterrent to future criminals.

While the ICC will not be able to prevent all future human rights violations, it will provide a forum to prosecute the most heinous international crimes when national systems are unable or unwilling to do so. It will offer redress to victims where national courts are not in a position to deliver justice. It will also strengthen the possibility for peace and end the cycle of violence, by offering justice as an alternative to revenge. Finally it will contribute to the process of reconciliation by replacing the stigma of collective guilt with the catharsis of individual accountability.

The Rome Statute for the ICC has been ratified by 97 states up to now. A global Coalition for the ICC has been created to work towards more ratifications all over the world. Special work is being carried out in the United States, which after having signed the Rome Statute, has declared its intention not to ratify it and is actively seeking bilateral agreements in order to exempt US nationals from prosecution by the ICC in an inexcusable attempt to gain impunity from the crimes defined in the Statute.

3. The Churches and the ICC

"You shall not render an unjust judgement;

you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great:

with justice you shall judge your neighbour." (Leviticus 19:15)

Churches have welcomed the establishment of the ICC and some have urged their governments to sign and ratify the Rome Statute. The churches recognize that the ICC provides accountability to individuals who otherwise would escape from the jurisdiction of national systems of criminal justice.

The WCC Assembly at Harare in 1998 in its statement on human rights welcomed the agreement to create the ICC, and the Moderator's report acknowledged the establishment of the ICC as a mechanism that should help the UN to enforce human rights. It encouraged the WCC to cooperate with churches, and other partners to deal with situations and cases where impunity generates injustice and violence.

The churches in different parts of the world, and especially in those countries which have suffered recently gross human rights violations, have been struggling against impunity at the national and at the international level. The rationale of this struggle has been not so much to seek punishment, but to overcome violence and impunity, to support victims and to pursue peace, justice and reconciliation.

In this work, the paradigm of restorative justice has emerged as a way to stress the importance of restoring broken relationships within the communities. Through restorative justice, people began to understand each other's vulnerability and acknowledge their humanity. Restorative justice means restore victims, restore perpetrators and restore communities. A victim-centred approach emerges as one of the characteristics of restorative justice procedures from the community level to the national level. The ICC, through the importance given to the participation of victims in its structure and proceedings, brings this dimension to the international level in a new way.

Churches and ecumenical organizations have interpreted the cries of the victims as a demand to respect their rights. The ICC responds to victims' rights to truth, justice and reparation. Victims have the right to know exactly what happened in the case of grave human rights violations. Victims have the right to a just procedure. Victims have the right to compensation, restitution and rehabilitation because of the harm they have suffered. While the key role of the victims in the ICC is highlighted in the establishment of the "Victims and Witnesses Unit" under the Registry and the "Victims Participation and Reparations Section", the creation of the Trust Fund specifically addresses the reparation of victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

The Central Committee of the WCC, meeting in Geneva, 15-22 February 2005, therefore:

Reaffirms the importance of international law and international instruments to address the challenges of today's world in the current process of globalization;

Reiterates its appreciation for the creation of the ICC as a permanent instrument to provide accountability for specified crimes in the process of overcoming impunity and pursuing justice;

Recalls the commitment of the churches in the Decade to Overcome Violence - Churches seeking reconciliation and peace, following the biblical teaching "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14);

Welcomes and endorses the establishment of the ICC as an adequate tool that will contribute to peace building with justice;

Encourages the ICC - Judges, Prosecutor, Registrar and Staff - to follow strictly the procedures established in the Rome Statute in order to fulfill its role of achieving justice in cases brought before it and reminds the need for having gender and regional representation in all positions according to the Rome Statute;

Especially highlights the importance of the victims' participation as laid down in the procedures and the creation of the Trust Fund of the ICC to compensate victims and relatives of victims of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court;

Commends the unprecedented acknowledgement by the ICC of women's human rights and gender-specific rights abuses as crimes against humanity and war crimes, which enables recourse to women victims;

Asks all governments which have not yet ratified the Rome Statute for the ICC, and especially the United States, to ratify it promptly without reservations giving the Court as wide a jurisdiction as the Treaty permits over human rights and humanitarian law violations to ensure political balance;

Expresses its recognition to the governments which have ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC, and asks them to adapt their national legislation to implement the ICC and effectively support any process under the ICC jurisdiction;

Calls upon WCC member churches to:

  • urge the universal ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC, particularly in those countries which have yet to ratify the Rome Statute;
  • cooperate actively with the ICC in those countries where procedures have already started;
  • develop training activities to deepen the knowledge of the relevance of the work of the ICC;
  • support Christian, ecumenical and inter religious initiatives which specifically address the work of the ICC, like the Faith and Ethics Network for the ICC and the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in The Hague;
  • join, in their own countries and regions, other civil society initiatives, like the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, to support the work of the ICC;
  • continue to pray for a just and peaceful world.

The Public Issues Committee proposes that the Central Committee adopt the following statement on Guantanamo Bay:

4. Statement on Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay

All human beings regardless of race, sex or belief have been created by God as individuals and in one human community. "Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him." (Article 11 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights)

The Central Committee is therefore deeply concerned by the continued unconscionable and illegal detention of over 600 foreign nationals, mostly Muslims at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The detainees have been held without due process and in total violation of the norms and standards of international humanitarian and human rights law including the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the US ratified in 1992.

The US Government has denied detainees the scrutiny of their cases by courts of law in the US on grounds that "they are being held under the President's authority as Commander in Chief and under the laws and usages of war". Also they are "aliens with no connection to the US being held outside the sovereign US territory". These grounds of detention undermine the universal principles of jurisprudence and are in violation of the fundamental rights of the detainees.

We are therefore encouraged by the actions of the NCCC-USA that has joined voices with other human rights, legal and religious non-governmental organizations in an amicus curiae brief filed in the US Supreme Court. The NCCC-USA's request to visit the detainees at Guantanamo Bay on a pastoral and humanitarian basis was denied by the government. The NCCC-USA remains committed to the struggle for justice and rule of law and continues to monitor the situation as some of the cases of the detainees are being litigated under the US judicial system.

The Central Committee meeting in Geneva, February 15-22, 2005:

Urges the US Government to immediately grant legal rights accorded to detainees as outlined in the amicus curiae brief to which the NCCC-USA, together with other national and international non- governmental organizations, is a party;

Appeals to the US Government to let NCCC-USA fulfil its pastoral and humanitarian responsibilities to the detainees by giving it permission to visit them at Guantanamo Bay;

And calls on the churches to:

Appreciate and encourage the important work being done by the NCCC-USA in its endeavours to struggle for the rule of law and secure due process for those detained at Guantanamo Bay;

Educate and conscientise their congregations to the situation of those presently under detention in Guantanamo Bay and to fulfil their responsibility as a community of faith in Christ by calling for the release of those being held in detention under inhuman conditions;

Calls on member churches to pray for the just and fair treatment and trials of those under detention and for their families.

The Public Issues Committee proposes that the Central Committee adopt the following statement on Iraq:and national

5. Statement on the Iraq Crisis: Enhancing Peace, Accountability and the Rule of Law

The crisis in Iraq persists at the expense of the Iraqi people and with long-term complications for the international community. The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, February 15 to 22, 2005, issues this statement mindful of the consequences of this crisis and remembering especially women, children and men who have lost their lives to war and conflict in Iraq, the uncounted dead, the many who are injured, sick and traumatised by violence, and the millions bereaved or in fear. We note that this war is only the latest of eight wars in Iraq since World War I, a violent century, when foreign entities and local elites monopolised the region's petroleum while generally neglecting the good of its people.

The fate of Iraq's poorest and most vulnerable citizens especially concerns us—one fifth of the nation, some five million people whose deprivation endures from the previous regime to the present. Their infant mortality rates, income levels and access to clean water, sanitation and health care suffice to keep a nation with the second largest petroleum reserves in the world, and more pledges of aid than all Africa, on the list of countries that suffer the most extreme forms of poverty.

We recognise Iraq's Christian communities for their unique role in Iraqi society today, for their time-honoured witness to the Gospel and for their commitment to live in harmony with their neighbours. We declare that the current conflict is not a religious conflict and that leaders of the parties involved have a responsibility not to misuse religion to further fuel the conflict.

In the birthplace of Abraham, we look to his children—Jews, Christians, Muslims—to become agents of the healing and reconciliation that Iraq so sorely needs and that faith so clearly requires.

We see a ray of hope for the future in the millions of citizens who went to the polls last month, even though others did not participate including some Christian communities that were prevented from voting. The embrace of a democratic process is a vote for a new Iraq, one freed both from dictatorship and from occupation.

Most news has not been positive, however. At this point in the crisis we are obliged to note that positions we took three years ago are, regrettably, still relevant, including:

Our calls for sustained diplomacy on peaceful solutions, our rejection of pre-emptive military action and our affirmation of the international rule of law (WCC Central Committee Statement, 9/02);

Our appeal to uphold the UN Charter's limits on the use of force, our denunciation of human rights violations in Iraq and, on the eve of war, our strong affirmations of church actions world wide for peace (WCC Executive Committee Statement, 2/03); and, five months after the pre-emptive strike on Iraq,

Our dismay at the UN Security Council for yielding to pressure to legitimise the occupation and undermining its mandate as the arbiter of international security, our condemnation of atrocities under Saddam Hussein, our defence of Iraq's territorial integrity, our support for unimpeded and impartial humanitarian work there, our concern at polarisation over the war within the US, our warning against the establishment of foreign military bases in Iraq, our call for war reparations to the Iraqi people, and our affirmation of the role of Iraq's churches in rebuilding civil society together with other religious communities in Iraq (WCC Central Committee Statement, 9/03).

We firmly reject assertions of the so-called ‘global war on terror' as justification for the war on Iraq. To employ again now the same indiscriminate language against other countries in the region is both irresponsible and dangerous. Leaders who used the false pretexts of terrorist connections and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to bolster their case for war will be judged by history. Time will also bring acknowledgements of the actual loss of life in Iraq and record how democracies respond appropriately to acts of terrorism.

The WCC Central Committee appreciates the principled and important opposition to the war on Iraq among church leaders and members around the world, yet is alarmed that churches, communities and individuals who have much to offer in constructive dissent should be silenced because patriotism runs high in their government, media, election campaigns, and even local parishes.

We are deeply concerned at violence that targets innocent civilians in order to kill people by category—in suicide bombings at community gatherings, in summary executions of new job applicants, by the bombing of churches and mosques, and in the taking and murdering of hostages.

We condemn unequivocally the torture and humiliation of prisoners in Iraq and deplore the relegation of punishment for these crimes to low-ranking soldiers despite ample evidence of decisions at high levels of the US Administration to bypass obligations under international law.

The overarching violence in Iraq arises from the disproportionate use of force by coalition armies, causing up to 100,000 civilian deaths and destroying whole towns and neighbourhoods purportedly to save them. We note that such strategies of occupation and subjugation engender further violence, work to excuse adversaries from their own barbarities, inflame public opinion across the region, and lower the political threshold for state-sponsored violence in conflicts around the world.

The human costs of war and conflict weigh heavily on women in Iraq. The breakdown in public safety, the collapse of health care and sanitation, and the denial of basic rights traps women and girls now and will hold them back from shaping their nation's future.

Financing this war and occupation in Iraq has been and continues to be an unconscionable misallocation of the world's wealth. The 200 billion dollars already allocated by the US Administration for use in Iraq would, for example, provide safe drinking water to every child in need in the world for a decade and a half thereby saving 25 million lives. As for existing obligations, the amount spent to-date would pay US dues to the United Nations for the next 400 years.

This one episode reflects the global imbalance between national security concerns and human security needs, and demonstrates a failure of accountability in the international community.

The WCC Central Committee therefore calls governments and intergovernmental bodies to greater accountability under the rule of international law both for the cause of peace in Iraq and for more effective management of such crises in future. We request member churches and WCC-related organizations to engage their governments in this call as well, encouraging action in the following areas:

Take steps in the appropriate international forums to open debate of a timetable for the reduction and termination of the US-led Coalition's military presence in Iraq and for the removal of its military bases there;

Monitor each Iraqi election of 2005 so that these exercises of popular will under de facto occupation are used to further the prospects of genuine self-rule and are not used to prolong the authority of non-elected or foreign entities;

Prepare for the progressive transfer, under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, of governance and resource management in Iraq to broad-based, national institutions where contending groups can learn to negotiate over power and policy;

Prepare similarly for the transfer of Iraq's security affairs to a joint Iraqi-UN peacekeeping force;

Constitute a United Nations mechanism to oversee the post-war reconstruction of Iraq on terms that refocus international aid and Iraqi resources around the basic rights and well-being of the Iraqi people, give guidance in matters of war damage compensation, ensure the maximum feasible participation of Iraqis in reconstruction and development projects while greatly reducing the role of foreign contractors, and guarantee public accountability for such projects;

Reconfirm that the war on Iraq was illegal under the United Nations Charter and international law and address the need to consolidate international political consensus on the legal grounds for military action and on legitimate responses to threats;

Assist and enable independent, credible and accurate third-party verification of casualty levels on all sides during this conflict—assigning responsibility for the deaths, illnesses, traumas and injuries caused directly and indirectly by the disproportionate use of force, by unexploded ordnance, and by the use of depleted uranium;

Prevail upon the US Administration to revert from its current violations of international law on the arrest, detention, treatment and legal representation of prisoners and by closing all extra-territorial, extra-legal prisons involved;

Advocate for human rights in Iraq and for adherence to international humanitarian law—especially the Fourth Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols—by the occupation authorities, the interim government, and subsequent governments in Iraq.

The WCC Central Committee also calls member churches and WCC-related organizations to engage in local and international actions to heal wounds inflicted during the crisis:

Assist Christians citizens to stay in Iraq by speaking out on their behalf and on behalf of all who suffer violence, killings, attacks and kidnappings there; providing help to churches and agencies in neighbouring countries that have welcomed tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians forced to flee; and praying and working for their safe return;

Strive, as churches, to heal divisions arising out of this conflict around the world that that have developed before, during and after this war, and call governments to join with churches in the lengthy process of reconciling such divisions;

Support the continuing efforts of Christians to work with Muslims and people of other faiths in discerning common goals for Iraq and the Middle East, and in choosing courses of action that will lead toward those goals;

Call churches around the world to pray for peace in Iraq, stand in solidarity with churches that question this war and, confessing the need for broader dialogue, listen to and engage with the many Christians who do not share our stance against the war.

We commend these actions to member churches and governments for the good of the people of Iraq and for the cause of peace in the Middle East.

The Public Issues Committee proposes that the Central Committee adopt the following memorandum and recommendations on uprooted people:

7. Memorandum and Recommendations on Practising Hospitality in an Era of New Forms of Migration

Ten years ago, in September 1995, the WCC Central Committee adopted a statement on uprooted people called "A Moment to Choose: Risking to be with Uprooted People." The term "uprooted people" was used to refer to all those who are compelled by severe political, economic, and social conditions to leave their lands, including refugees, internally displaced people and forced migrants. In fact, the reasons why people are compelled to leave their communities are often mixed. People flee wars because their lives are threatened, but also often because their livelihoods are destroyed. Those fleeing persecution may use the same migratory routes as those who leave their communities in search of jobs.

While the difficulties encountered by those seeking security and survival in other communities are not new and have been addressed in previous WCC statements, there have been disturbing developments over the past decade. This statement focuses on two of these developments: new patterns of migration as a result of globalization and the effects of the events of 11 September 2001 on the movement of people.

In this context of new patterns of migration, it is important to state that migration is normal and that it is a part of our history. But many people are forced to migrate because of dramatic events. Christ calls us to offer hospitality towards migrants and refugees. The theme of hospitality was highlighted at the 2004 Plenary Meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC around the text: "Receive one another, therefore, as Christ has received you for the glory of God" (Romans, 15:7). The daily challenges faced by today's migrants and refugees demonstrate that we have much to do to translate this call to hospitality into reality.

Globalization of economies

As the integration of national economies into the global economy has intensified disparities between rich and poor, more people seek to leave their home countries in search of better economic opportunities - or survival. According to the International Organization for Migration, there are 175 million migrants in the world today. The revolution in communication and transportation, also a consequence of globalization, increases the possibilities for people both to know that living standards are better elsewhere and to find means of moving toward other countries. While economic migration was dominated by young single men in the past, today more than 50 % are women migrating to other countries for employment.

While globalization has meant that the movement of some people has become easier, governments of countries in both the North and South have generally pursued policies to keep out those migrants who seek to enter their countries outside of legal channels. As it becomes harder to reach the borders of some wealthy countries, new destination countries for migrants are emerging. Thus Central and Eastern European countries have received many more migrants as the routes to Western European countries have become more difficult, or asylum seekers are returned to these countries. Secondly, as entry into rich countries becomes more difficult, migrants resort to increasingly dangerous routes, whether by boarding rickety boats across the Mediterranean or crossing inhospitable land borders into the US. The number of deaths of people seeking to enter rich countries is rising. Thirdly, would-be migrants increasingly turn to smugglers and traffickers to cross borders. Another consequence is that many refugees no longer seek asylum, but rather stay in irregular situations for fear that their justified claim would lead to deportation to a third country.

Emerging trends in migration

Trafficking involves recruiting and/or transporting people using violence, other forms of coercion, or providing misleading information in order to exploit them economically or sexually (through for example, forced prostitution and bonded labour). Trafficked persons are often in conditions of slavery and are no longer free to move or to decide on their destinies. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. UNICEF reports that child trafficking doubled in the decade between 1989 and 1999. Trafficking has now become big business. It is estimated that 600,000-800,000 human beings are trafficked every year with annual profits of US$8-10 billion.

Given demographic trends of low fertility rates and ageing populations, developed countries need migrants to maintain their standards of living and provide tax revenues to pay pensions to their elderly populations. This widely shared analysis stands in sharp contradiction to the actual design of migration policies - where they exist at all.

Indeed, for the host countries, migration poses many challenges. In developed countries, migrants, particularly undocumented migrants, are working at jobs which are often disdained by the local population. In many countries, some politicians have found it easier to blame immigrants than to admit their own inability to develop and implement necessary social programmes. Migration also leads to increasingly multi-cultural and multi-faith societies which raise questions about national identity. Instead of tolerance and mutual respect, however, migrants are often subjected to xenophobic and racist attitudes and behaviour. In fact, racism is increasing dramatically in developing countries while employment and social conditions are deteriorating, also due to the liberalization of economic markets.

On the positive side, a number of countries have long-standing policies and programmes to promote "multiculturalism," which assist both migrant groups and their host communities to build mutual respect. Churches have been transformed by welcoming migrants and the establishment of growing numbers of migrant churches is enriching the ecumenical landscape in many regions.

However, programmes to promote multi-cultural approaches are under enormous pressure. While multi-cultural societies are a description of reality in most countries, policies to restrict rights, particularly social but also fundamental rights of migrants, are pursued more and more. Too often, the labour and service are welcome, but the persons are not. Restrictionist policies leave more and more migrants in insecurity, and they in turn often seek security in their own ethnic communities. It seems like a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy of failed integration, leading to ever-higher hurdles to integration and increasing fears in societies.

Migration also has an impact on the migrants' countries of origin, with the so-called "brain drain" of migrants who leave their countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, Africa has already lost one-third of its human capital. The examples are many. One-third of Ethiopia's medical doctors have left the country. In the 1980s, Ghana lost 60% of its graduating doctors.

Migrants send money home. The remittances from migrants have increased from an estimated US$2 billion in 1970 to US$100 billion in 2003; some research indicates that the amount flowing through informal channels is an additional US$100 billion. This figure far surpasses the US$68.5 billion which rich countries currently spend on official development assistance and represents a substantial portion of national GDP in many Southern countries. As the amount of remittances grows, governments are increasingly anxious to access these hard currency funds through taxation on money transfers. While some of these funds are used for development of infrastructure, there are few incentives for migrants to invest and gain pension and social security through such transfers. Migrants complain also about high bank charges - often reaching 20-30% of the total - which they must pay to send money home.

Security approach to migration

Since 9/11, governments have sought to prevent the entry of "terrorists" into their territories through a host of new restrictive measures. New laws, stricter passport controls, heftier carrier sanctions, heightened visa restrictions, and increasingly militarized borders are intended to control entry into national territory. These policies have a particular impact on migrants coming from certain regions. In fact, many tourists and ecumenical visitors have experienced the consequences of tightened immigration policies and visa requirements.

Detention of asylum-seekers, already widely practised by Northern governments, has increased since 11 September 200l. In Australia, every man, woman and child who arrives without a visa to seek asylum is subject to mandatory, indefinite and non-reviewable detention. Asylum-seekers intercepted en route to Australia by the Navy are forcibly transferred to detention and processing centres in the Pacific where the responsibility and enforceability of human rights is weak and unclear.

Some European governments now wish to emulate Australia's "Pacific Solution" and are exploring new ways of shifting the responsibility for asylum-seekers to third countries by setting up camps in other regions. While officially these proposals were withdrawn from the political agenda of the European Union after a study demonstrated that the concept is not feasible, the idea continues to come up. There is a tendency to transfer the responsibility for examination of asylum claims and for refugee protection to third countries with weaker judicial guarantees for refugees and less economic potential to care for and integrate refugees.

Deportations of foreigners are becoming more common. Governments which in the past tolerated the presence of asylum-seekers whose claims had been rejected are now rounding people up and sending them back to the country of origin or a third country. In the case of Central America and the Caribbean, these deportations are having serious social consequences, particularly when those deported have a record of criminal and/or gang activity.

Security concerns in some countries have led to violations of civil liberties and reduced legal certainty of residence status or legal redress. In a context where migrants, particularly of Arabic origin or Muslim faith, are suspected of being potential criminals or "terrorists", racial/ethnic attacks are dramatically increasing.

Increased military involvement in humanitarian affairs

Even as people continue to be displaced by war and civil conflicts, humanitarian assistance to refugees and the displaced is becoming more dangerous. Attacks against humanitarian workers are increasing, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya and many other places. The increasing use of humanitarian assistance as a tool of foreign policy and the growing involvement of military forces in providing humanitarian aid have blurred the lines between humanitarian assistance and political motivations. Humanitarian space is becoming more limited. Conflicts continue to displace people, but solutions are becoming more elusive. Well over half of the world's refugees have been displaced for more than 10 years, without basic prospects for repatriation, local integration or resettlement.

While there is a substantial body of law upholding the rights of refugees to be offered protection, these international instruments have been weakened over the past decade. Governments are implementing the basic provisions of international refugee and human rights laws in more restrictive ways. It has been 15 years since the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families was opened for signature, and two years since it came into force, the Convention has still not yet been signed by any government of a country hosting large numbers of migrants. Migration management - rather than migrants' rights or justice - has become the watchword of international discussions about migration, the focus still limited to controlling and preventing migration.

Analyzing global patterns of migration reveals an enormous gap between the Gospel imperative to practice hospitality towards strangers and the actual policies and practice of governments to close borders. We confess that there are Christians who reject those who are different from them. At the same time, thousands of individual Christians and congregations are working with refugees and migrants in increasingly difficult contexts and need to be supported. Thoughtful, researched alternative models do exist to counter harsher government policies; these need to be shared and used as a basis for common action. Churches are deeply involved in community education and advocacy at the local and national level and the need for international cooperation in advocacy for the uprooted has never been greater.


The Central Committee, meeting in Geneva February 15-22 2005, calls upon the World Council of Churches to evaluate appropriate programmes consistent with these recommendations and calls upon its member churches and all Christians:

  • To encourage and support churches and Christians who are engaged in defence of lives and protection of all uprooted people: refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants;
  • To affirm a culture of encounter, hospitality and cordial welcome for migrants, and to identify positive examples where churches have worked together effectively to offer alternatives to restrictionist policies;
  • To raise awareness within church constituencies of the resources and assets which migrants and refugees bring to their communities including arranging encounters between host and uprooted people to break down prejudices, fears and stereotypes;
  • To organize prayer meetings and awareness raising campaigns around International Migrants Day (18th December) or World Refugee Day (20th June) or other special days on such themes in individual countries;
  • To work with churches and related organizations in regional and global ecumenical networks for uprooted people to respond to the needs of people forced to cross national borders, to advocate for the respect of their fundamental human rights, and to build capacity to implement programmes by churches in different regions;
  • To promote multicultural ministry, both in training for local church staff and through exchange between churches in host countries and countries of origin and to deepen theological reflection on the theme of hospitality and uprootedness;
  • To include the concerns of uprooted people, particularly racist violence against migrants, where appropriate, in events organized around the Decade to Overcome Violence;
  • To combat the trafficking of human beings, particularly women and children for sexual exploitation; to work with governments, churches and concerned non-governmental organizations to ensure that the victims of traffickers receive the necessary treatment and respect; and to oppose efforts by governments to use the existence of trafficking as an excuse to restrict further immigration;
  • To ensure that both advocacy and assistance programmes are based on a recognition of the particular ways that gender, race, ethnicity and class interact to intensify the marginalization of uprooted people;
  • To take a proactive role in inter-religious dialogue on issues of society and religious communities to overcome conflicts within society;
  • To analyse and study the political, economic, social and environmental reasons for uprooting of people and in this context examine the role of governments in creating conditions that uproot people or place migrants in difficult situations, and develop educational material for the whole life of the church on causes which uproot people;
  • To challenge governments who seek to introduce ever more restrictionist entry policies and to challenge the trend toward using security concerns to justify detention of all undocumented migrants and/or asylum-seekers;
  • To press governments not to pursue actions to criminalise migrants or those who seek to protect them and to encourage governments to do more to create and facilitate welcoming societies and to foster the integration of refugees and migrants into their communities;
  • To insist, as a matter of principle, that undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers are detained only in exceptional circumstances and that in those exceptional circumstances, to ensure that people are detained for only a limited time and can avail themselves of judicial review and legal advice. Under no circumstances should conditions of detention for migrants and asylum-seekers be lower than that for convicted criminals.
  • To seek ways of increasing collaboration between churches and related organizations to uphold international law and international institutions established to provide protection and assistance to those who are uprooted;
  • To promote ratification and implementation of the International Convention and Protocol relating to Refugees (1951/1967) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their families (1990); and
  • To recognize that humanitarian laws relating to migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are under constant review and revision, because of changing international environment. Churches are called to monitor and undertake research to equip themselves to participate in these intricate issues that are likely to resolve in change of laws and legislation, on both international