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Church must act to protect human rights...

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Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
29 February 2000


Churches must act to protect human rights as state role
diminishes
ENI-00-0073

By Eunice Mafundikwa
Abokobi, Ghana, 29 February (ENI)--Globalisation has diminished
the role of the state to protect citizens' human rights, and
churches and congregations should assume that responsibility,
according to a representative of the World Council of Churches
(WCC), Clement John.

Addressing the 11th general assembly of the Association of
Christian Lay Centres in Africa (ACLCA) on 22 February, John
said: "In the new configuration of unipolar order, churches are
required to respond to new forces whose actions have direct and
indirect implication for human rights, private armed groups, some
based on ethnicity, others on religion, transnational
corporations and financial institutions."

A total of 140 delegates from lay centres in 24 countries
attended the assembly, which was held from 20 to 26 February.
ACLCA was founded in 1970.

Clement John, who is a member of the Church of Pakistan, is a
specialist on human rights in the WCC's international relations
team. He said the state was under attack from the intrusion of
foreign capital as a result of globalisation and from religious,
ethnic and nationalist forces that had in the recent past become
increasingly violent and destructive.

"These trends contributed to the erosion of power and authority
of the state and have resulted in an increase of human rights
violations," he said.

Government decisions in many parts of the world, particularly in
developing countries, were determined by the requirements of the
market.

"The need to provide stable and conducive environment for
foreign capital often takes precedence over human rights and
justice concerns in formulation of state policies," he said.

The demands imposed by the international financial institutions
had forced many governments to reduce state subsidies on basic
needs such as health care, housing, food and education.

"These measures in turn have impacted on the fundamental human
rights of people both in the North as well as in the South,"
Clement John said. To strengthen capacities of churches in the
fight to protect human rights, John said resources should be
channelled towards training programmes.

"Clear strategies have to be worked out to encourage
movement-building, based on action, reflection and research for
the human rights struggle at grass-roots level." He added that
closer co-operation among ecumenical partners was needed if
effective ecumenical participation was to be achieved at
international organisations such as the United Nations.

Interfaith dialogue, John said, had to be encouraged to protect
human rights, particularly the rights of religious minorities.

"Churches will have to use interfaith dialogue as a means to
promote peace, understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity
of religion and belief."

John added that the battle for human rights could not be won
through denunciations and passing resolutions of condemnation.
But the situation can change "with a strong and vibrant movement
on the ground".

The lay centres' main objective is to empower lay Christians to
find solutions to problems encountered by their communities.
Membership of ACLCA is varied, with some centres attached loosely
to churches and related organisations, while others are more
independent. But all are ecumenical in their outlook and are
involved in social justice issues. ACLCA is supported by the
WCC.

On his return to Geneva, Clement John told ENI that "looking at
the situation from a human rights perspective", he saw four major
issues faced by the lay centres across Africa:
? "The first problem is corruption - in government, in the
military, in day-to-day life such as police harassment.
? "It seems that every country represented is facing a crisis
situation as far as HIV-Aids is concerned. It has become a major
theological and moral issue, as well as one of survival, because
of the lack of drugs and facilities for treatment.
? "The proliferation of small arms, with unemployed youth and
soldiers who have deserted engaging in banditry and lawlessness
on the highways and in cities and towns.
? "Finally, the issue of the rise of militant, political Islam.
There are fears that what is happening in Nigeria could spread to
other countries where there are Muslims and Christians."