World Council of Churches
June 9, 2003
A range of strategies and concrete actions proposed in the framework of a reaffirmation of unity in fighting for debt cancellation were the main results of a World Council of Churches (WCC) workshop that addressed debt campaign divisions.
The more high profile proposals – intended to revitalise the debt movement – were to conduct processes of debt auditing to advance the issue of illegitimate debt and ecological debt, and to consider the possibility of a World Commission on Foreign Debt and Audit.
In line with this proposal, international laws and legal mechanisms to address illegitimate debt and ecological debt will be explored. This would include undertaking a collective study and publication of case studies on illegitimate and odious debts.
While the participants did not discard the possibility of bringing a case to the International Court of Justice regarding illegitimate and odious debts, they also demanded the cancellation of Iraq’s odious debt and reparations for the Iraqi people through their legitimately constituted government.
“The objectives of the workshop were met and the participants reaffirmed their unity in fighting for debt cancellation”, says Rogate Mshana, WCC programme executive for economic justice. “It was the first time that debt cancellation campaigners in the North acknowledged the need to fight for the right of people to repudiate illegitimate debt”, he adds.
The workshop, “Illegitimate debt and arbitration”, took place from June 30 to July 2, 2003 in the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, and brought together about 30 debt cancellation activists from various campaigns and movements devoted to eradicating the external debt problem of poor countries.
“We have to forge common understanding and unity within the debt movement and between debt, trade, environmental movements and the global justice movement as a whole so that we may all work together for the cancellation of illegitimate debts and the building of a more just, life-affirming global economic system”, the workshop’s final statement, “A Call to Action”, says.
The participants in the workshop also explored the main approaches to the debt problem – illegitimacy, ecological debt and the Fair and Transparent Arbitration Process – as well as the relationships and linkages between them. “Justice is a common thread that runs through all three approaches to resolve the debt problem”, they agreed.
In evaluating the different approaches, participants highlighted the concept of ecological debt as “an empowering and liberating framework for peoples in the South in helping to change mindsets from Southern countries/peoples as debtors to Southern countries/peoples as creditors and in recognising environmental concerns and the plunder of Southern resources by the North since colonial times”.
But they also agreed on the necessity of more study and research on the issue. Therefore, the WCC will facilitate a North/South consultation on ecological debt in 2004. The event and the process leading to it are intended to consolidate a Southern Peoples Ecological Debt Creditors Alliance, and to create a European Network for the Recognition and Restitution of Social and Ecological Debts.
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The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.
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