HARARE–Zimbabwe–An Armenian theologian has challenged the World Council of Churches and its member churches to promote human rights education as a way of equipping potential victims of oppression with the knowledge to defend themselves.
Speaking from the floor Friday at the WCC’s Eighth Assembly–during a plenary session to discuss reports by the WCC’s two senior officers–the Moderator and the General Secretary–Dr. Rubina Peroomian representing the Armenian Apostolic Church said that lack of information was one of the worst human rights violations. She said that oppressors were taking full advantage of the public’s ignorance about their rights.
Dr. Peroomian urged the Church to go beyond making declarations on human rights. "Declarations and statemen’s alone cannot prevent victimization of the media," she said. "We should educate the people and make them aware of their rights. This should start at school. Students must learn about abuse–human rights violations and their rights."
She added that church organizations had an important role to play in realizing this goal and urged the Church to invest in human rights education.
A strong affirmation of human rights had been made in the report given earlier by the Moderator of the WCC’s Central Committee–His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of Holy See of Cilicia. Delegates had applauded when he called for those who violated human rights to be prosecuted.
On a related issue–Timothy Royle of the Church of England challenged the WCC to confront squarely the increasing problem of corruption–which he said was rife not only in political circles but even in the Church. Corruption was one of the most serious threats to human rights.
Royle said that it did not help much to speak about debt relief when loans were taken with no intention of repaying them and without any account of how the money was used. If that happened–he said–"it’s the ordinary people who suffer."
He added that "corruption has become a disease that is worse than AIDS and the Assembly should condemn it."
The human rights issue surfaced again at a press conference Saturday. The Moderator was asked what he meant by punitive measures for violators of human rights and whether this harmonized with forgiveness. Aram I replied that forgiveness was important and part of the whole approach to the problem–but that the churches should also support all legal action taken by the United Nations and other legitimate authorities. Perpetuators of massacres and genocide had to be dealt with. Dr. Raiser added that the WCC had clearly ruled out capital punishment as an acceptable punitive measure.
The year 1998 was declared the International Year of Human Rights and the Assembly will join the world in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10.
His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of Cilicia also said that the WCC’s relationship with its Orthodox members–while not yet in a crisis state–was "critical" and too little had been done to bring them into "creative interaction" with the Council’s western Protestant thinking and methods.
In a wide-ranging report to delegates of the WCC’s Eighth Assembly–meeting in Harare–Zimbabwe–from December 3 to 14–Aram I expressed a vision of a better world if the WCC’s member churches helped diverse ethnic and religious groups to learn "to live together as one community" and if ecumenical leadership took advantage of today’s "committed and visionary young people." His report included an analysis of the Council’s programs in the seven years since its last Assembly in Canberra.
The 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 will be commemorated by the Assembly. Aram I described current ethnic conflicts around the world that have led to "increasing violations of human rights". He deplored the fact that many individuals and nations that commit acts of genocide–war crimes and injustice were not called to justice. "The popular saying–`You can run but you cannot hide’ is being turned on its head," he said.
Delegates and visitors applauded as Aram called for the prosecution of human rights violators. "There is a crying need to bring to justice and to make accountable those responsible for policies leading to violations of the rights and dignity of women and children–communities and nations," he said. The member churches could help to create a healthier environment for human rights by working together with other faiths to "seek a global ethics based on shared ethical values that transcend religious beliefs and narrow definitions of national interests."
Addressing an issue widely discussed before the Assembly began this week–Aram I called upon Orthodox and other members of the Council to maintain their commitment to one another. Orthodox members "have played an important role" in the WCC–bringing "significant contributions to ecumenical thinking and spirituality," he said.
Even so–Orthodox churches "have not integrated themselves fully" into the life of the WCC because of Council practices and methods that were not compatible with Orthodox tradition. "Unless the Assembly takes this present situation seriously," Aram I said–"I fear that the Orthodox participation will steadily dwindle."
He called upon Orthodox members to come to the Council "with a clear agenda and an open attitude" and he asked other WCC members to provide "ample space and opportunities" for Orthodox. "It is time that the Orthodox churches move from monologue to dialogue–from reaction to action–from contribution to participation–from being observers to becoming full partners in the WCC."
Aram I’s analysis of Orthodox-WCC relationships was part of his commen’s on the Council’s Common Understanding and Vision planning document–which has led to proposed constitutional amendmen’s that will come before the delegates at this meeting.
In the next decade and the next millennium–the Moderator said–the Council will find itself facing new social and political realities. "We have all become neighbors in a "global village," black and white–rich and poor–Christian–Muslim–Buddhist–followers of other faiths or atheist. Torn by our differences and tensions–we do not yet know how to live together in a world in which we are bound to live together in one community."
Referring to the Assembly theme "Turn to God-Rejoice in Hope," he said–"Turning to God implies turning to our neighbor in active love–justice and reconciliation. "On December 13–during the 50th anniversary celebration of the WCC–we will be invited to reaffirm our commitment by saying–`We intend to stay together.’"
Some 4,000 international representatives and visitors are meeting in Harare for the two-week Assembly–which meets every seven years to set policy goals for the WCC and to provide a multi-cultural celebration of the Christian faith.