Protecting vulnerable populations is ecumenical responsibility
Benaco Rwandese refugee camp in Tanzania, 1994
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The 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February, today said prevention must be the key tool and concern of the churches regarding the responsibility to protect endangered populations.
The Assembly adopted a statement on the Responsibility to Protect, which proposes criteria for limited use of force in protection of the vulnerable, as a last resort.
The Responsibility to Protect is a concept focusing on the needs and rights of the civilian population and on the responsibilities of sovereignty, not only on the rights of sovereignty.
The statement says, "The responsibility to protect the vulnerable
is an ecumenical responsibility, conceiving the world as one household of God, who is the creator of all."
It says it means "above all prevention - prevention of the kinds of catastrophic assaults on individuals and communities that the world has witnessed in Burundi, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other instances and locations of human-made crises."
The statement distinguishes between prevention and intervention and says, "The fellowship of churches is not prepared to say that it is never appropriate or never necessary to resort to the use of force for the protection of the vulnerable."
It says, "States can no longer hide behind the pretext of sovereignty to perpetrate human rights violations against their citizens and live in total impunity."
The Assembly calls upon the international community and the individual national governments to strengthen their capability in preventive strategies, and violence-reducing intervention skills together with institutions of the civil society. Such a move will contribute to and develop further international law, based on human rights, and support the development of policing strategies that can address gross human rights violations.
The statement says when there is failure to carry out the responsibility to protect, whether by neglect, lack of capacity, or direct assaults on the population, "the international community has the duty to assist peoples and states, and in extreme situations, to intervene in the internal affairs of the state in the interests and safety of the people."
The Assembly says it joins with other Christians around the world in repenting for collective failure to live justly and to promote justice. "Critical solidarity with the victims of violence and advocacy against all the oppressive forces must also inform our theological endeavours towards being a more faithful church."
The full text of the "Statement on the Responsibility to Protect" is available at
Contact in Porto Alegre:+55 / 51 8419.216