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Reports 1995-1998 Edited by Dwain C. Epps

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Statement on Child Soldiers

Adopted by the Eighth Assembly, Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December 1998.

Hundreds of thousands of children under the age of eighteen, girls as well as boys, are enrolled today in national or irregular armed forces around the world. More than 300,000 children are currently engaged in armed conflicts. Many have been lawfully recruited, others have been kidnapped or otherwise coerced. The overwhelming majority of child soldiers come from marginalized and excluded sectors of society.

The involvement of children in armed conflicts violates fundamental humanitarian principles, exposes them to the risk of death and injury, threatens their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, and draws them into a culture of violence.

The Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December 1998:

Recalls the affirmation of the First Assembly that war is contrary to the will of God;

Renews its commitment to seek the delegitimization of war and violence and to strive to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of war;

Restates its opposition to any policy or authority which violates the rights of the younger generation, abuses or exploits them;

Condemns any use of children in warfare;

Calls upon the its member churches to:

  • call for an immediate moratorium on the recruitment and participation of children as soldiers and the demobilization of existing child soldiers;

  • assist those engaged in the rehabilitation, social reintegration and reconciliation of former child soldiers, taking particular account of the needs of former girl soldiers;

  • work to prevent the compulsory or voluntary recruitment or re-recruitment of children as soldiers in national armies or irregular armed forces or groups;

  • promote the establishment of international standards to this effect, in particular the adoption of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child raising the minimum age from 15 years to 18 years for all forms of recruitment and participation in hostilities;

  • urge their national governments to adopt and apply such standards in their own national legislation;

Calls especially upon member churches in Africa to advocate for the prompt ratification by their governments of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which prohibits the recruitment to armed forces and participation in hostilities of children under 18 years.

Peace Concerns

Message on the Anniversary of the end of World War II

Sent to member churches, 21 April 1995.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

During these days and in the months to come, people have been and will be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of events that culminated in the defeat of fascist regimes and the end of the Second World War.

These commemorations began on a triumphal note last year with ceremonies recalling the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944 and re-enacting the joyous celebration of liberation in the streets of Paris. Amidst the global media attention to this and other anniversary events in Europe, we should not forget that the war which ended fifty years ago was a world war, exacting a terrible price in many places outside Europe: through the brutal occupation inflicted on the peoples of Asia and the Pacific and the devastation wrought in those parts of Africa and the Middle East turned into battlefields by the Axis powers. As each of us remembers the experiences and actions of our own nation during the war, let us do so in awareness of our being part of one human family and of the grim consequences that so often follow from nationalistic disregard of other peoples.

In all these occasions for looking back across a half-century, celebration of the end of the war is mingled with mourning for all who suffered and died. And as we honour the unflagging dedication and selfless courage of many who sought the overthrow of aggressive and oppressive forces, let us also reflect soberly on the depths of inhumanity and evil laid bare during those years: the Shoah (Holocaust) of millions of Jews under Nazi Germany, the creation on all sides of “enemy images” fortified by racial hatred, forced conscription and foreign occupation, wanton destruction and massive bombing of civilians by aggressors and avengers alike.

As churches together in the fellowship of the World Council of Churches, our memories of the end of the Second World War are inextricably linked with our own ecumenical history. The war's outbreak delayed the founding of the WCC for seven years. When the First Assembly could finally be held in 1948 in Amsterdam, the delegates were determined to speak an authentic word in the context of fresh and painful memories of the conflict. Their message, addressed “to all who are in Christ, and to all who are willing to hear”, is a precious part of our ecumenical heritage, and rereading these words in the context of this year's anniversary commemorations can help us to go beyond simply remembering the past to assessing the present and making commitments for the future.

It is noteworthy that the message of Amsterdam was not a triumphal proclamation of the victory of good over evil. Rather, the delegates began with a sober assessment of “the world as it is (...), filled both with great hopes and also with disillusionment and despair”:

Some nations are rejoicing in new freedom and power, some are bitter because freedom is denied them, some are paralysed by division, and everywhere there is an undertone of fear. There are millions who are hungry, millions who have no home, no country and no hope. Over all mankind hangs the peril of total war.

Instead of seeking to assign blame elsewhere for the horrors through which the world had come, they saw the need for the divided churches to confess their own sins:

We have to accept God's judgement upon us for our share in the world's guilt. Often we have tried to serve God and mammon, put other loyalties before loyalty to Christ, confused the gospel with our own economic or national or racial interests and feared war more than we have hated it. As we have talked with each other here, we have begun to understand how our separation has prevented us from receiving correction from one another in Christ. And because we lacked this correction, the world has often heard from us not the Word of God but the words of men.

Then the Assembly went on to formulate an acid test of the ecumenical covenant the churches were making together in Amsterdam:

Our coming together to form a World Council will be vain unless Christians and Christian congregations everywhere commit themselves to the Lord of the church in a new effort to seek together, where they live, to be his witnesses and servants among their neighbours... We have to learn afresh together to speak boldly in Christ's name both to those in power and to the people, to oppose terror, cruelty and race discrimination, to stand by the outcast, the prisoner and the refugee. We have to make of the church in every place a voice for those who have no voice, and a home where every man will be at home.

Looking back on the fifty years since the Second World War, we must ask whether we as churches have learned the lessons articulated by Amsterdam. Have we, in the words of the First Assembly, said No “to the defenders of injustice in the name of order, to those who sow the seeds of war or urge war as inevitable”? Have we said Yes “to all who seek for justice, to the peacemakers, to all who hope, fight and suffer for the cause of man, to all who – even without knowing it – look for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness”?

The joy which many peoples felt at the end of the war fifty years ago was short-lived. In eastern and central Europe the war was followed by dark decades of oppressive rule by totalitarian regimes. Throughout much of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific, the post-war years, despite political independence, became a new era of subjugation, as the victors moved to consolidate their position of economic dominance. For the Korean people, 1995 marks the fiftieth anniversary not only of their liberation from Japanese colonial rule but also of the division of their country — a painful separation that continues even after the end of the Cold War of which it was a foreshadowing.

With memories still fresh of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Amsterdam Assembly called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The victors did not heed this warning. Instead, they increased their reliance on nuclear deterrence, ushering in an age of nightmares for generations to come.

The decades after 1945 saw militarism continue to spread as an instrument of official foreign and domestic policy, cloaked in the rhetoric of “national security”. Regional conflicts proliferated. Many were waged in the Third World as proxy wars between the superpower blocs. Yet with the end of the Cold War, unresolved and long-suppressed hatreds have erupted into horrifying new wars, typified by the bitter conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya, which rage, seemingly out of control, even as the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe is being commemorated. Some of these “limited “ wars, fought with “conventional” weapons, have been far more destructive than the fiercest battles in the early 1940s.

The persistence of armed conflicts over the past half century and the readiness of so many to justify war despite the countless atrocities that accompany it show the powerful influence that the logic of war continues to exert — also, it must be said, in the churches. One reason for this is that truth, the “first casualty” in any war, continues to be suppressed long after the war is over. Thus fifty years later we are still learning of some of the terrible realities of the Second World War.

Only now is the full truth coming to light about the complicity of authorities in occupied and neutral countries in the deportation and murder of Jews, Gypsies and political opponents of fascist regimes. The story of the “comfort women” of Asia, forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military, was suppressed for decades. Not until recently did Japanese authorities grudgingly confess guilt in this and other atrocities, including the terrifying experiments on prisoners of war to measure the effects of biological weapons. A new study in the United States has revealed that many members of its own armed forces were unwittingly exposed to radiation in order to study the potential effects of nuclear weapons on enemy populations. Mass deportations of citizens considered threats to national security and mass killings of prisoners by Soviet forces during the war have been confirmed only decades later.

Would the atrocities committed in the “limited wars” of the past half-century have been so constant if such disclosures had come earlier? If we had known the full truth about the Second World War, would we have been so ready to accept the justifications offered for these subsequent conflicts? Such questions are especially pertinent at a moment when anniversary celebrations tempt us to view this war in simple terms of good and evil.

The Amsterdam Assembly stated unequivocally that “war as a method of settling disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The part which war plays in our present international life is a sin against God and a degradation of man.” Might such tragedies as we are witnessing today in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been avoided if the churches of the world had fully accepted this insight and proclaimed its implications more insistently, rejecting the idea that the resolution of any dispute requires the defeat, subjection and humiliation of one side by the other?

It is true that churches have sometimes been ready to speak out against war. Already in October 1945, the Evangelical Church in Germany, recalling its struggle against “the National Socialist regime of violence,” declared: “we accuse ourselves for not witnessing more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously and for not loving more ardently.” Later the United Church of Christ in Japan issued its own “Confession of Responsibility for World War II.” On several other occasions during the past fifty years, churches have protested their country's military engagements, sometimes eliciting sharp opposition form their own members as well as the government. Yet if we ask whether we as Christians and churches have indeed said a firm and convincing No to the logic of war and Yes to the love of Christ and the justice of the God of history, it is clear that we, like our ecumenical forebears in Amsterdam, have much to confess. This anniversary year provides us with an opportunity to do so. It can be a time to demonstrate that “our coming together to form a World Council” has not been in vain by recommitting ourselves “to the Lord of the church in a new effort to seek together... to be his witnesses and servants” among our neighbours.

This challenge to break the vicious cycle of violence and promote a global culture of peace was posed to the churches by the WCC Central Committee in Johannesburg last year when it approved the creation of a new Programme to Overcome Violence. At that same meeting the Central Committee also decided that the WCC's Eighth Assembly, to be held in Harare in 1998, fifty years after Amsterdam, should focus on the biblical notion of jubilee (Leviticus 25).

What better moment than this fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War to begin preparing in our churches and congregations for this “jubilee Assembly”? The commemorative events taking place this year in different parts of the world provide the churches with occasions to rededicate ourselves to the jubilee values which make for peace: working to set free those held captive by the injustices of our world, forgiving debts and seeking forgiveness, proclaiming in word and deed the good news of God's healing and salvation, preparing the day of the Lord.

In the Christ whose resurrection we celebrate in this Easter season we are reconciled to God and called to be reconciled with one another, even with our enemies, as a living sign in a broken world that peace is possible. In the words of the theme of the Eighth Assembly, let us “turn to God, rejoice in hope”.

Yours in the risen Christ,

Konrad Raiser

General Secretary

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