Adopted by the Central Committee, Geneva, 11-19 September 1997.
The WCC Central Committee has been reminded during this meeting of the suffering of the civilian population of Iraq and of the deteriorating situation, mainly as a result of the continuing application of UN Security Council economic sanctions.
The “Oil for Food” Resolution adopted by the Security Council in 1995 (Res. 986), by which Iraq is allowed to sell limited quantities of oil to provide humanitarian relief for its people, has finally been implemented this year. Much of the revenue thus produced, however, goes not to relieve the plight of all Iraqi citizens, but rather for defraying costs related to the Gulf War and the maintenance of UN Observers in their country. Only a fraction of the needs of the people are being met. Recent on site investigation by UN specialized agencies and NGOs have warned of the consequences, especially for the children, of allowing the humanitarian situation of most of the Iraqi population to deteriorate further.
The Central Committee therefore requests the International Affairs staff to undertake a study of this particular situation in the light of the WCC “Memorandum and Recommendations on the Application of Sanctions” adopted in 1995, and that an ecumenical visit be paid to Iraq to meet with the churches and others affected by the situation. The results of this study and a report of the visit should be brought to the WCC Executive Committee meeting in early 1998 for further consideration and action.
WCC delegation visit
Press release on the official delegation visit to Iraq, 16-28 January 1998.
A seven-member World Council of Churches delegation, recently returned from Iraq, has warned against renewed military intervention, and called for a thorough review of the present UN sanctions regime.
In a report on the week-long visit, submitted to WCC General Secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, the delegation strongly recommends that churches around the world make representations to their respective governments to oppose threats of military action to force Iraq to comply with UN Security Council demands.
Voicing the concerns of Iraqi Christians, the report says that to pursue such a course would only intensify the sufferings of the powerless Iraqi people caught up in the middle of this conflict. The delegation reports that the churches of Iraq are calling on Christians around the world to join them in prayers for a non-violent resolution of the present crisis.
The report goes on to say that the present sanctions seriously violate the human rights of large sectors of the Iraqi population by denying them the rights to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services and employment.
The ecumenical team visit to the churches of Iraq and others affected by the application of sanctions took place from 18-25 January, in response to the WCC Central Committee’s request last September that a study be undertaken on the situation in Iraq in the light of the WCC's 1995 policy guidelines on the application of sanctions.
The delegation’s full report will be presented to the WCC Executive Committee when it meets in Geneva, 17-20 February. Among its other conclusions are:
Health and sanitation are in a critical state. There has been a dramatic increase in mortality, morbidity and malnutrition, especially among children and other vulnerable groups. The application of sanctions has prevented repairs of basic infrastructure destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War. It has also made it impossible for the state adequately to maintain water, sanitation, and electric power systems essential to public health. This, together with the degradation of schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, arable land, human resources and the general economy, combines to create a grim scenario.
The major cause of these problems is the seven-year long application of UN sanctions, whose negative effects have not been substantially altered by the “Oil for Food” concession of the Security Council.
Lacking clarity of purpose, defined and agreed goals, and consistent application, the sanctions regime has accomplished little else but suffering for ordinary people. Rather than undermine popular support for the present regime, sanctions have galvanized the population against foreign intervention and forged stronger bonds among various ethnic and religious communities.
Sanctions have also had a negative impact on the small minority Christian community, whose witness and ministry have been substantially impaired. Their capacity to sustain themselves financially has suffered badly, and their numbers have been significantly reduced through accelerated emigration of Christians fleeing economic hardship. Churches have a sense of abandonment by, and isolation from the broader Christian fellowship due to the difficulty of maintaining contact because of restrictions on travel to and from Iraq and on other forms of communication.
The delegation was not surprised at the impact of sanctions on the people of Iraq, having been well informed ahead of the visit by ecumenical partners and through the reports of UN and other humanitarian agencies. The WCC team was nevertheless alarmed by the worsening of the situation in recent months and the widespread human suffering they encountered.
During their visit, delegation members traveled extensively within the country, interviewing church representatives, health and social service providers, and ordinary citizens, especially young people and children. The team's observations were tested and repeatedly confirmed in interviews with UN agency staff and representatives of private international humanitarian organizations working in the country. They were also consistent with views expressed by Iraqi government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, with whom the delegation held extensive meetings.
The group urged that the churches’ attention be drawn once again to the “Guidelines and Criteria for the Application of Sanctions” adopted by the WCC Central Committee in 1995. That document pointed out that “sanctions are by definition coercive and ...often inflict additional suffering on affected populations, particularly the most innocent, for example, children.” The guidelines indicate that “Churches may play a role not only as advocates for irenic government policies, but as direct actors in offering inquiry, mediation or conciliation. Where possible, positive incentives or inducements should be offered as a preferable means of avoiding the escalation of conflicts.”
Members of the Delegation were:
Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Archbishop of Aleppo, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, member of the WCC Central Committee
Mr. Josh Arnold-Forster, Church of England, International political consultant
Dr. Josephine Ajema Odera, Anglican Church of Kenya, Lecturer, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi
Dr. Leila Richard, Episcopal Church, USA, Physician
Mr. Stein Villumstad, Church of Norway, Acting Director of International Programs, Norwegian Church Aid
Ms Salpy Eskidjian, Armenian Orthodox Church in Cyprus, Executive Secretary, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
Mr. Clement John, Church of Pakistan, Executive Secretary, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
Accompanying staff from the Middle East Council of Churches
Mr. Mike Nahal, Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in Lebanon
Mr. Peter Makari, Presbyterian Church (USA)