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World Council of Churches condemns terrorism and ‘war on terror’

The World Council of Churches has condemned terrorism but in doing so has urged its members to challenge the idea of the "war on terror", warning that anti-terrorist legislation risks violating human rights.

"Every attempt to intimidate others by inflicting indiscriminate death and injury upon them is to be universally condemned," the WCC assembly meeting in Brazil stated in a resolution adopted on 23 February. "The answer to terrorism, however, cannot be to respond in kind, for this can lead to more violence and more terror."

The highest governing body of the WCC said, "acts of terror and some aspects of the so-called ‘war on terror’ have introduced new dimensions of violence. In addition, fundamental international laws and norms, including long-established standards of human rights, have come under threat.

"Terrorists base their actions on absolutist claims. Religion is sometimes used as a pretext for the use of violence as being divinely sanctioned," the resolution stated. "Assembled as representatives from churches in all corners of the world, we state unequivocally that terror, as indiscriminate acts of violence against unarmed civilians for political or religious aims can never be justified legally, theologically or ethically."

The 14-23 February gathering of the world’s biggest church grouping is the first meeting of its assembly since the 11 September 2001 terror attacks in the United States, and subsequent bombings in places such as Britain, Indonesia, and Spain.

"In this document we try to get a balance between terror and counter-terror," Bishop Tom Butler of the Church of England told a media conference in Porto Alegre where the WCC met. "In response to the attacks on the London Underground, the British government is naturally trying to do everything they can to make sure such an atrocity never happens again," said Butler, whose diocese includes part of the British capital. Still, he cautioned, "if we are not careful, human rights are eroded in this response."

The statement warned, "The ‘war on terror’ has redefined war and relativised international law and human rights norms and standards. A military response to terror may become indiscriminately destructive and cause fear in affected populations. It may provide legitimacy to a violent approach rather than the criminal justice approach which is appropriate in dealing with cases of terror."

The assembly said it wanted to see "interfaith initiatives to mobilise alternate responses to terrorism" that do not rely on violence. "They should reject all attempts to justify acts of terror as a response to political and social problems and play an active role in the prevention of conflicts." [444 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International