Churches advocate at UN on climate impact, indigenous rights and Colombia

By agency reporter
November 11, 2009

Church representatives from around the world will gather in New York City from 15-20 November 2009 to press three issues within the agenda of the United Nations: peoples being displaced by climate change, indigenous people's rights and Colombia's protracted internal conflict.

The United Nations Advocacy Week (UNAW) is organised annually by the United Nations Liaison Office of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in New York. It brings together over 80 people from more than 40 countries working on advocacy issues in churches, national councils of churches, specialised agencies, regional ecumenical organisations and regional advocacy networks.

"As churches, we are pushing for an ambitious, fair and binding deal on climate change at the COP15 December meeting in Copenhagen, with a component that addresses climate displaced peoples. We want to bring this message forcefully into the UN system during the advocacy week," says Dr Guillermo Kerber, WCC programme executive for Climate Change.

Within the theme of climate change displacement, two regions will be highlighted: the Pacific and Africa. "Pacific islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati will probably disappear in the coming decades because of rising sea levels. So churches in the region are already addressing the issue of resettlement," says Kerber.

"In the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, population displacement is a growing problem as changing weather conditions affect farming communities," he adds.

Sessions on indigenous peoples will focus on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how churches can engage with indigenous people's struggles, recognizing the churches' historic involvement in colonisation and violence against indigenous peoples.

And the voices of Colombian people will enrich sessions on the conflict in this country and the churches' response to it. In Colombia, a long-running conflict has seen tens of thousands of civilians killed and more than two million Colombians driven from their homes.

"The UNAW is a call to ecumenical advocacy in the global arena," says the Rev Christopher Ferguson, WCC representative to the United Nations in New York. "The Advocacy Week is a crucial moment for the churches to come together to speak to these burning issues. The UN in New York is the new ‘public square’ in a world in crisis. The voice of the church, standing with those whose life and being is threatened, must be heard."

This year the UNAW is being run in partnership with the Global Platform for Theological Reflection, a meeting of members of churches, specialised ministries, ecumenical organisations and theological institutions which takes place 20-22 November 2009 in New York.

The Global Platform's meeting will be held immediately after the UNAW, with the theme "Praying, speaking out and acting together – Theological reflection on advocacy".

The 20 Global Platform participants will attend the UNAW, helping to ensure that the advocacy efforts of the churches are based on sound theological foundations. And the practical experiences of these participants at the UNAW will inform discussions at the Global Platform.

"These two events together will attempt to articulate a new rationale for churches' active engagement in the public sphere, particularly in the context of massive abuse and destruction of life in the world today," comments the Rev Dr Deenbandhu Manchala, programme executive for Just and Inclusive Communities and convener of the Global Platform.

"What is heard and learned during the week will help to discern what needs to be said to the churches and the ecumenical community about the vocation of speaking truth to power and of being in the vanguard of justice and life," notes Manchala.

Launched in 2007, the Global Platform is a space for stakeholders of the WCC to address issues of critical importance to the life and work of the ecumenical community.

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