Statement on behalf of the National Council of Churches by its Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace Convening Table.
On this International Human Rights Day, we write to both the outgoing and incoming administrations to ask that human rights and peacebuilding be put at the core of US foreign policy. We know this re-direction cannot occur overnight, but in this brief statement we point to the immediate need for new policy directions and a renewed commitment to just peacemaking and nonviolence built in the image of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called, the “World House,” a vision of how we might create new communities to bridge old divisions.
Policies of Human Rights, Realism, and Peacemaking
The member communions of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and its predecessor, the Federal Council of Churches, have long lifted up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). US and international Christian bodies were instrumental in building support for that document, praying for it to be central in creating an international framework of justice that would greatly reduce the danger of war. We continue to be realists about sin and evil and hence about the need for mutual accountability, shared security, and the rule of law to be strengthened among nations. Without a human rights core, exploitation and sacrifice of others inevitably become acceptable. In the words of Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Then, Psalm 12:8 continues, “vileness is exalted among humankind.”
We are increasingly aware that human rights defenders around the world are under attack and must be protected. Proactive diplomacy needs to be increased and that fair trade relationships must include labor, human, and environmental rights—even within our own country. The NCC has repeatedly opposed unilateral US war-making based on falsehoods—as we have seen too often in the Middle East and Central America—and similarly opposed invasions, genocides, and collective punishments by others. Particularly now, the US needs an honest patriotism that admits tragic misdeeds, including the indefinite extra-territorial isolation of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the continuing break-up of immigrant families at our border, among others. A new path forward is needed.
Christian Theological and Ethical Resources
The church is encouragedrecognizes that the global interconnectedness of life systems is now being recognized across our human structures now binding the world together today, since this awareness is constitutive of our self-understanding. Our interconnectedness mandates the affirmation of the plurality of peoples and cultures specifically because of shared universal values entwining our human interactions. We see readily that the love of neighbor and the welcoming of the stranger are increasingly understood as essential ethical principles in every culture. The future of our life on Earth requires us to act intentionally in ways that affirm the oneness of humanity in dynamic interdependence with the biosphere in which God has made us and Christ has redeemed us and of which we are the caretakers.
It is this conviction of shared, universal values that undergirds our interfaith efforts at peacemaking and our work to protect human rights around the world. Out of these values we offer these basic new directions:
1. Among other actions, a more moral foreign policy of the United States should include:
- a. Full US participation in and support for the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court;
- b. Closing Guantanamo Bay and overseas “black sites,” which criminalize US service personnel who hold others in indefinite and unconstitutional detention;
- c. Limiting the presidential pardon to require a human rights review of any prospective pardons of war criminals;
- d. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- e. Renewed endorsement of and participation in UN scientific studies and regulation of climate change, including covenants such as the Paris Accords, with any decisions to withdraw from these subject to majority support in both houses of Congress.
- f. Greater support for United Nations programs and improvements in UN governance.
With Regard to the Military and Human Security:
2. Since unilateral military action and treaty breaking have already led to much tragic miscalculation and distancing from our allies, the U.S. should renew or renegotiate regional security and arms reduction treaties. It should consider human rights, food security, and environmental sustainability before imposing economic, trade, immigration, or travel sanctions, which should be subject to Congressional review. Specific policy and program improvements seem warranted:
- a. To strengthen the War Powers Act requiring Congressional Declarations of War, sunset clauses on such authorizations, determinations of what constitutes ‘humanitarian intervention,’ disclosure of armed drone and cyber security operations (offensive and defensive), and other Congressional oversight functions;
- b. To assess the effectiveness of anti-terror or counterterrorist policies in light of empirical studies of the roots of terrorism, and in light of the impacts of these policies on the security of Christian and other religious minorities;
- c. To reduce the military budget and network of international bases, particularly where climate change has already deteriorated facilities;
- d. To support international treaties and strengthen agencies for arms control, atomic energy, and disarmament and to expand them to include all countries with nuclear weapons, to restrict further nuclear testing and proliferation, to monitor all nuclear sites and facilities, and to ensure the safe disposal of nuclear waste and deactivated weapons; all toward the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
In statecraft, diplomacy, and foreign assistance:
3. Increased funding for strong and effective statecraft, including strategic and generous foreign assistance, is essential for a national security that is also collective security and basic human security. No US military aid or subsidy should go to human rights violators and those who deprive ethnically and religiously different groups of full citizenship rights. Trade relationships should follow similar human rights standards, with the inclusion of labor rights and environmental protections. Specific policy and program improvements seem warranted:
- a. To require career Foreign Service diplomats in all major ambassadorial appointments and to protect those representatives from politicized manipulation and retaliation; to reduce unprofessional, corrupt, and incompetent behavior, conflicts of interest, nepotism, and otherwise improve decision-making;
- b. To increase protections for whistle-blowers, particularly in national security agencies, and reduce politicization of appointments to security and surveillance agencies;
- c. To increase funding for the Peace Corps and study abroad by scholars, as well as ease restrictions and obstacles for foreign students and scholars seeking to study in the United States;
- d. To provide assistance, medical care, and relocation if necessary to persons and families involved in assisting US military efforts (such as translators) and restoration assistance in locations where nuclear and other highly toxic chemical use or disposal has contaminated the land.