As over a billion Catholics celebrate the first pope from Latin America, the World Council of Churches has denounced the increasing numbers of extra-judicial killings, discrimination and exclusion of women, youth and migrants in the region.
In a statement Friday, the executive committte of the WCC expressed deep concern over threats to peace and human security in Latin America.
"The dignity of millions of people in Latin America is affected by the current realities in the region," reads the statement.
"Human insecurity, drug trafficking and human trafficking, 'femicide', organized crime, youth gangs, a supply of illegal guns and corrupt, ineffective state institutions, inequality, poverty, unemployment, discrimination and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples and impunity, are among the prevailing trends."
The committee, which held a meeting March 5-8 in Bossey, Switzerland, called for "renewed efforts on behalf of the ecumenical movement in order to address adequately Latin America's mounting problems related to peace, security and human rights."
The WCC statement condemns the persistent discrimination and systematic attacks against Indigenous Peoples and black communities.
The document on peace and human security also requests that the states of Latin America protect human rights defenders in the region. "The criminalization of social protest is unacceptable," it states.
Regarding United States foreign policy toward Cuba, the WCC executive committee condemned U.S. economic sanctions against the country, saying it interferes with the peoples' right to self-determination
The group also urged all countries to support the negotiations on a robust Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations Conference in March 2013. The treaty is meant to regulate conventional weapons, such as warships , battle tanks and machine guns.
The "peace and human security in Latin America" statement based on the 2012 ecumenical consultation on the topic in Antigua, Guatemala. The event last year was organized by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.
The Geneva-based WCC represents Anglican, Evangelical, Orthodox churches, Pentecostal and traditional Protestant denominations in one of the world's biggest church bodies with some 560 million members.
In Latin America, the WCC has 27 member churches representing about 4.4 million Christians in the northern areas of Mexico all the way down to the southern tips of Argentina and Chile.
Read the full statement below:
Statement on peace and human security in Latin America
WCC Executive Committee
5 - 8 March 2013
Upon recommendation of the public issues sub-committee, the executive committee approved the following statement by consensus:
1. Conventional security threats have receded in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the region was roiled by political bloodshed, originated by the implementation of the ideology of national security, military dictatorships and authoritative regimes and left-wing insurgencies. Today unconventional threats have come to the forefront of several countries in the region. Despite various positive developments that have taken place in the area of peace-building and security, organized crime and violence are corroding governance and imperilling democratic legitimacy and the rule of law. A United Nation's study on homicide in 2011 found that killings in Central America were nearing a "crisis point". According to its estimates, the number of people killed by gun crime in Central and South America is four times the world average.
2. The dignity of millions of people in Latin America is affected by the current realities in the region. Human insecurity, drug trafficking and human trafficking, "femicide", organized crime, youth gangs, a supply of illegal guns and corrupt, ineffective state institutions, inequality, poverty, unemployment, discrimination and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples and impunity, are among the prevailing trends.
3. The rise in urban crime-related violence, together with the lifting of a ban on US sales of advanced weapons, has also had a strong impact upon the security of the region. At the same time, the inclusion of Colombia in the framework of the "War on Terror" further increased arms-related trade and aid, causing regional instability. The policies of militarization as a response to the actions of organized crime and drug trafficking have not only failed but they have increased the violence indices and definitively benefit the large capitals. Many Latin American countries have been affected with the wide spread of small arms and light weapons.
4. According to the World Health Organization, gun-related fatalities are the leading cause of death among Latin Americans between ages 15 and 44. The WHO estimates that overall, gunshot wounds kill between 73,000 and 90,000 people annually in Latin America, demonstrating that the region is inundated with firearms. The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) reveals in its study that there are at least 45 million to 80 million small arms and light weapons in Latin America. About 2,000 guns cross the border between the United States into Mexico almost every day.
5. It is in this context that community, public health and judicial programmes are needed to save as many as possible of the Latin Americans who die in armed violence every day. It is also a reminder of the urgent need for reforms in the arms trade in order to end irresponsible sales and transfers of arms to and within the region and for the support of Latin American states for the Arms Trade Treaty.
6. It is an encouraging sign that Latin America has remained a Nuclear Weapons Free region since the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Treaty of Tlatelolco) was agreed in 1967.
7. It is necessary to approach and address these problems through structural reforms in the economic and social spheres, as well as through international agreements. The states have the obligation to guarantee the implementation and full enjoyment of human rights by all citizens. There is a need for public policies that safeguard life and guarantee human security, respect for human rights and development. The strengthening of national institutions as well as of the Inter-American human rights system and the international human rights protection mechanisms is necessary.
8. The WCC, the churches in the region and the wider ecumenical movement have a long tradition of involvement in addressing human rights and peace in Latin American countries, especially in the past decades. However, the current situation of increasing levels of violence and human insecurity calls for renewed efforts on behalf of the ecumenical movement in order to address adequately Latin America's mounting problems related to peace, security and human rights. Participants of the commission of the churches in international affairs (CCIA) consultation on "Peace and Human Security in Latin America" held in Antigua, Guatemala, in December 2012, expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation in the continent and invited the WCC to play a more active role and call on its member churches and the global ecumenical family to express solidarity at various levels.
Therefore, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, 5-8 March 2013:
A. expresses its serious concern about the rising levels of violence and human insecurity in many countries in Latin America;
B. denounces the increasing numbers of extra-judicial killings, discrimination and exclusion of women, youth and migrants in the region;
C. condemns the persistent discrimination and systematic attacks against Indigenous Peoples and black communities; and demands that the economic ventures of transnational corporations and local projects in ancestral Indigenous lands be done in consultation with the people of those lands, as stipulated by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
D. expresses a special concern about the threats to the territorial and economic sovereignty that different countries of the region have experienced;
E. requests that the states of Latin America assure the integral protection of human rights defenders in the region. The tasks of human rights defenders in monitoring, denouncing and proposing public policies must be free from pressures and threats. The criminalization of social protest is unacceptable;
F. condemns the negative policies of the government of the United States towards Cuba, especially the economic sanctions imposed against the country, which constitute a threat to peace and a manifestation of a policy of interference in peoples' right to self-determination;
G. welcomes the beginning of the peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC as a way to fulfil the aspirations of the people of Colombia for a lasting peace with social justice; and urges a bilateral cease fire during the peace talks;
H. urges all countries to support the negotiations on a robust Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations Conference in March 2013 that will conclude the work begun in July 2012;
I. acknowledges the historical contributions of the WCC in supporting the struggles of the people in Latin America for human rights and democratization; and urges the WCC to address emerging concerns related to peace and human security in the region;
J. calls on the churches and the wider ecumenical movement to pray and support decisively the people and churches of Latin America in their struggles for the construction of a society of peace with justice.