Illegitimate Debt or Arbitration?

Jun 27, 2003 12:43 PM EDT

Forging a common understanding on debt campaigning is the goal of a World Council of Churches (WCC) workshop that will bring together about 30 representatives of campaign movements devoted to solving the problem of the debt of poor countries.

The workshop, "Illegitimate debt and arbitration", will take place from June 30 to July 2, 2003 in the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva. Representatives from Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, Pacific and Europe are expected to participate.

Almost a decade of global campaigning by multiple actors in civil society has not resolved the problem of debt. Despite the awareness raised by the campaigns that debt is a result of an unjust financial system and has to be approached from a justice perspective, the rich countries have not seriously addressed the issue. Therefore, churches and other civil society organizations have realised that new strategies and strong alliances must be formed to continue to put pressure on creditors.

However, among the campaigns, various creative but sometimes contradictory methods have emerged. Some parts of civil society speak about debt relief while others speak of total debt cancellation. Some methods focus on technical aspects while others are legal or political in nature. Campaign organizers have now recognized that contradictory methods send contradictory messages to international financial institutions, the G8 governments and the United Nations. Thus the World Council of Churches is taking up the issue in an effort to reconcile groups with different approaches.

"It is now time to come together again and re-examine our strategies, commonalties and differences in order to forge a solid ground for a powerful campaign. This time it is expected that a spirit of cooperation and genuine sharing will prevail. It is quite clear that no one single group can bring change by itself ... hence the need for strong solidarity", says Rogate Mshana, WCC programme executive for economic justice.

The workshop aims to create a common understanding between those who propose debt arbitration mechanisms and those who oppose them. It will also try to establish how the questions of illegitimacy of debt and arbitration can fit together. A discussion on different Fair and Transparent Arbitration Process proposals (FTAPs) will focus on how they can be harmonised.