Lutheran Office for World Community E-Newsletter
The Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) e-newsletter is an occasional, informal bulletin of news, events and resources for LOWC partners. If you would like to receive the e-newsletter, please click on the link located on the right hand side of this page.
Lutheran Office for World Community In the News
News: Lutheran delegation advocates at UN commission on women (3/8/2007)
News: Bishop Kameeta Addresses UN Commission on Employment (02/22/2007)
News: Mauritanian Delegation to UN Meeting Speaks Out on Women’s Discrimination (07/20/2007)
Advocating for Human Rights
History of the Lutherans and Human Rights
Monitoring Human Rights Mechanisms
Fast Facts about the Lutheran World Federation
Holding Governments Accountable: Churches may feel unable or too vulnerable to engage governments critically, or may be hesitant to be involved in collaborative ecumenical and civil society advocacy efforts.
A Call for Churches Critically to Engage with Governments
UN Fact Sheet 2009 NEW
Calendar of selected UN international days Religion and Public Policy at the UN
"This report tells the story of how religious organizations, such as the Lutheran World Federation, influence the work of the United Nations. A must read for anyone seeking to understand the role of the church in the international community. "Journal of Lutheran Ethics featured human rights issues
(JLE - 02/2009)
In a world of increasing global cooperation, the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) has an exciting role, monitoring the work of the UN on behalf of the Lutheran World Federation
and the ELCA.
The Lutheran World Federation
(LWF) is one of more than 4,000 non-governmental organizations registered with the United Nations. LWF headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland monitors human rights, primarily at the United Nations office there, and coordinates Lutheran field programs through the Department for World Service. In New York, the Lutheran Office for World Community acts as liaison to UN headquarters for the LWF, following issues such as human rights, humanitarian crises, HIV/AIDS, the status of women and Israel-Palestine.Back to top
History of the Lutherans and Human Rights
From the very beginnings of the UN, Lutherans have been present. During the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1940’s, the Rev. O. Frederick Nolde, a professor of education at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, participated under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. He collaborated closely with Eleanor Roosevelt to draft Article 18 on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Lutherans have been represented at UN headquarters in New York since the early 1960s. Initially volunteers did the work under the auspices of the National Lutheran Council, but in 1973 the first director of LOWC, the Rev. Edward C. May, was hired by the Lutheran Council in the USA and the USA National Committee for the LWF to undertake representation on a full-time and compensated basis.1
During his eleven-year tenure, Dr. May focused his efforts on advancing the cause of Namibia’s independence, but also took up other human rights situations and the promotion of economic justice. He did this at a time when few others did so and many did not even know where Namibia was. However, his efforts as well as those of his successor, Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr. (1985-90) (now President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services), were instrumental in raising awareness of the illegal occupation and apartheid policies of the South Africa government among Lutherans in the U.S. and beyond.
One would be remiss, however, not to acknowledge several other areas where Lutherans made major contributions to advancement of human rights within the United States. Beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s, U.S. Lutherans cooperated with the LWF in resettling post-war refugees within the U.S. (This work evolved into the present-day Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.) Some Lutherans, such as the Rev. Will Herzfeld, were deeply involved in the civil rights movement, starting in the late 1950s and 1960s, to end racial discrimination and related economic oppression of African-Americans.
Often these involvements in defending human rights proved quite controversial within and outside the Lutheran church. One noteworthy example was that of the Rev. Paul Boe, a Lutheran pastor, who was invited by the leaders of the American Indian Movement to join them at Wounded Knee, SD, in 1973 during their standoff with federal authorities at the Indian reservation. His solidarity with Native Americans and maintenance of clergy confidentiality in a subsequent federal judicial proceeding led to his resignation the following year from the national staff of the American Lutheran Church.
The wars in Central America during the 1980s were also instances where Lutherans became human rights defenders. Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Lutheran Synod of El Salvador provided refuge and pastoral support to hundred of persons displaced during that nation’s civil war. His courageous stands resulted in death threats and disruption of his work. That work continued, however, supported by LWF staff persons, Mary Solberg and Phil Anderson, who persevered under difficult personal circumstances as well on behalf of the Salvadoran people.
The LWF subsequently became involved in bringing together the warring parties in Guatemala, the opposition Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and the government, into indirect and later direct contacts that ultimately led to the signing of the Peace Accords of December 1996. The LWF General Secretary, the Rev. Gunnar Stålsett and the Assistant General Secretary, the Rev. Paul Wee, persisted in keeping the parties talking with one another and helped them develop sufficient mutual trust so that negotiations were possible and the peace agreements reached, ending more than 30 years of civil war. (See also From Federation to Communion, Jens Holger Schjørring, Prasanna Kumari and Norman A. Hjelm, editors, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 1997, pages 342-343).2
In the late 1970s and into the next two decades, Lutheran churches and their cooperative entities, such as the USA National Committee, promoted the ratification by the U.S. of most of the major UN human rights covenants and conventions. There was involvement with other Christian bodies, such as the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and the United States Catholic Conference, as well as pan-Jewish organizations and human rights groups in advocacy on behalf of the U.S. becoming a state party to these important documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This work was affirmed with the adoption in 1995 of the ELCA social statement "For Peace in God’s World", which drew attention to the importance of the promotion and protection of human rights to world peace. Over the years, Lutherans have been encouraged to both support ratification of these treaties as well as write to their elected officials on behalf of persons held in detention by oppressive regimes. In addition, U.S. Lutherans participated in the LWF delegation that attended the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 in Vienna.
Today, LOWC continues to collaborate with other Lutheran church offices, such as the Washington (DC) Office of the ELCA in making appeals to the Department of State on behalf of detainees and prisoners, the LWF Office for International Affairs and Human Rights (IAHR) in Geneva in monitoring the compliance of states parties to international human rights conventions, and the ELCA Corporate Social Responsibility program as it advocates for the protection of human rights in the context of major companies and corporations working worldwide. LOWC also has been assisting the IAHR in monitoring discussions in New York under the umbrella of UN reform, including the creation of the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.
All of these activities indicate both adjustments within a shifting international context and sustained commitment to maintaining international human rights standards and norms routed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. Back to top
Monitoring Human Rights Mechanisms
In partnership with Lutheran World Federation (Geneva), LOWC monitors human rights treaty bodies at the UN in New York, such as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Human Rights Committee. LWF recently scaled up its international human rights reporting in partnerships with local churches and programs, launching the website: http://www.lwf-humanrights.org/
Over ninety percent of the members of the United Nations -185 countries- are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Typically, the CEDAW committee meets two or three times a year, whereupon countries that have ratified the conventions submit periodic reports providing evidence of positive movement in human rights. After the country presents its report, unofficial or "shadow" reports are presented by NGOs, and independent experts ask questions directly to the government. The questions might be about the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, status of ethnic groups, levels of violence, or access to education. The CEDAW and the Human Rights Committee are unique within the UN processes, because countries must answer direct questions from experts on the spot -- a stark contrast to UN meetings replete with prepared speeches.
In February 2006, Venezuela was reviewed by the CEDAW committee, and the government presented a glowing report on the increased access for women to social services. Based on reports from Virginia Iváñez, a Venezuelan committee member of the LWF Program Committee for International Affairs & Human Rights, LOWC submitted a shadow report on behalf of LWF. According to her report, there are many laws protecting women from violence, however they are rarely enforced. Using the evidence of the LWF report, one of the independent experts asked the government to comment on how many actual arrests were made of women abusers. The government responded that a sexual harassment lawsuit was a pending example of eliminating employment discrimination against women. However, the unanswered question remains on the UN record.
After a treaty body committee session concludes, LOWC sends reports on the meeting’s conclusions to churches and field service programs which work in that country. By sharing the commitments the governments have made at the UN, national churches and programs can use them in advocacy efforts to hold governments accountable for their promises.
Click here for a map of 2005 LWF membership statistics
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Fast Facts about the Lutheran World Federation
- The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has over 66.2 million members
- The LWF now has 140 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing over 70 million Christians
- The LWF has offices dedicated to: Humanitarian Assistance, Global HIV/AIDS Campaign, Mission & Development, Theology, General Secretariat Activities, International Affairs & Human Rights, Ecumenical Relations, Communication Services, Finance and Administration, and Personnel.
- The LWF President is the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The Rev. Ishmael Noko is the LWF General Secretary.
1 Rev. Philip A. Johnson, "Lutheran Advocacy at the International Level" in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Public Policy Advocacy: Papers from a Consultation, 1990.
2 For an overview of LWF involvement in human rights from the First to the Eighth Assemblies see LWF Today, 1/94, March 1994, pp. 7-8.
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Lutheran delegation advocates at UN commission on women
NEW YORK, Lutheran Office for World Community - March 2007:
Hailing from Brazil, Indonesia and Germany, three delegates represented the Lutheran World Federation at the recent UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
The three pastors joined more than 1,600 other delegates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attending the meeting, which reviews governmental progress on programs and policies that promote the advancement of women. The representatives worked in caucuses and met with their governments to influence the 'agreed conclusions', which is the outcome document of the commission.
For the first time in history, more than 200 girls from around the world came to commission, to share their voices on the theme of "elimination of violence and discrimination against the girl child". The LWF is particularly interested in the theme because of the study guide it produced in 2001, "Churches Say 'NO' to Violence Against Women". This action plan for churches was published in response to the "Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women" from 1988-1998.
The LWF sends representatives to the meeting every year, both to learn from the process and bring their grassroots experience and faith-based perspective to the UN.
From Indonesia, Rev. Sondang Napithulu, holds weekly meetings in her congregation for women and youth. In her region, women rarely hold leadership positions, and primarily influence decision-making behind the scenes through speaking with their husbands.
Often one of the only men in the room, Rev. Roger Schmidt, from Germany, is the newly-appointed officer of the LWF youth desk for church and society (YICAS). For the next four years he is tasked with assisting LWF member churches to include youth in their decision-making structures. As a delegate to the CSW, Pr. Schmidt has gained insight into how to do more to empower women and girls in institutional processes.
A feminist theologian, Rev. Elaine Nuenfeldt is a professor at the Escola Superior de Teologia at São Leopoldo in Brazil. At the CSW she participated in discussions about UN reform, where she has heard about how a gender perspective should be integrated across the UN system. According to Professor Nuenfeldt, the Latin American churches have begun to undertake similar processes, and held a consultation on gender inclusion last year. "Gender cannot be a department of our church," she said. "It must be in all the programs, and part of every budget discussion."
Though Nuenfeldt has enjoyed her time at the UN, she will be ready to return to Brazil and work with grassroots women again. "It is good to be here to learn about diplomacy, but it is so political and cold. Right now in Brazil I have friends that are protesting a logging company. Here I learn how to negotiate and be diplomatic, but we need this fight too - this hot feeling in our veins. I know the women, they have lost their land, they have no where to plant their food. I am asking, how can we be in solidarity with them?"
The three LWF delegates are not alone in representing the interest of churches. They join 45 women and five men from around the world as part of a coalition known as "Ecumenical Women", which meets for worship, training and collaboration. The coalition was formed in 2000 at the Five-Year Review of the Fourth World Conference on Women, know as Beijing +5.
The Ecumenical Women coalition includes the Anglican Consultative Council, The Lutheran World Federation, the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Office for the UN, the United Church of Christ, the World Council of Churches, the World Student Christian Federation, the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women and the Young Women's Christian Association.
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Bishop Kameeta Addresses UN Commission on Employment
NEW YORK, USA/GENEVA, 22 February 2007 (LWI) – Namibia’s Lutheran Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta has stressed the commitment of civil society to the fight against poverty in the country, despite criticism that a proposed basic income grant (BIG) they are advocating would encourage people to be lazy.
Responding to questions after his presentation at a panel session of the 45th session of the United Nations Commission on Social Development in New York, Kameeta highlighted the opportunity of skills’ improvement and job creation in the BIG process, contending that the grant would enable the poor to break the scandalous circle of poverty. He pointed out that skepticism about the scheme did not discourage him and others in the campaign, and they would continue with cautious optimism to struggle together for the sake of the poor.
Kameeta is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) and vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) for the Africa region.
The Commission’s annual session was held from 7 to 16 February in New York, USA, under the theme “Promoting full employment and decent work for all.” It evaluated plans and programs of action for social groups including older persons, youth and persons with disabilities. Kameeta’s presentation on 9 February was titled, “Promoting employment and decent work for all - Towards a good practice model in Namibia.”
‘Decent work,’ a concept coined by the International Labor Organization, means work that is productive and delivers a fair income, provides social protection for families, and is done in a safe environment under conditions of freedom and equality for men and women.
Best Practice Model
A government tax commission initially proposed the BIG. Civil society including the Council of Churches in Namibia, trade unions, youth and women’s organizations, and other non-governmental organizations now actively advocate the grant for all Namibians.
“We in Namibia are not interested in the story of a dishwasher who became a millionaire—this for me is not a best practice model,” Kameeta said in his presentation. “When I think of a best practice model I want to stress the small but crucial two words, ‘For All.’ This means asking for and demanding a heavenly kingdom on earth, or what politicians call a turn-around strategy … but in a concrete and tangible [way],” he noted.
The ELCRN bishop spoke of the daily lives of unemployed people in Namibia, who often must look for firewood and water, and care for other family members. The time and labor spent on these tasks diminishes the chances of the poor ever building up their own employment opportunities, he said.
“Human beings living under bridges, and those who search in dumps for their daily bread are not doing that by choice, but are forced to do so by unjust economic forces and systems combined with economic greed,” said Kameeta.
The Lutheran leader said decent employment “is a matter of survival for the people” in a country which “holds the sad record of being the most unequal society in the world.” Despite Namibia’s ranking as a lower middle-income country, about two-thirds of its population lives below the poverty line. Having a job “is a question of ‘to be or not to be’ as there are scarcely any safety nets and virtually no possibilities of making a decent living outside the formal sector,” Kameeta said at the UN panel.
The 2005 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program indicated that 34.9 percent of Namibia’s 2 million people live on one US dollar per day, while 55.8 percent live on two US dollars.
The ELCRN bishop has taken up a leading role in the BIG campaign. In October 2006, Namibia’s NGO consortium appointed him as one of the ambassadors to lead the national campaign against poverty under the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).
Human Dignity, Empowerment
According to Namibia’s labor ministry, the country’s unemployment rate had risen steadily to 36.7 percent by 2004. Young people, in particular, face enormous obstacles to finding decent work, with over 57 percent of youth aged 20-24 unemployed.
The basic income grant would provide every Namibian citizen with not less than 100 Namibian dollars (USD 14) per month. It is envisaged that the universal grant would be recaptured from the rich through direct or indirect taxation.
Kameeta described the scheme as “more than an income-support program. It provides security that reinforces human dignity and empowerment. It has the capacity to be the most significant poverty-reducing program in Namibia, while supporting household development, economic growth and job creation at the same time,” he said.
The GCAP ambassador and his fellow campaigners are currently planning to launch a BIG pilot program in Namibia to show the positive aspects of the grant scheme and prove that it is indeed feasible.
The annual meeting of the UN Commission on Social Development reviews the implementation of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen. An LWF delegation attended the summit and its five-year review in 2000 in Geneva. The LWF continues to follow the implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Program of Action. (867 words)
Emily Freeburg at the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York contributed this article for LWI.
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20.07.2007 Mauritanian Delegation to UN Meeting Speaks Out on Women’s Discrimination
Government Urged to Put an End to Female Genital Mutilation
NEW YORK, USA/GENEVA, 20 July 2007 (LWI) – A delegation of seven women community leaders and one imam presented a chilling report about discrimination against women in Mauritania at a recent meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The delegation, sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), gave an oral statement to the 38th CEDAW Session on 21 May, and submitted a detailed “shadow report” to the committee.
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania was one of eight state parties undergoing periodic review as required by the treaty. So-called “shadow reports” from non-governmental organizations (NGO) play a crucial role in the work of the CEDAW committee, because they give the UN experts an alternative view, which they often use to question policies of the government under review and make recommendations.
In their report and oral statement, the delegation members urged the Mauritanian government to put an end to female genital mutilation (FGM); pass legislation to fix the age of marriage to 18; and, craft legislation to make education compulsory for children seven to 14 years old, with an extension of up to the age of 18.
The delegation also called for finance revenue-generating activities for families of poor girls; and spelt out the need for a study on the extent of fatal practices and violence against women, and the adoption of an action plan to eliminate the same. Other demands included the adoption of a gender budget, and assurance of the independence of the justice system from coercion.
The delegation also encouraged the strengthening of NGO capacity in the promotion and protection of human rights for women and children.
Diakonia students from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Heidi Muurinen and Hanna Nordblom accompanied the delegation. The Finnish students had spent the previous two months accompanying the delegation through the LWF Department for World Service program in Mauritania.
In addition to presenting their shadow report to the CEDAW committee, the delegation members met with CEDAW experts, as well as with an officer from the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Population Fund. The delegation also spoke at a panel with NGOs from Pakistan and Syria, where they particularly discussed how to improve laws for women in Muslim societies.
Upon their return to Mauritania, the women community leaders and imam will meet with the wider group of NGOs to share their experience and strategize how to continue working for women’s advancement. They will also follow up with the government about the recommendations made by the CEDAW committee.
The shadow report was prepared by the “Partners Network for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Mauritania,” a coalition of some 100 NGOs, cooperatives and village associations. The LWF/DWS program in Mauritania, Church of Norway and the Norwegian Center for Human Rights provided technical and financial assistance.(506 words)
The shadow report is available at: www.iwraw-ap.org/resources/shadow_reports.htm
(Reported for LWI by Emily Freeburg, Lutheran Office for World Community, New York, USA.)
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