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Principal statements from the World Council of Churches concerning the death penalty

May 2003

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Statement on the death penalty, WCC Central Committee, March 1990

"Concerned about the increasing use of the death penalty in many parts of the world,

Recognizing that all human beings created in God’s image have inherent dignity and are of infinite worth, and that the taking of human life by the state is against the will of God,

Recognizing that the institutionalized taking of human life prevents the redemption and reconciliation of the offender and is contrary to Christian love as revealed in the New Testament,

Recognizing that the death penalty is irreversible and therefore different in nature from all other forms of punishment,

Noting that international human rights standards confirm that all measures of abolition of the death penalty should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right to life,

Concerned that the death penalty is a punishment which is often used in a discriminatory way upon the poor, minorities, on oppressed groups within societies, or against political opponents of those in power,

Recalling that the World Council of Churches has on many occasions pleaded for the lives of persons condemned to death by states,

Confessing that Christian churches have at times in the past condoned and provided biblical-theological justification for the application of the death penalty and in some cases continue to do so today, and

Reaffirming the 1971 Central Committee recommendation to "promote efforts toward the abolition of capital punishment as a significant expression of our belief in the sanctify of life",

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1990:

1. declares its unconditional opposition to the death penalty and calls upon all states to abolish it;

2. urges governments to move swiftly towards the signing and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;

3. calls upon the member churches, wherever possible in cooperation with people of other faiths and non-governmental organisations:

- To advocate the abolition of the death penalty in those states where it is still permitted;

- To oppose efforts to restore the death penalty in states where it is currently forbidden;

- To support international efforts for the universal abolition of the death penalty;

- To develop theological and biblical resources to aid their own members and others in their efforts for abolition and question the biblical and theological rationale offered by many proponents of the death penalty; and

- To encourage and support one another in these efforts by the sharing of insights, solidarity and resources such as material and legal aid."

Statement on human rights during the eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December 1998

"The WCC has long stood against the use of the death penalty, but recourse to this ultimate form of punishment is often sought by victims in societies ridden by crime and violence.

The churches have a responsibility to inform society at large of the alternatives to such harsh and irreversible penalties, such as rehabilitation of offenders, and of the need for strict adherence to the international rule of law and international human-rights standards related to the treatment of offenders."

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