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DAGAinfo

13 October 1999
No. 91

 

In this issue:

  1. FEATURE
    DEBT BURDEN, RIGHTS TO LIVE AND LIBERATION MILLENNIUM: AN ETHICAL REVIEW
  2. NEWS in Brief
    China, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, East Timor
  3. RESOURCES Received
  4. Urgent APPEALS
    Korea, India, Pakistan
  5. ANNOUNCEMENT
    Introducing the electronic DAGAinfo

 

1. FEATURE - top

 

DEBT BURDEN, RIGHTS TO LIVE AND LIBERATION MILLENNIUM: AN ETHICAL REVIEW

by Josef P. Widyatmadja

 

Debt as a Threat to Life

Entering the third millennium the third world's debt is expected to reach over one trillion US dollars. The issue on the reduction or the elimination of foreign debt began to surface in the mid 80's. Susan George (1992) in her book "The Debt Boomerang" pointed out six boomerangs, i.e.: environment; drugs; how the tax payers in the North redeem their bank loans; losing jobs and markets; immigration; conflicts and wars. The demands for debt reduction voiced by the government, religious leaders, and NGO leaders both in the third world and in the North are almost neglected by bankers and North countries. Debt is debt and it must be paid because of its economic rule. Morally and legally every debtor has his/her obligation to pay the debt to the creditor. None can deny such morality and law. The refusal to pay the debt, of course, cannot be tolerated by all religions and moral norms.

However, when debt is to be compared to the right to live of children and infants and those unborn, the problem is different. The right to live of all God's creatures should be respected and valued. Nothing is more valuable than humans lives and souls. Material loss and sacrifice cannot be compared to the value of life.

Every religion focuses its teaching on advocating life, and championing the rights of the poor, widows, and orphans rather than emphasizing material accumulation to unleash the greediness and selfishness. The poor people and countries asking for debt reduction and elimination have to protect themselves from lusts and cheats. The debt reduction and elimination are not only for the sake of the debtors’ but also for the creditors' interests.

The debt of the third world entering the third millennium has approached a critical point. The burden to pay the debt has caused millions of infants to die or suffer from malnutrition. The destruction of environment in order to pay the debt is unavoidable. The Structural Adjustment Policy has created unemployment, underpayment and the violation of human rights. For more than two decades of the development era, the development aid from developed countries has not reduced the gap between the poor and the rich countries. The result is the contrary. The rich countries pour tens of billion dollars into the poor countries in the form of humanitarian and development aid, but at the same time suck hundreds of billion dollars from these countries and put them into their pockets. In general the debt providers are Western countries and Japan, while the debtors are the poor countries of the third world.

The Impacts of Debt

The burdens of poverty and debt of the third world can be a boomerang to the rich countries if these problems are not solved well entering the third millennium. The world has become a global village. Migration from one country to another is unavoidable even with strict prevention and immigration regulation. The progress in information and transportation technology can cause uncontrolled migration from the poor to the prospective places. People can easily migrate illegally by air, sea or land. And this has already happened. Human migration from the South to the North is not only caused by economic and political reasons. Oppression by the authority, human rights violation and ethnic as well as religious conflicts promote human migration. When the world becomes a global village, there is an interrelatedness between the North and the South. The burden of debt causes the governments of the third world to commit human rights violation and give minimal wages to the laborers in order to maintain national stability. The world has become one body. The West and North countries can no longer enjoy prosperity over the cadaver and the poverty of the South people. A new balance, a new world, and a new relationship between the North and the South are needed. Buddha's teaching carved at the Borodubur temple in Central Java tells an interesting story.

"Once upon a time there was a bird with two heads. One head had a long neck so its mouth could easily take the food it wanted. This first mouth could easily reach all apples and oranges to eat for itself. On the other hand, the second head had a short neck so it was difficult for its mouth to reach the fruits and food on the trees high above. The second mouth could only see the oranges and apples but it could not reach them. The second mouth said to the first: "Give me a few apples and oranges because I am hungry. Please, give me some food". But The first answered:"No. All of the oranges and apples are for me because I have a long neck. It is your own fault why you don't have a long neck like me. All the oranges and apples are mine, not yours". Listening to this, the short-necked head felt very sad. Being very hungry, the short-necked head scraped the ground for food. It ate the poisonous tuber in the ground. Consequently, the whole bird's body was poisoned and the bird died."

Sharing food to realize sharing a life within a global village should become the foundation of the relationship among communities and nations in the world. The lesson of the story at the Borobudur temple is the interelatedness between the strong and the weak. The interdependent life between the long-neck and the short-neck head is true because they have one body. Isn't it right that the world now can be pictured as a bird with two heads? There are countries which can suck and acquire the world’s natural resources because of their technology or because of the unfair international arrangement. On the other hand, most of the countries represent the short-necked head. They can only watch the long-necked one devour their natural resources and wealth. They cannot enjoy the natural resources created by God. Gandhi, the Indian spiritual leader, has said that God could satisfy the need of all people, but God could not satisfy the greediness of just one single person.

The issue of debt reduction and elimination is not only a matter of debt and credit. It is not merely an economic and political problem, either. The debt reduction and elimination are a matter of humans’life and death as one family, one global citizen. This also involves a matter of morality and rearrangement of the interrelationship among people and countries. The debt reduction and elimination of poor countries are for the sake of saving the world, our common future; saving the people who live in the North as well as in the South and also in the universe. This constitutes an effort to find the balance of life, to share the natural resources and life. It should not be based on pity or the desire to preserve the status quo. It is just the beginning of arranging a new world that is more fair and humane both economically and politically, the beginning of finding an alternative for global capitalism.

Who to Blame and Who Takes Advantage of the Debt

The occurrence of debt-credit relationship between countries is unavoidable as a consequence of the globalization in international trade. The accumulation of the third world's debt and its inability to repay are a complicated problem. Several factors cause this. Most third world countries have been caught in a debt trap during their development decades. Neither the debtor or creditor countries can be blamed. There is something wrong in the paradigm of development and debt ethics. So far the development paradigm focuses on growth and mammon but neglects the life (of people and environment). Susan George in her book "Faith and Credit" criticized the IMF and the World Bank for using ‘crazy accounting system’ and not ‘environmental accounting system’.

Many experts point out that a large proportion of the debt of the third world governments flows to the creditor countries through their businessmen and contractors who win the tenders. Some other goes to their state officers and their cronies in the third world. Many times the policy and management of debt do not empower the rural farmers but on the contrary, give benefit and advantage to the businesses of conglomerates and bureaucrats. Only a little reaches the small people. The personal saving accounts of Asian dictators' families and cronies in foreign countries amount to hundreds of million dollars. We know the case of Marcos's treasures in the Philippines. In Korea we know Chung Do Hwan and Roh Tae Wao who have hundreds of million US dollars worth of saving accounts. And in Indonesia we know Haji Moh. Thahir's wealth, the officer of Pertamina oil state corporation, who was sued in Singapore.

The Debt Reduction and The Jubilee 2000

In June 1999, the G8 Summit Conference was held in Cologne, Germany. One of the items in the agenda was to discuss the elimination or reduction of the debt of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). Those countries included in HIPC are the ones whose capital income was below $700. Some parallel meetings attended by NGOs and chuches across the world accompanied the Cologne G8 Summit Conference. It was estimated that 2000 activists working on the debt elimination attended the meetings from June 18 to 21, 1999. Various organizations both secular such as Euro Debt and religious such as Kairos Europe and Jubilee 2000 also attended those parallel meetings. Several concepts or alternatives and methods of the debt elimination and reduction were examined there. The World Church Council (WCC) in its Plenary Meeting in Harare in December 1998 also issued a resolution concerning the debt and adopted the spirit of the Jubilee theme.

What is The Jubilee?

The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew yobel which means the fiftieth anniversary. From the word jubilee we also know the word jubileum or the gold anniversary. Israelite tradition and the Old Testament (Leviticus 25) have the celebration of seven Sabbath years (once in seven years). Both the Sabbath year and the jubilee bear the spirit of eliminating debt and preserving the environment. Briefly, the spirit of the Jubilee (the fiftieth year) as written in Leviticus 25 and the Old Testament tradition is as follows:

  • Releasing the debt for the poor (economic transformation)

  • Liberating the slaves (political transformation/human rights enforcement)

  • Giving back the pawned land to the heir (social/culture)

  • Resting the land (environment preservation)

We can see clearly that the Jubilee spirit bears a message of restoring social justice. In the present context, debt elimination means a transformation in the global financial system. The global capitalism, especially global finance, contributes to encourage debt accumulation in the third world. Liberating the slaves means political transformation and the appreciation of the principles of human rights. Giving back the mortgaged land means social transformation and the recognition of the farmers' right to posses their heritage. And the last item refers to the appreciation of environment in order to prevent the ecological destruction.

It is clear that the impact of debt has caused millions people to die. The spirit of jubilee, of course, could help debt campaign movement in demanding the abolition of debt of indebted poor countries. It will help indebted countries to avoid further tragedy. But debt cancellation will not guarantee that indebted countries will not incurr new debts again. It is not enough to reduce debt through the jubilee approach. The jubilee message should be understood as broader than debt cancellation. The economic context of jubilee is very different from the present global economics situation. The spirit of jubilee and justice should be understood as the manifestation of the economics of sharing, the kingdom of God (shalom). The Jubilee spirit is against greediness and the economics of mammon. Therefore, debt and jubilee campaign is not limited to debt cancellation but should include the deeper struggle for economic justice and to look for alternative societies. In line with the Jubilee tradition, the World Council of Churches, at the 8th General Assembly in Harare (1998), urged the G8 Nations to:

  • Cancel the debt of poorest countries to enable them enter the new millenium with fresh start.

  • Substantial eradication of debts of the middle income countries within the same time frame.

  • Introduce a new, independent and transparent arbitration process for negotiating and agreeing upon international debt cancellation.

  • Accept that tough conditions should be imposed on debtor governments, but that these conditions must not be prerequisite for debt cancellation. They must be determined and monitored by local community organizations, including churches and other representative organizations of civil society.

  • Use their powers to ensure that funds illegitimately transferred to secret bank accounts are return to debtor nations.

  • Engage, in consultation with civil society, in a process of global economic reform toward a just distribution of wealth and preventing new cycles of debt.

The jubilee campaign (Jubilee 2000 and Jubilee South) cannot be limited only to cancellation of debts of poorest countries, which are mostly from Africa. It must go into a broader agenda. Most of the indebted countries in Asia were ignored by the G7 summit in Cologne in June 1999. So far, the debt cancellation only gives "benefit" to Latin America and Africa. The struggle of debt and jubilee campaign in Asia must go beyond the debt cancellation. The debt and jubilee campaign is not only a matter of economics. It is a matter of faith, a matter for integrated global social transformation. The debt and jubilee campaign cannot be restricted to Christians and church activities only. It must include the whole community and humankind. In Asia, where the majority people are not Christians, the largest group of people affected by debt are non-Christians. Therefore, the gospel of salvation in Asia today and the message of "Good news to the poor" should include a message of debt cancellation and jubilee. Our theological language on jubilee and debt campaign should take into consideration the Asia reality, its culture tradition and religion. The task and challanges of the debt and jubilee campaign is not for Christian alone, but also for the whole creation of God. Therefore, we need new languages and new terminologies on jubilee that is relevant to our contexts.

The spirit of jubilee in Leviticus 25 is not a matter of economics restoration or "transformation", but also social, political and ecological restoration. Jubilee is a matter of faith of the people of God. Cultural, political, social and ecological rights of the poor and powerless are the main messages of jubilee. We need to go beyond the narrow message and tradition of jubilee. The goal of jubilee and debt campaign is utopia and hope for all believers - hope for a new heaven and a new earth. The task for believers is how to make utopia and hope come true.

 

2. NEWS in Brief - top
 

China: Legislators are to hold a week-long session to discuss a new law which will ban the Falun Gong. The sect was banned in July on grounds that it was not registered with the authorities and that it "seriously damaged social stability, promulgated superstition and fallacies, and deceived people".

Singapore: Indonesia's strife-torn province of East Timor is a conflict created by Western countries and human rights groups, Asia's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew said.

Indonesia: Moslem leader Abdurrahman Wahid on Wednesday defeated Megawati Sukarnoputri, the popular favourite, to become the country's first elected president. Abdurrahman Wahid, though cast as a Muslim leader, is perhaps one of the best prospects for repairing rifts between ethnic Chinese and other Indonesians, Chinese leaders and academics say.

Indonesia: Indonesia's national assembly early today ratified the results of East Timor's independence vote. The United Nations Security Council is preparing a resolution to provide a mandate to a new United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet). The transition is expected to take anywhere between two and four years, during which East Timor will remain under the foster care of the United Nations.

Hong Kong: The Government asked the Court of Final Appeal on Thursday to consider referring a court battle over flag laws to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. A government attempt to uphold controversial flag laws could mark the beginning of the end for the freedom of speech, the Court of Final Appeal was told yesterday.

China: The house church of Protestant leader Li Dexian has again been raided by police. Mainland law prohibits Christians from worshipping in unregistered house churches. It was the second time that officials have cracked down on Mr Li's church in two weeks. Last week, police also prevented Mr Li from preaching and tore down a shelter he set up next to his church to accommodate his growing congregation. Mr Li said he would not follow officials' demands to register his church and he was not afraid of going to prison over the issue.

East Timor: A day after Indonesia agreed to accept independence for East Timor, peacekeepers yesterday reported a surge of cross-border incursions by anti-independence militias. Meanwhile, former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao, expected to lead an independent East Timor, was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters on Friday when he returned to his homeland after years in an Indonesian jail.

 

3. RESOURCES Received - top
 

<R1013a>
"The Face Mystique of China" - HKCI
Elected Legislator Margaret Ng's visa which was issued by Chinese Authorities in Hong Kong was revoked bu Chinese Authorities in Beijing. Hong Kong Christian Institute gives an insight to this controversy.

<R1013b>
"Debate on Slow Death of Sikhism" - Dalit Voice
Some issues raised in this debate include "Beef-eating banned under Sikhism..."; Punjabi DV will revolutionise Sikhs"; How to rescue and revolutionisethe decaying Sikhism & kkalsa?"

<R1013c>
"Muslim-Dalit unity will revolutionise Islam" - Dalit Voice
Backward muslims say that the elite muslims are not interested in Islam but in maintaining their hegemony over muslim masses and Islam... The muslim dilema is whether they should wage their struggle for equality and justice collectively as a religious minority or divided as extensions of various SC/ST/BC subcasts...

<R1013d>
"dialogue with a dream - reflections of poets, artists & dreamers" - Max Ediger
A book of poems and reflections by Max Ediger.

<R1013e>
"Too Much Wasted, Too Much Sacrificed" - FDC
A booklet primer on Philippine debt

<R1013f>
"How Indebted is the Philippines" - FDC
A boolket on the Philippine debt situation.

<R1013g>
"Living Together in Plurality and Justice" - SWGF
A compilation of articles commemorating the 25th anicersary of the Social Welfare Guidance Foundation.

<R1013h>
"Rural Economies, Agricultural Sectors and Food Security" - Communique
Global influences on agriculture and rural economies... means nothing elase than forcing rural farmers either into poor and risk-prone subsistence agriculture or pushing them out of production and into the crowd of migrants to the cities. The three most dangerous threat to food security of present and future are: soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and water scarcity.

<R1013i>
"The issue of culture and cultural identities in the globalisation process" - Communique

<R1022j>
"Timor Lorosae"
DAGA Dossier on East Timor - a collection of news and articles analysing the East Timor situation.

Crime or Custom? Violence Against Women in Pakistan
In the wake of the military takeover in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch today released a major report on the state of women's rights in the country. The 100-page report documents a virtual epidemic of crimes of violence against women, including domestic violence rates as high as 90 percent, at least eight reported rapes every 24 hours nationwide, and an alarming rise in so-called honor killings.
<The report is available online at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/pakistan/ >

Change in North Korea by John Feffer and Karin Lee
This is the fourth in a series of articles on the recent developments in US-DPRK relations. John Feffer and Karin Lee are the representatives for the East Asia Quaker International Affairs Program of the American Friends Service Committee. They are based in Tokyo, Japan. The authors argue that opponents of engagement with the DPRK miss signs of genuine change within the country. They maintain that change in the DPRK should not be compared with that of other countries, as the DPRK remains primarily concerned with preserving its sovereignty. Nonetheless, they argue, the changes are real and long-term, and understanding them will enhance the ability for the US to engage the DPRK in a mutually beneficial manner. <eMail us for the full report>

 

4. Urgent APPEAL - top

 

KOREA: "Priests Fast to Demand End to National Security Law - Korea"
More than 30 Catholic priest from 12 diocese of the Korean Priests' Association for Justice (KPAJ) have shaved their heads and began a no-time limit fast and prayer on Sept. 7 to urge the Korean government to abolish the National Security Law.
<for more information E-mail: samysd@pacific.net.hk >

INDIA: Attempts to silence those who speak on behalf of the poor and the Dalits
The Union home ministry has directed several prominent non-governmental organisations, which have publicly criticised the Sangh Parivar and the BJP-led government's policies, to show cause as to why action should not be taken against them for engaging in "political" activities. According to the Indian Social Institute, the show cause notice was meant to stifle dissent and to silence all those who protest against the vested and hidden interests of the state.
<for more information E-mail: samysd@pacific.net.hk >

PAKISTAN: Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Peer Noor ul Haq, who has reportedly been threatened with death for agreeing to testify against police officers allegedly responsible for deaths in custody in Srinagar, summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Peer Noor ul Haq was arrested by police on 19 June 1999, after he lodged a complaint of bribery against police officers including Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Abdul Rashid Khan. He was detained for 10 days, during which time he was reportedly tortured with electric shocks, severe beatings, having a heavy weight rolled up and down his thighs and being hung upside down for long periods.
<for more information E-mail: samysd@pacific.net.hk >

 

5. ANNOUNCEMENT - top
 

Dear friends,

As many of you know, DAGA has been going through a transition phase. In the process of re-organising the office, we have also been looking at the services that DAGA can bring to the network.

Beginning from this week, "DAGA info" will be sent to you electronically, giving you a gist/summary of the following:
- Featured Article
- News in Brief
- Resources received via journals, newsletters, etc
- Urgent Appeals

We shall be happy to provide you with the complete version of the articles or information highlighted in "DAGA info". All you need to do is to send us an eMail reqesting for it. Eventually, when we have more help in the office, we hope to archive some of these information in our website so that you can access it directly yourself via a search engine.

We hope to hear some responses from you on how we can better improve our documentation services to our networks.

Sincerely,
CHAN Beng Seng

 


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