A landmine-free world? Not there yet

Twenty years ago this week, history was made.

On December 3-4, 1997, the Mine Ban Treaty opened for signature at the National Conference Centre, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill.

As Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy put pen to paper and affixed the first signature to the landmark treaty, thousands gathered in Ottawa—state delegates, throngs of media, NGOs, grassroots peace activists, and even a bus-load of landmine activists who had traveled several continents to get here.

That day, they accomplished what had felt nearly impossible just 14 months before—an international treaty that entirely banned a weapon known to cause indiscriminate physical and psychological harm to civilians around the world.

Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention—though officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction—this treaty is arguably one of the world’s most successful.

Photo by MAG Sri Lanka

In the mid-1990s, roughly 26,000 people were victims of anti-personnel landmines every single year—killed or permanently maimed, their lives altered in an instant.

Twenty years later, 162 states have become treaty signatories; more than 51 million stockpiled landmines have been destroyed; 27 countries and 1 territory once plagued by contamination have declared themselves mine-free; and production by the majority of the world’s landmine producers has ceased.

Just as importantly, the Treaty has helped make landmines one of the most stigmatized weapons in the world. At the end of the Cold War, landmines were an accepted component of virtually every state’s military arsenal. Fast forward to today, and international norms have developed that discourage any country—signatory or not—from using them. In fact, many non-signatory states (the U.S., for instance) are in de-facto compliance with the Convention.

This groundbreaking instrument also has broader significance for the ways in which it shaped future arms-control activism.

Back in 1996, most countries favoured working through traditional UN disarmament channels. But as negotiations within these structures (i.e. the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) were resulting in diplomatic stalemate, Canada did the “un-diplomatic” thing. It stuck its neck out—proclaiming that by December of 1997 Canada would hold a conference to sign a new treaty banning landmines. And it would do so by bypassing conventional channels altogether.

This alternative (and, at that time, unusual!) diplomatic model broadened the scope of participation to include civil society in the negotiations. While not an easy sell for many governments, this innovative process, Axworthy recalls, gave “participants…equal standing at the table regardless of their position. Mine victims sat next to ministers discussing strategy, reflecting an emerging sense of partnership between government and civil groups.”[1]

Within this context, NGOs and landmine victims—mobilized under the banner of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (a Nobel Peace Prize winner!)—made their case, providing compelling documentation on the devastating humanitarian impacts these weapons had.

In the end, this alternative process achieved an outright ban on a weapon that countries had once argued were indispensable. It was a game-changer.

One only need to look to later treaties on cluster bombs (2008), small arms (2014), and, most recently, nuclear weapons (2017), to see how NGOs, governments, and civil society have come together again and again to put humanitarian concerns at the center of disarmament conversations.

At this twenty-year anniversary of the Landmine Treaty, there obviously are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

In Ottawa this week we did just that. On Monday, December 4, NGOs gathered with government officials, diplomats, de-miners, and landmine survivors to commemorate the success of the Treaty. The conference, aptly-named “Unfinished Business: The Ottawa Treaty at 20,” explored the “wins” of the last twenty years, but it also threw down the many challenges that remain.

Let’s make no mistake—there is much business to be finished. Landmines are not an issue of the past.

With well over 60 countries still contaminated, people can’t travel freely, return home post-conflict, farm their land, or regain their livelihoods (check out the Landmine Monitor for annual statistics).

And as we heard this week, the world is facing a new landmine emergency. The number of people killed or injured by anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices has increased in recent years, hitting a ten-year high in 2015.

As organizations like Mines Advisory Group have reported, the regional conflict in Iraq and Syria (not to mention Ukraine and Myanmar) has resulted in a scale of contamination not seen for decades. Improvised explosive devices and locally-manufactured mines in these contexts are “sensitive enough to be triggered by a child’s footsteps but powerful enough to disable a tank,” MAG said at the conference.

All of this within the context of a global decline in funding.

Thankfully, on Monday Canada announced almost $12 million in funding for mine action projects in places like Iraq, Syria, Cambodia, Laos, Ukraine, and Colombia.

While a far cry from the $62.8 million Canada contributed at its peak in 1997, this funding is crucial. As the Landmine 2025 campaign is pushing, global support for clearance must be re-energized if signatories are to achieve treaty commitments.

And as Axworthy also noted this week, Canada could also lead in efforts to invest in new technologies for clearance.[2]

In other words, even as we celebrate the Treaty’s remarkable achievements, we must also recognize that much work remains. Let’s finish the job!

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director

[1] Lloyd Axworthy, Navigating a New World: Canada’s Global Future, Chapter 6: The Ottawa Process, pg. 127.
[2] Check out groups like Demine Robotics in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

A transformative agenda on migration

This week’s guest writer is Kathrine Garrison, Program and Advocacy Associate at MCC’s UN Office in New York. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame where she majored in psychology and minored in international peace studies, and then went on to earn a Masters of Philosophy in International Peace Studies, with a focus on humanitarian aid and development, from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Her work at the MCC UN Office centers on migration, food security, and the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In recent years, the emerging crises of unprecedented migrant flows into Europe brought migration to the forefront of international policy discourse. These discussions culminated in a United Nations (UN) summit that assembled its 193 member states at its New York headquarters in September 2016. At this time, leaders from around the globe came together to agree upon a powerful outcome document, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

This document expressed the political will and commitment of the international community to protect the lives and human rights of all refugees and migrants, as well as to address the imperative for a shared responsibility in facing future migration challenges. In addition, this declaration demonstrated that migration now holds a place as a significant issue of focus within the international agenda.

One of the specific plans of action outlined in the New York Declaration was the start of intergovernmental consultations and negotiations aimed at establishing a comprehensive framework promoting safe, orderly, and regular migration.  The process began in early 2017 and will culminate in a United Nations conference on international migration in late 2018, during which the General Assembly will adopt what has been termed the Global Compact for Migration.

This time of consultation and negotiation, leading up to the General Assembly adoption of a Global Compact for Migration, presents a powerful opportunity to improve the global governance on migration, to address the challenges of migration, and to enhance the ways in which migration can actually contribute to the UN agenda of sustainable development.

Acknowledging that Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) works with a great number and diverse spectrum of migrant populations around the world, the MCC UN Office decided to actively engage in the consultation, stocktaking, and negotiation processes, with the intent to ensure that migrant voices effectively reach the ears of those who will ultimately draft and adopt the formalized framework.

We delivered official statements at high-level meetings such as those deciding upon the methods and procedures for the negotiation process itself, and stressed the necessity of including civil society voices throughout the entirety of the proceedings. We attended countless meetings to monitor the consultations and remain attuned to the topics of focus along with taking note of those being overlooked. We met with Louise Arbour of Canada, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on International Migration, and with Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber, one of the official co-facilitators for the Global Compact for Migration process.

emma

Former MVS intern Emma Cabana delivering a statement on behalf of the MCC UN Office at the Informal Briefing by Civil Society on the Modalities for the Global Compact for Migration

Yet, it remains crucial to note that these advocacy endeavors are conducted not alone but in collaboration and partnership with a multitude of other civil society representatives, primarily through a coalition called the NGO Committee on Migration.

This coalition worked together to draft a vision for what it termed the UN Global Compact on Human Mobility and Migration, a set of ten acts that civil society believes are essential to a meaningful Global Compact. Read the entirety of “Now and How: Ten Acts for the Global Compact” here. This document represents civil society’s attempt to reframe the conversation on migration to emphasize human dignity, full participation in discussion and solutions (especially honoring the multiplicity of migrant voices), development for all, and a commitment to implementing both existing international human rights law and labor conventions and protocols and the actions outlined in the Global Compact for Human Mobility and Migration.

As the UN body works to compose a draft of the Global Compact for migration in the upcoming months, the MCC UN Office plans on participating, with the NGO Committee on Migration, in meetings with representatives from UN member states to present the “Now and How” document and advocate for the inclusion of its contents in the official Global Compact.

You can also help advance these advocacy efforts! The NGO Committee on Migration aspires to secure at least 1,000 organizational endorsements on the “Now and How” document by the end of November 2017. Therefore, we encourage you to share this opportunity for endorsement with other NGOs and ask them to sign on here to show support for its vision. In addition, at an individual level, we encourage you to utilize the attached template to send a letter to your parliamentarians or other government representatives, asking them to enter into a discussion about practical solutions to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.

Letter_template_for_national_advocacy_TEN_ACTS_2017_2018_0

As stated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General William Lacy Swing, “The Global Compact is a historic opportunity to achieve a world in which migrants move as a matter of genuine choice. It’s time for the international community to come together to more responsibly and humanely manage the movement of people.” Just as we are called on a personal level to welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:35 and to “love the alien” as ourselves in Leviticus 19:33-34, so too are we called on a collective level to strive to create more just structures and international policy to address the matters of migration.

Now is the time for a transformative agenda for human mobility, migration, and development. Let’s make it happen.

10 + 1 reasons to oppose war

Remembrance Day—and, for Anabaptist-Mennonites, Peace Sunday—is once again upon us. It is the season to mourn the loss of human life in war. And the season to commit, once again, to building a culture of peace.

Resistance to war is part of the very heart of MCC.  As an agency of Anabaptist-Mennonite churches, MCC holds to the confession that war and participation in war are counter to the way of Jesus.  For us, resistance to war is at the core of our identify as pacifist Christians.

But there are many other reasons to oppose war.  And we suspect that many Canadians—who may not share our theological commitments—can nevertheless affirm these reasons.

destruction_old_homs_syria

War’s destruction in Homs, Syria. MCC photo/Doug Enns

  1. War kills and harms soldiers. War kills, injures and disables the very people who must carry it out. It causes high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can lead to moral injury as well – namely, the deep shame, guilt, anger or anxiety experienced by soldiers as a result of killing or harming others. Some soldiers may commit suicide. Since 2010, 130 Canadian soldiers have taken their own lives.
  2. War kills and harms civilians. In the 20th century, some 200 million people were killed in war, and many millions have already been killed in this century. War not only kills, it also mains people, separates family members, causes disease, hunger and other forms of deprivation. Toxic substances released by some weapons result in severe birth defects, long after wars are officially over. Another frequent weapon of war is rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. The human cost of war is staggering and the impacts extend over generations.
  3. War creates refugees. War causes people to flee their homes for safety, sometimes crossing an international border. The UN currently reports that around the world 65 million people are forcibly displaced. The personal upheaval for these individuals is profound, the social and political consequences breath-taking.
  4. War harms the natural environment. War contaminates earth, air and water. It destroys natural habitats, killing their flora and fauna. The use of Agent Orange by the U.S. to defoliate the Vietnamese countryside continues to wreak havoc on Vietnam decades later, while use of Depleted Uranium in Iraq will mean radioactive contamination for thousands of years to come. Even in peacetime, standing armies harm the environment because of their enormous carbon footprint.
  5. War’s financial cost is enormous. Consider these statistics: Canada’s 12-year military engagement in Afghanistan cost $8.4 billion, while U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (and related violence in Pakistan and Syria) from 2001 to 2016 cost about $4.8 trillion. The Institute for Economics & Peace determined that in 2016, the impact of violence (including war) to the global economy was $14.3 trillion per day – the equivalent of more than $5 per day for every person alive. What might be possible if those funds were invested in peacebuilding rather than war-making?
  6. War sets back development. The destruction of homes, schools and hospitals, as well as transportation, electrical, water treatment and sanitation systems in wartime can set back economic, social and community development for decades. Wars prevent farmers from farming, children and youth from going to school and ordinary people from going to work. A typical civil war in a medium-sized country costs more than 30 years of GDP growth. No wonder the United Nations in 2015 identified the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies as one of its key Sustainable Development Goals.
  7. War empowers the weapons dealers. War is good business for those who manufacture and trade in weapons and weapons system. In 2015 just 100 companies sold $370 billion worth of arms, and just one company —U.S.-based based Lockheed Martin—had $36 billion in sales. Weapons dealers often have undue influence on politics and foreign policy. In 1961 outgoing U.S. President Eisenhower warned against the power of the “military-industrial complex” to perpetuate war; in many ways, his predictions have come to pass.
  8. War distorts truth. In 1918, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson’s 1919 stated, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” How very true! War promotes prejudices and stereotypes about people considered “enemy” and often portrays the enemy as less than human, thereby legitimizing the use of violence against them. War reduces moral categories to the simple binary of “we are good, they are evil.” Nuanced public discussion becomes increasingly difficult and sometimes impossible.
  9. War does not address root causes. While war may end in some measure of “peace” if accompanied by comprehensive peace negotiations, it rarely addresses the grievances that give rise to it, whether hunger, class division, religious or ethnic conflict, access to land and resources, political exclusion, etc. Because of this, many wars lead to new wars. The war against ISIS, for example, is rooted in the Iraq War, which is rooted in the Gulf War.
  10. peace buttonsThere are many nonviolent alternatives to war. Diplomacy, dialogue, disarmament, development, conflict resolution, peace education and strategic peacebuilding are only a few of the nonviolent approaches available to prevent war and thereby avoid war’s horrific consequences. A growing body of expertise also points to nonviolent alternatives to addressing terrorist and extremist violence. States and societies truly interested in peace have many nonviolent tools and approaches at their disposal!

Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”  Many reasons confirm his words.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office.

Download MCC’s 2017 Peace Sunday Packet: Praying for Peace.

Out of step on nuclear disarmament

The Humanitarian Disarmament Forum was abuzz with a celebratory spirit. It’s not hard to imagine why.

After all, the International Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons (ICAN for short) had just won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. And the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—the result of years of hard work by millions of global campaigners—had opened for signature at the UN merely a few weeks earlier.

In the world of humanitarian disarmament, history had been made yet again.

On October 14-15, I had the privilege of joining coalition colleagues from Mines Action Canada (MAC) and Project Ploughshares at the annual Humanitarian Disarmament Forum in New York. For two, chock-full days, representatives from global coalitions working to protect civilians from the catastrophic effects of small arms, cluster bombs, landmines, fully autonomous weapons systems (aka “killer robots”), and nukes came together to share insights from their advocacy efforts.

Coming on the heels of the ground-breaking nuclear ban treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize, the joy at the forum was palpable.

Though they belong in the dust-bin of history, roughly 15,000 nuclear warheads are still in the world’s arsenals, many of them launch ready and on high-alert status. This means that the possibilities for nuclear catastrophe due to global tensions, human error, system malfunction, a rogue launch, or weapons-capture by non-state actors are far too close for comfort.

The international community has already stepped up to ban biological weapons (1972), chemical weapons (1993), landmines (1997), and cluster bombs (2008). Finally, more than 70 years after the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons—the most indiscriminate, disproportionate, and destructive of all weapons—have also been banned.

Front row: Setsuko Thurlow and Ray Acheson. Back row: Allison Pytlak, Cesar Jaramillo (Ploughshares), and Erin Hunt (MAC). Photo courtesy of Erin Hunt

Adopted in the heat of July, the 10-page treaty (backed by 122 nations) outlines a categorical prohibition on the development, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, or stockpiling of nukes or any other nuclear explosive devices.

Global campaigners like ICAN as well as Project Ploughshares and Mines Action Canada worked tirelessly, attending ban treaty negotiations as civil society delegates. Atomic bomb survivors (the Hibakusha) and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world were also critical players, providing, in the words of ICAN, “searing testimony and unstinting advocacy” on the humanitarian imperative for a ban.

As the shadow of nuclear conflict looms ever-larger in our current political reality, the new treaty fills a huge gap in international law.

Yes, there was strong opposition from nuclear-armed states (i.e. the P5 on the UN Security Council) and their allies. And, no, these states are not expected to sign-on to the treaty any time soon.

But other UN treaties have been effective even when key nations failed to sign up to them.

When the Mine Ban Treaty was negotiated in 1997 in Ottawa, civil society successfully argued that the humanitarian impacts of landmines far outweighed any military benefit these weapons offered in combat. This same argument helped drive the Treaty to ban cluster bombs roughly a decade later.

Banning these weapons has had significant ripple effects. Implementing an unequivocal ban on landmines helped contribute to the broad stigmatization of the weapon and encouraged even non-party states to adapt to new norms in military theater.

Now, the prohibition on nuclear weapons marks a shift in the nuclear abolition debate.

Whither Canada in this global conversation?

According to his speech last year during Disarmament Week, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion claimed that a ban on nuclear weapons without the support of nuclear weapons states was a utopian dream. It was impractical, impossible, and divisive.

October 13th at First Committee, 72nd Session, Thematic Discussion on Nuclear Weapons

Since then, Canada’s actions have continued to be out-of-step with this global movement. Despite claiming its support for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the Canadian government not only boycotted the treaty negotiations but (rather than simply abstain) voted against the historic UN resolution that launched the process—a position influenced, in part, by U.S. pressure on its NATO allies.

Instead, Canada backs a “step-by-step,” incrementalist (and completely broken) approach to reducing nuclear arsenals, including, among other things, the proposal for a fissile material cut-off treaty, a “step” that has faced deadlock for years. I heard this support reiterated by the Canadian delegate’s remarks as I sat in on a First Committee meeting at the UN a few weeks back.

Back in 2010, the government unanimously passed a motion calling for Canadian leadership on nuclear disarmament. What happened?

Far from “being back,” Canada seems to be inching backwards on disarmament.

Encourage your Member of Parliament to sign ICAN’s Parliamentary Pledge and send a message to Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, urging support for the treaty!


By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office director

No Way to Treat a Child

It was the middle of the night when Israeli soldiers came to 15-year-old Jarrah Masalmeh’s home to arrest him.

Jarrah Mesalmeh in the barbershop he runs below his family home. MCC photo/Meghan Mast

Over the next five days, Jarrah’s family had no idea where he was being detained.

When they attended court during the trial ten days later, the family still couldn’t speak to their son.

Eventually convicted of throwing stones—something he says he didn’t do—Jarrah was sentenced to nine months in military detention, in a jail far away from his home.

When he was released, he wasn’t the same young man.

Unfortunately, Jarrah’s Masalmeh’s story is far from an isolated incident.

Two legal systems…two different experiences

Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank—like adults—face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.

Most are accused of throwing stones.

Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. While Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to military law (where army commanders have full executive, legislative and judicial authority), Israeli settlers in the West Bank are subject to civilian law.

  • In more than half of all cases, arrest happens in the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers;
  • During transfer, children are often blindfolded, hooded and/or painfully restrained with zip ties;
  • In the majority of cases, children are interrogated without legal counsel and without access to a parent or guardian;
  • Interrogations tend to be coercive, including verbal abuses, threats and physical violence that ultimately results in a confession;
  • Children are often shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language most do not understand;
  • After sentencing, more than half of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied West Bank to prisons inside of Israel—a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Upon release from prison, these children are typically traumatized, cautious about ever leaving the house for fear of going straight to prison again without question.

Relationships with their parents become strained, as there is a sense that they can no longer be protected.

There is a profound impact on children and families alike.

Why does it matter?

Beyond the moral questions, these practices are all in violation of international law, which protects children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.

For instance, the UN Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—both ratified by Israel in 1991—prohibit the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances. Full stop.

The CRC outlines, among other things, that:

  • The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions (Article 3);
  • Children should only be arrested and detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time (37);
  • Children have the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (37); and
  • Children in custody have a right to prompt access to legal advice and to a prompt hearing before an independent court (37).

In other words, Israeli authorities have no right to treat Palestinian and Israeli children differently under the civilian and military legal systems.

What can we do in Canada?

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, third party countries like Canada have an obligation to hold Israel to account for these violations—by cooperating with other states to bring an end to the situation, refusing to recognize the situation as lawful, and abstaining from giving aid or assistance.

In short, Canada has international obligations.

The No Way to Treat a Child campaign—led by Defence for Children International – Palestine—is urging Canada to live up to these responsibilities, in word and in deed.

As a first step, the campaign is inviting Canadians to sign a petition to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling on Canada to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and to hold the Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systemic ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees.

We invite you to learn more, and join us as we work to draw attention to the situation faced by Palestinian children and their families!

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director

MCC participates in this initiative in both Canada and the U.S. In Canada, MCC’s engagement with No Way to Treat a Child is part of its own A Cry for Home campaign. 

 

In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

God as advocate

Our MCC Ottawa Office has been engaged in advocacy since it was founded in 1975, but we still occasionally are asked why we are involved in speaking to government as a church-based relief, development and peacebuilding agency.  After all, the question often goes, doesn’t scripture admonish us to simply feed the hungry, clothe the naked or give water to those who thirst?

We as staff have developed a response to this question.  We have many reasons for justifying the work we are mandated to do, not the least of which is the role that advocacy plays in the Bible.  We point out how biblical characters like Moses, Esther, Daniel and John the Baptist spoke to the powers of their time, sometimes with a divine call to do so.  We lift up the words of prophets like Amos and Isaiah who denounced the evil practices of kings. We point to Jesus and how he challenged the religious authorities of his day.

Advocacy for justiceA new book gives us a deeper way of responding to the skeptics who believe that advocacy is beyond the realm of a Christian humanitarian agency.

The book is Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, written by Stephen Offutt and four other U.S. church leaders (one of them, Robb Davis, was executive director of Mennonite Central Committee for a short period of time). The book speaks to evangelicals suspicious of advocacy and seeks to persuade them that advocacy is as important as any other form of Christian ministry, whether evangelism, relief, service or development.

The book accepts – as would our Ottawa Office – that reasons to engage in advocacy include:  1) the fact that partners call for it, 2) that it can address root causes of suffering, and 3) that it can have a much more sweeping and lasting impact than, say, relief distribution. But the authors’ key argument is a theological one – namely, we are advocates because God is an advocate.

God advocates by speaking creation into being and regularly calling that creation to care for the poor and weak, the widows and orphans. God advocates through the “vivid brilliance” of Jesus, whose proclamation of the “kingdom” (a political term indeed!), and whose healing, teaching and sacrificing ministry reconciles the world to Godself.  God advocates through the Holy Spirit who is present with the believers and who empowers them to “bear witness to the life of Jesus applied to all facets of society, whether education, economics, or even politics” (70).  Advocate is a metaphor for God’s very triune nature.

Bev Shipley

L-R: Ted and Katherine Oswald (MCC Reps in Haiti), Member of Parliament Bev Shipley, Clare Maier (former Ottawa Office intern), Rebekah Sears (MCC Ottawa Office policy analyst).

Not only that! The authors argue that for Christians, as “image-bearers” of Christ, advocating to “the powers” is an essential part of being faithful disciples.  They also caution that any all such advocacy must reflect the basic Christian principles of humility, integrity and love for the other.

There is much more to commend this book.  For example, it identifies the important roles of local congregation, denomination, church-based NGOs and para-church organizations in advocacy. It also analyzes key Christian advocacy initiatives and their strengths and weaknesses.  More importantly, it identifies and challenges that which makes many evangelicals skeptical of advocacy: a highly individualistic view of the gospel.

What I found particularly interesting was the chapter that addresses challenges and tensions in faith-based advocacy.  Many of the issues addressed are ones that our office is confronted with regularly, such as, for example, the tension between integrating a faithful response to the advocacy request of our partners with the approval of our donors and supporters. Or, to get more specific,  how do we call for bold action on climate change (because that is our partners’ plea), when some of our donors resist the notion that climate change is human-induced?

For Christians who already embrace the notion of faith-based advocacy, the book will not be necessary. But for evangelicals and others who are still wary of the place of advocacy in the life of faith, it is a major contribution.

And for us in MCC’s Ottawa Office, it gives us new language to communicate why we do what we do. We advocate because God advocates.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.