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'
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 worlds 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 humanslife 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
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.
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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.
"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.
"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
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"Muslim-Dalit unity will revolutionise Islam" - Dalit
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A booklet primer on Philippine debt
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A boolket on the Philippine debt situation.
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DAGA Dossier on East Timor - a collection of news and articles analysing the East Timor
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
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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>
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.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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