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JUSTICE AND PEACE / Initiatives / International Debt

International Debt – Systemic cause of poverty

As members of an international congregation,
we recognize our obligation and opportunities
to develop a world vision
and a sense of global responsibility.
– SSND Constitution

“Must we starve our children to pay our debt?” – Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania

Many people know what it feels like to owe money, even if only for a mortgage on a house. But it's a different matter altogether to be deeply in debt and unable to repay it. It's even worse to be in that situation if someone else ran up the debt and left you to carry it.

When individuals become deeply indebted, we draw a line under the debt. That line is called bankruptcy. It is a line beyond which we do not allow people to fall. No such line can be drawn in international law. When poor countries become deeply indebted they fall into an abyss of economic degradation. Their governments owe vast sums to wealthy creditor countries and international banks controlled by the rich nations. These same institutions then take on responsibility for determining levels of debt relief.

This is unjust

In 2000, Jubilee 2000/USA declared that in this jubilee year it's time to do something about the unjust debt.

The debt crisis is not just about economics. It is about real people who struggle daily against the hardship it creates. It's about Julius Nyerere's question, “Must we starve our children to pay our debt?”

Virtually every major faith tradition agrees that true security depends on making the connection between our national and personal interests and the well being of global neighbors. Terrorism is a disease that grows out of and feeds on the breakdown of community. Community is destroyed by extremes – extremes of ideology to be sure – and equally by extremes of poverty, inequality and disease. Scripture prescribes debt cancellation as a means of community restoration (Deuteronomy 15; Leviticus 25; Matthew 6:12).

Debt cancellation has been used as a political tool in recent years. Yet, we do know it is time to move beyond geo-political motivations, and to provide full and unconditional debt cancellation for all impoverished countries. Jubilee campaigns around the world show that concerned citizens working together can have a huge impact on international economic policies. Jubilee 2000 has become Jubilee USA Network with membership of 70 organizations including labor, churches, religious communities and institutions, AIDS activists, trade campaigners, environmentalists, community groups and individuals.

Members of Jubilee USA Network are joining hands to break the Chains of Debt. Together these hands have the power to usher in a true jubilee of immediate and definitive debt cancellation for impoverished nations without harmful economic policy conditions.

We know hundreds of millions of people living in poverty in low and middle-income countries alike are enslaved by a debt they can never repay. Debt costs lives, health, education and hope.

Many of these debts are called odious debt. This is a legal term for a debt, if the government used the money for personal purposes to oppress the people. Moreover, in cases where borrowed money was used in ways contrary to the peoples' interest, with the knowledge of the creditors, the creditors may be said to have committed a hostile act against the people. Creditors cannot legitimately expect repayment of such debts.

Other debts are not odious but they are illegitimate. Many countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa have long proclaimed their debt burden illegitimate based on the historical context of the debt. Jubilee USA claims that these chains of debt are new forms of slavery, because the debt continues to be used as a tool of domination that ensures easy access by the creditor nations to the resources of the countries in debt.

Debt cancellation works. The limited debt relief provided to date is showing remarkable results. Savings from debt relief have:

Recent studies document that debt relief delivered to date resulted in large increases on education and health expenditures in Africa – and no increase in spending on defense. In some cases health payments increased by 70% and education spending grew by more than 140%.

Taking Action

Take action with Jubilee USA for 100% debt cancellation. Visit Jubilee USA Network's Take Action webpage to learn more about the ways you can work toward debt cancellation.

Reflecting on these scripture passages, see how they relate to debt crisis and debt cancellation.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.     – Isaiah 43:19

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."     – Revelation 21:5

Links for Additional Information about International Debt

If you would like additional information about international debt and debt cancellation or wish to organize a workshop or invite a speaker to address this topic, please contact Sister Ethel Howley at 410-377-2071 or ehowley@ssndba.org.

Last updated: Saturday, 26 March, 2005 10:12 PM

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