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Faith Community Testifies On Foreign Aid Funding Issues  

            March 30,2000, WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nineteen churches and other faith-based organizations weighed in with Congress today (March 30) with testimony urging funding for debt relief for impoverished countries and for programs to assist sustainable development, refugees, conflict resolution and reconciliation and multilateral peacekeeping.  Their testimony opposes funding for “ineffective and abusive anti-narcotics programs,” with specific reference to Colombia. 

            “Faith Action for People-Centered Development Policy,” whose members include the National Council of Churches and its humanitarian assistance ministry, Church World Service, presented the testimony before the Appropriations Committee of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.   

Faith Action is an informal working group of more than twenty Protestant communions, Roman Catholic groups, faith-based advocacy coalitions, and religious private and voluntary organizations.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations is the committee that provides the House of Representatives with recommendations on foreign aid spending priorities. 

            The testimony is available at www.ncccusa.org/publicwitness/fatestimony.html on the NCC’s Web site.  Here are key points: 

            DEBT RELIEF: Congress is asked to provide the funds and authority for cancellation of both bilateral and multilateral debts owed by the highly indebted and impoverished countries that now qualify for debt relief under U.S. law.  Funding debt relief “must not come at the cost of reducing funds available for other development or lending programs.” 

            DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE: “One need not believe that aid can do everything to see that foreign assistance can do more.  Despite our nation’s great wealth, we rank last in the industrialized world in terms of the percentage of our GDP which is directed to help those most in need.  This trend must be reversed, especially at a time of budget surplus.” 

Emphasized are the need for increased assistance to sub-Saharan Africa, “one of the poorest regions of the world,” to which development assistance “continues to decrease disproportionately in comparison to allocations for other regions of the world.”    

Funding also is urged for HIV/AIDS response around the world, especially in Africa; increased assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean especially given the reconstruction needs following Hurricane Mitch and the mudslides in Venezuela, and to the Middle East in ways that support implementation of the peace process but “not used to increase military assistance to Israel.” 

REFUGEES’ NEEDS: Refugee admissions to the United States have declined more than 40 percent over the past eight years, and the Administration has proposed further reductions.   

The “Faith Action” testimony advocates returning admissions to their historic levels of more than 100,000 a year, citing the world’s 14 million refugees and more than 17 million internally displaced persons – many of whom will never be able to return home.  The testimony also asks Congress to restore funding to meet refugees’ needs in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean and in Europe. 

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: Funding is asked for programs that “contribute to conflict resolution and reconciliation and support multilateral peacekeeping efforts at as high a level as possible.”  The testimony urges President Clinton to sign the Ottawa treaty, which calls on governments to ban the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of landmines. 

OPPOSED: INEFFECTIVE AND ABUSIVE ANTI-NARCOTICS PROGRAMS: The “Faith Action” testimony opposes the $1.7 billion proposed assistance for counternarcotics operations in the Andes, particularly the $500 million program “Push into Southern Colombia.”    

Assistance for the Colombian Army to target the coca growing regions of southern Colombia “will escalate the violence and undercut efforts for a negotiated peace settlement to Colombia’s 40-year civil  war,” and proposed aerial fumigation would displace 10,000 more people from southern Colombia, “causing great human suffering and incalculable environmental damage,” the testimony asserts.  “We urge you instead to support much-needed assistance for peace, human rights, justice reform, alternative development and humanitarian assistance to Colombia’s internally displaced people.” 

Increased U.S. military involvement in Colombia is opposed, urging support instead for several measures to promote peace, human rights and development in Colombia – and drug treatment and prevention programs to reduce the demand for drugs in the United States. 

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