Media Release26 Aug 2018

Religious leaders unite in Colombia to eradicate modern slavery

Religious leaders came together in Medellin, Colombia to commit to eradicating modern slavery through spiritual and practical actions.

Global Freedom Network Colombia
Signing of the Religious Leaders’ Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery in Colombia. Photo Credit: Caitlin Distefano via Minderoo Foundation.

Latin American faith leaders have united to jointly declare their commitment to stand against modern slavery.

The religious leaders were brought together at a historic event in Medellin, Colombia, organised by the Global Freedom Network, an initiative of Walk Free, in collaboration with the Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (CELAM). The event united religious leaders from the region to commit to eradicating modern slavery through spiritual and practical actions.

The Pew Research Center has estimated that about 84 per cent of the world’s population is religious. Religious leaders therefore have the ability to create lasting, positive change by increasing awareness and action to end modern slavery.

During the ceremony, the Religious Leaders’ Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery was signed by:

  • Mons. Juan Espinoza Jimenez, Secretary General of CELAM
  • Mons. Mauricio Velez, Medellin Archdiocese’s Auxiliary Bishop and appointed representative of Archbishop Tobon Restrepo
  • Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff, Latin American Jewish Congress (CJL)
  • Pastor Jorge Zijlstra, President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI)
  • Archimandrita Timoteo, Leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Colombia and appointed representative of Archbishop Athenagoras of Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean.
  • Rev. Álvarez, Representative of Mons. Duque, (Colombia’s Anglican Church Bishop and appointed Anglican Church representative by the Primate of the IARCA Anglican Province)
  • Reverendo Luis Andres Caicedo, Representative of the Colombian Methodist Church
  • Hieromonk Simeon Lopez, Representative of Bishop Kirilo, Serbian Orthodox Bishop for Central and South America

The new signatories join 63 other Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu, Evangelical, Jewish, Sikh, Baha’i and Muslim leaders who have signed the Joint Declaration at historic events in Vatican City (2014), Canberra (2015), New Delhi (2015), Jakarta (2017) and Buenos Aires (2017).

Andrew Forrest AO, Chairman of Global Freedom Network, called on all Latin American religious leaders to join governments and businesses in the fight against modern slavery.

“We face a mighty foe in slavery and if we work alone we will not succeed, no matter how influential or powerful we may be. But if we recognize this as an urgent cause to unite all leaders, across faiths, borders and industries, we can end suffering for tens of millions of people,” Mr Forrest said.

“I call on all faith leaders to raise awareness of this horrible abuse of human rights, to shape positive social values in line with your teachings, and inspire hope.”

Reverend Jorge Daniel Zijlstra Arduin, acting President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), said:

“Today we are signing the Religious Leaders’ Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery on behalf of over 100 denomination and organisations across 20 Latin American and Caribbean nations that make up the Latin American Council of Churches because protecting the lives of those most vulnerable is an evangelical obligation. Human lives cannot be sacrificed any longer in the pursuit of ever growing economic profits, regardless of how this is achieved.”

The event was held following the Congresio Eclesial which gathered to celebreate the 50th anniversary of the Medellin Conference. The Global Freedom Network is an initiative of the Walk Free Foundation, an international human rights organisation with a mission to end modern slavery around the world.

Davina Durgana, Ph.D., statistician and senior researcher at Walk Free Foundationsaid the signing event was significant for Colombian people and an important step in the interfaith fight against modern slavery.

“An estimated 131,000 people are in some form of modern slavery in Colombia. We cannot allow them to continue to suffer – our beliefs must underpin our actions and create a better world for us all,” Ms Durgana said.

“The faith leaders that came here today are leading the way. Through the declaration, they have affirmed that human rights abuses will not be tolerated, that we must protect our most vulnerable and stand up against those that would abuse others in the name of faith or religion.”

Walk Free’s 2018 Global Slavery Index – the most comprehensive analysis of the scale of modern slavery on a country-by-country basis – shows 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery, including 1.5 million men, women and children in Central and South America.

Governments in the Americas have taken strong steps to respond to modern slavery, with improvements in victim identification and support, but more progress is urgently required.

Across the region, conflict, governance issues and inequality are the biggest factors which leave people vulnerable to modern slavery.