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National Religious Organizations Call for International Inquiry of Brutal Algerian Massacres

"It is imperative that we not become numb to the pain and suffering of others and turn our backs to those who need our help."

WASHINGTON, January 23, 1998 - Expressing "dismay and outrage" at the recent murders of thousands of innocent civilians in Algeria, an interfaith coalition of national religious organizations - including the Reform Jewish movement, U.S. Catholic Conference and National Council of Churches - called upon the U.S. government to encourage an international inquiry into the massacres and take a role in preventing any further killings.

In a letter this week to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, they declared, "The U.S. and the international community cannot turn a blind eye to these massacres, but rather we must try to protect the innocent citizens who are suffering at the hands of the internal power struggle..." Drawing on shared religious values, they stated that "the Bible admonishes us that we cannot sit idly by the blood of our neighbors' and that because these killings have been done, at least in part, in the name of religion makes it even more imperative for us to speak out."

The joint letter was coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and signed by the following additional organizations: U.S. Catholic Conference, National Council of Churches, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Church Women United, General Board of Church and Society, Seventh Day Adventist: International Religious Liberty Association, Presbyterian Church (USA), Church of the Brethren, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Albright,

On behalf of the undersigned religious groups representing a diverse segment of the American population, we are writing to express our dismay and outrage at the recent massacres in Algeria.

As religious groups, we are particularly disturbed by the hundreds of killings which have occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, beginning on December 30, 1997. Each subsequent day brings horrifying accounts of massacres, including the slaughter of over 100 people yesterday while praying in a mosque. In the six years since the Algerian military canceled elections, over 75,000 innocent people have been mutilated, tortured and killed as the Islamic fundamentalists have tried to gain power from the secular, military government. As Americans, and as people of faith, we cannot remain silent. That these killings have been done, at least in part, in the name of religion makes it even more imperative for us to speak out.

Men, women and children live in fear in Algeria, hoping their government will put an end to this nightmare, and not enough is being done. The Algerian government has not effectively responded to the latest killings, and insists that only "residual violence" remains from the Islamic fundamentalists who oppose the secular government. While the facts are uncertain, it is clear that a thorough investigation is necessary to develop a strategy in order to end this violence. The government has recently made movement toward allowing an international inquiry into the violence, and we fully endorse this measure.

We support the Administration's efforts in encouraging outside observers to investigate the killings in Algeria, and we urge our government to continue this pressure. The Bible admonishes us that we cannot "sit idly by the blood of our neighbors" (Leviticus 19:16). The U.S. and the international community cannot turn a blind eye to these massacres, but rather we must try to protect the innocent citizens who are suffering at the hands of the internal power struggle between the current government and the Islamic fundamentalists, beginning at least with providing the kind of accurate information and attention that international observers can provide.

While the U.S. cannot be the only peacekeeper in the international sphere working to secure peace and the protection of human rights, it is imperative that we not become numb to the pain and suffering of others and turn our backs to those who need our help. History is replete with examples of the suffering that occurs when the world turns its back on evil. Let us, please, not allow that to happen again.

We stand ready to assist you in any way we can in responding to this urgent humanitarian crisis.



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