1999 – Jubilee 2000 campaign forces debt relief in Cologne      

The rise of unpayable and illegitimate third world debt had been a focus for campaigns since the mid 1980s, but in 1996 these campaigns coalesced under the banner of Jubilee 2000. Within four years, the idea to mark the celebration of the millennium with a massive cancellation of debt (based on the biblical concept of a jubilee)  had become a movement that would transform the international political debate on debt and development.

In 1996, Jubilee 2000 UK had one member of staff and less than a hundred supporters, but by 2000 had become an international movement of 69 national campaigns and a record-breaking 24 million signatures on its ‘drop the debt’ petition.

In May 1998, Jubilee 2000 UK helped galvanize 70,000 people to form a 10-km human chain around the G8 summit venue in Birmingham, UK. In Brazil, in September 2000, 5.5 million people voted in an unofficial referendum against debt repayments organized by Jubilee 2000 Brazil, despite heavy opposition from the government who dismissed the poll as a ‘stupid’ initiative that would undermine economic stability.

The movement captured the imagination and was embraced by iconic cultural figures from  Mohammad Ali to Bono of U2 to Youssou N’Dour of Senegal, doing the previously unthinkable of turning a complex financial issue into one of massive popular concern.

As a result, politicians from the most powerful G8 nations were forced into constantly increasing their commitments to ‘enhanced’ debt relief at a series of summits. While their responses never matched the demand of campaigners, it nevertheless won a significant $130 billion of debt cancellation which led to real improvements in health and education spending in many countries.

Anthony Gaeta of the World Bank remarked "Jubilee 2000 has managed to put a relatively arcane issue that of international finance and development on the negotiating table throughout the world... it is one of the most effective global lobbying campaigns I have ever seen.”

International relationships between civil society groups in North and South were at the heart of the campaign and helped break open the secrecy behind many of the illegitimate loans to corrupt leaders that people were now forced to pay. Northern campaigns shared Southern partners’ experiences of the impact of debt in public awareness-raising and in lobbying, whilst Southern campaigns shared debt information gathered in the financial capitals of the North with people in their own country to demand an end to illegitimate debt and irresponsible borrowing.

Southern campaigns also used the public debate to  build education and popular awareness of financial issues. Jubilee Bolivia in 2000, for example, organised discussions with 4000 people in nine regional workshops on how debt relief resources should be effectively used.

The Jubilee 2000 UK campaign officially dissolved on 31 December 2000, but Jubilee campaigns have continued their work in North and South focusing on new debt crises, calling for a new financial architecture that does not sacrifice the poor on the altar of fiscal discipline and demanding the fulfillment of the more fundamental vision of jubilee - "radical redistribution of wealth and power, the liberation of those who are oppressed or held captive, and the renewal of the earth and all its inhabitants."