Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) – in full

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

CSW is a human rights organisation specialising in freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

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Burma’s Identity Crisis

21/05/2019

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Central African Republic: is justice being sacrificed for the illusion of peace?

On 21 May, over 26 people were killed and dozens injured when an armed group attacked two villages in the north west of the Central African Republic (CAR). The attacks were reported by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, which confirmed that twelve people were killed in Koundjili village and 14 in Djoumjoum village. 

Whilst reports of violent and devastating attacks on civilians in CAR are not new, these attacks represent a new challenge for the recently re-constituted government following the latest peace agreement between the government and armed groups.

The alleged perpetrator of the attacks on the two villages is the rebel group known as 3R (Return, Reclamation and Reconciliation). The group was formerly part of the Seleka alliance that took over the country following a coup in March 2013.  The alliance was subsequently disbanded, but armed groups fragmented and seized territories outside of the capital, Bangui.

The price of peace

Previously the government could only condemn the actions of these armed groups and attempt to broker peace for the sake of civilians, but since the signing of the last peace agreement in February 2019 3R’s leader, Bi Sidi Souleymane, also known as Sidiki Abbass, is in the cabinet as a special military advisor to the Prime Minister. The military advisors are tasked with guiding the government as it reformulates the security infrastructure and integrates regular troops with fighters from the 14 armed groups operational in the country.

The integration of militias in the security infrastructure is as controversial as the inclusion of armed group leaders in the power sharing agreement.

The most recent peace agreement – the Agreement of Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic – was signed on 6 February 2019 in Bangui. The agreement was reached between the CAR authorities and 14 armed groups after talks were held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between 24 January and 5 February. It was supported by the African Union and negotiated with the oversight of Sudan’s former president, Omar al Bashir.

The peace agreement called for the immediate surrender of arms by the militias and the cessation of hostilities; however, armed groups continued to use force in order to exert pressure as the power sharing arrangement was being negotiated.

Another key issue of contention during the drafting of the agreement was the issuing of amnesties to armed groups, a matter on which President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s government had previously refused to concede. Whilst amnesties were not explicitly dealt with in the text of the peace agreement, neither was the issue of impunity, aside from comments in the texts that committed parties to the fight against impunity.

A mixed response

The peace agreement has received a mixed response in the country. Some community and religious leaders are concerned that work to de-escalate tensions and reduce the drivers of revenge could be undone. At the height of the conflict, religious leaders in particular worked with communities impacted by the violence, urging victims to wait for the state to execute justice against the perpetrators, many of whom are known to these communities.

With the inclusion of armed groups in the government, people who have suffered grave violations may be disheartened by the perception that those responsible for the violence are being rewarded after using violent means to secure real political power and economic advantage.

The government faces a complicated set of circumstances that it needs to respond to, but it must begin, first and foremost, with the unequivocal condemnation of violence and a swift investigation into the recent attacks, ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

On 22 May the government and MINUSCA issued a statement condemning the violence and giving the leader of the 3Rs movement 72 hours to present the perpetrators to the relevant authorities, otherwise he would be held personally responsible. As the 72 hour deadline approaches, the world will be watching to see how the government resolves this breach of a hard won peace agreement. An integral part of dealing with this crisis is ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The establishment and operationalisation of the Special Criminal Court is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity, but these judicial institutions need political and financial support in order to effectively execute their mandates. Measures must also be put in place to deal with the continuing acts of violent against civilians committed by armed groups that are now part of the government.

The monumental challenge of bringing the government and 14 armed groups to the negotiating table to sign a peace agreement is significant; however, it does not prevent the creation of alternative armed groups that resort to violence because they do not feel their needs are adequately represented by those that are part of the power sharing agreement. If this precedent is allowed to stand, then violence will be seen as a means of accruing political power and legitimacy. It is therefore incumbent on the state to ensure a robust response to the attacks by the 3R, if necessary, by holding its leadership to account for the actions of its members. 

By CSW’s Central African Republic Team


Burma’s identity crisis

The forced closure last week of three temporary Muslim prayer sites in Yangon is just the latest in a litany of abuses inflicted on Burma’s religious minorities by ultra-nationalist Buddhists. Add this to the decades-long persecution by the Burma Army of non-Burman ethnic minorities, many of whom are also non-Buddhists, and you get a nationwide cocktail of religious intolerance and conflict.

Muslims, Christians, and indeed Buddhists, who oppose the extremists are increasingly living in fear, in a country where ethno-religious nationalism has led to hate speech, intolerance, discrimination, persecution, crimes against humanity and, in one particularly egregious case, genocide.

That is the picture presented by CSW’s new report, Burma’s Identity Crisis: How ethno-religious nationalism has led to religious intolerance, crimes against humanity and genocide, published today. The report is the result of over three years’ work, involving first-hand front-line research, supplemented by information provided by CSW’s contacts in Burma and by other organisations working on these issues. It tells the human stories, it analyses the legislative framework, it assesses the international community’s response and it provides a call for action.

Continue reading “Burma’s identity crisis”

India: A rude awakening in an election year

Dr Shashi Tharoor, the former Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, once described Narendra Modi as a paradoxical Prime Minister who says one thing and does another.

Coming into power in 2014 on egalitarian slogans like “ache din aane wale hain” (good days are coming) and “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (togetherness with all and development for all), Modi appealed to the corporate and middle class groups who were already beginning to resent the Congress Party, which was plagued with a series of corruption scandals. Posturing as the “development visionary” while presiding as Gujarat’s Chief Minister (2001-2014), he was fielded as the best candidate who could fix India’s decaying economy and good governance.

This clearly was not the case, as the reckless almost overnight demonetization had a drastic impact, particularly on lower income groups.

The promise of good days is far from being realised. For the religious minorities that make up approximately 16.3% of the population the last five years have been anything but favourable.

Continue reading “India: A rude awakening in an election year”

Cultura de impunidad en México, parte 2: Años perdidos y oportunidades perdidas

La semana pasada, el Oficial de Defensa de América Latina de CSW detalló la cultura de impunidad que obstaculiza la protección y la promoción de la libertad de religión o de creencias (LdRC) en México. En este post le ponemos una cara humana a los efectos de la respuesta inadecuada del gobierno a las violaciones de LdRC, para mostrar lo que le sucede a las personas cuando las autoridades retrasan o descuidan sus responsabilidades de proteger a las minorías religiosas.

Un caso que ilustra la cultura profundamente arraigada de la impunidad que rodea los ataques a las minorías religiosas en México es el de la comunidad de Yashtinin en el municipio de San Cristóbal de las Casas en el estado de Chiapas.

Todo comenzó en 2012, cuando varias personas se convirtieron a otra religión diferente a la mayoritaria. Algunos miembros de la comunidad temían que esta nueva religión dañara sus costumbres y tradiciones y afectara negativamente a sus hijos. El 10 de junio de 2012, un grupo numeroso de la comunidad fue a la casa de Santiago Hernández Vázquez, uno de los hombres que se habían convertido.  Se llevaron a todos los que se encontraban allí y los metieron en prisión, en medio de insultos, amenazas con violencia; incluso consignas de muerte en el proceso.

Después de encarcelar a 16 hombres y niños en un espacio normalmente destinado a albergar a una sola persona, los maestros locales empleados por el gobierno falsificaron un documento que afirmaba que las familias habían decidido voluntariamente abandonar la comunidad. Las víctimas fueron obligadas a firmarlo y se les dio tres días para irse. Tras la expiración del ultimátum, 12 familias fueron expulsadas después de que los aldeanos destruyeron todas sus casas y propiedades. Para el año 2015, un total de 28 familias habían sido expulsadas de la misma comunidad.

Continue reading “Cultura de impunidad en México, parte 2: Años perdidos y oportunidades perdidas”

Mexico’s Culture of Impunity Part 2: Lost years and missed opportunities

Last week, CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Officer detailed the culture of impunity that hinders the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Mexico. In this post we put a human face on the effects of the government’s inadequate response to violations of FoRB, showing what happens to individuals when authorities delay or neglect their responsibilities to protect religious minorities.

Click here to read this post in Spanish.

One case which illustrates the deep rooted culture of impunity that surrounds attacks on religious minorities in Mexico is that of the community of Yashtinin in San Cristóbal de las Casas Municipality in Chiapas State.

Everything began in 2012, when several people converted away from the majority religion. Some members of the community were afraid that this new religion would damage their customs and traditions and negatively affect their children. On 10 June 2012 a large group from the community went to the house of a Santiago Hernández Vázquez, one of the men who had converted, and took everyone that was meeting there to prison, insulting them and threatening them with violence and even death in the process.

After imprisoning 16 men and boys in a space normally meant to hold a single individual, local teachers employed by the government falsified a document stating that the families had voluntarily decided to leave the community. The victims were forced to sign it and given three days to leave. Upon the expiration of the ultimatum, 12 families were expelled after villagers destroyed all of their homes and property. By 2015, a total of 28 families had been expelled.

Continue reading “Mexico’s Culture of Impunity Part 2: Lost years and missed opportunities”