“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
Just over a week ago, US President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-Un, leader of the world’s most repressive regime which has been accused by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry of “crimes against humanity”. It was historic – the first time a sitting American President and a North Korean dictator had met face-to-face.
On the surface, in words attributed to Winston Churchill, “jaw jaw” has to be better than “war war”. It is good that the two men have moved from talk of “fire and fury” and whose nuclear button is bigger to discussion of denuclearisation, peace and prosperity. Perhaps a new era may be dawning.
However, one very fundamental issue seemed to be missing from the agenda: the human rights of the people of North Korea.
“However, one very fundamental issue seemed to be missing from the agenda: the human rights of the people of North Korea.”
CSW has been documenting the human rights crisis in the world’s most closed nation for almost two decades. Our report, North Korea: A Case to Answer, A Call to Act, was one of the first human rights reports to call for a UN Commission of Inquiry, in 2007. We co-founded the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea in 2011. We led the applause for the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry when it came in 2013, gave evidence to its hearings, and have championed its recommendations since its report was released in 2014. Two years ago we released a new report on violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea – Total Denial – and earlier this year we published a ground-breaking new report on changes in the country over the last decade, titled Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance. And just before the summit, CSW joined over 300 other non-governmental organisations in sending a letter to Kim Jong-Un, urging him to make “lasting improvements to the dire human rights situation”.
“Every one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ thirty articles is denied or violated in North Korea – in particular freedom of religion or belief.”
Every one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ thirty articles is denied or violated in North Korea – in particular freedom of religion or belief. If you identify as a Christian in North Korea, you are risking a death sentence. Christians worshipping in secret risk certain incarceration in a prison camp, and possible execution.
Over the years, we have interviewed – and hosted – North Korean escapees, giving them platforms to tell their horrific tales of torture first-hand. It is therefore no surprise that they feel angry at the way last week’s summit proceeded. Kim Yong-hwa said that it was like “stabbing the heart” of North Koreans. Jung Gwang-il, who met President Trump earlier this year, says he feels let down.
To sideline human rights is disappointing enough, but for President Trump to salute a North Korean General, express admiration for the fact that when Kim speaks, North Korean people sit up, and declare that “I want my people to do the same,” is appalling. North Korean people have no choice, and if they are even suspected of anything other than absolute devotion to the ruling family, they end up in a gulag. Mr Trump said he was joking. But Mr President, gulags are no joke. And North Korea’s regime has incarcerated at least 100,000 people, perhaps twice that number, in prison camps that have been compared to Auschwitz.
Yet we in CSW are not opposed to the summit itself. Indeed, in principle we welcome engagement. We have long advocated engagement. In 2010, I travelled to North Korea with Britain’s tireless champion of human rights in North Korea, Lord Alton, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea, to engage the regime. We published a report – Building Bridges, Not Walls – which advocated critical engagement. But human rights must be clearly on the table, as they were in the Helsinki Process with the Soviet Union – a model for engagement with North Korea. For as Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said during his 1975 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “international confidence, mutual understanding, disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, and the right to travel.”
It should not be forgotten that the Trump-Kim summit took place on 12 June, the 31st anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech. That speech linked the security of the world with the basic human rights and freedoms of an oppressed people. “Freedom and security go together: the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace, said President Reagan.” Just as Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and “open this gate”, Mr Trump should deliver the same message to Mr Kim.
“Our task now is to insist that at every stage of engagement with North Korea from now on, human rights are part of the discussion.”
Our task now is to insist that at every stage of engagement with North Korea from now on, human rights are part of the discussion. In the meantime, we must increase efforts to increase the information flow into North Korea, to counter the regime’s propaganda and undermine its information blockade. As our new report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance: Human Rights in North Korea after a Decade of Change shows, in the last ten years increased flows of information, through radio broadcasts and smuggling of DVDs and USBs with South Korean dramas on them, have enhanced awareness about the outside world, and about human rights. Together with economic changes, this has led to an opening of hearts and minds in North Korea – despite, not because, of the regime. In this new engagement, we must build on that.
As Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the UN Commission of Inquiry, said in a recent article, “I am glad that President Trump and Chairman Kim met in Singapore … But I cannot put out of my mind the people who came to the public hearings of the United Nations inquiry. They told their stories of suffering. They trust the world and the United Nations to right the wrongs. Their testimony is on the Internet. It haunts our world. But not North Korea where it is inaccessible to all but the elite around Kim. I will begin to respect his word when he opens up his isolated country to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the mass detention camps. Let him do this immediately and then I can join in the rejoicing for the self-proclaimed triumph of the Singapore Summit of June 2018.”
Real peace is impossible, unless the human rights and dignity of the people of North Korea are respected, crimes against humanity end and accountability established. That must remain the goal for which we work and pray.
By Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader
A petition is circulating for Noura Hussein, a young Sudanese woman, to receive clemency after she was sentenced to death by hanging by a court in Khartoum last week.
Noura was charged with pre-meditated murder after she stabbed and killed a man who raped her six days after she was forced to marry him.
Her case has brought to light the legal discrimination that women in Sudan face regularly. The name of the person being charged may change, but the oppressive laws that discriminate against women of all religious and ethnic identities remain in place.
Four years ago the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman, caused international outcry after she was sentenced to death for apostasy and adultery. Noura’s case has yet to garner the same level of attention.
Recent years have seen a worrying, increase in attacks against religious minorities in India. Even as the country marks the 68th anniversary of the constitution, which guarantees the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, there is evidence that there has been a dramatic rise in tensions between religious groups, due in large part to the validation of Hindu nationalism propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ideological wing.
Recent video footage obtained by CSW of a physical attack against two Christians portrays the stark reality for many religious minorities in India today.
VIDEO: Two church leaders from Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Kadamalaikuntu, Tamil Nadu are seen here being threatened, ridiculed and forcefully detained by six men on motorbikes as they attempted to leave a village after distributing Christian tracts. They also had sacred ash forcefully applied on them.
Germano Nati Gojo, an Eritrean politician, was arrested at his home by security agents as he listened to the radio on his veranda. One agent stood outside the gate. The other entered and said: “Sir, we need you on a work-related issue”. Saying nothing, Germano Nati Gojo stood up, went to change his clothes and left with them. His two younger children, then aged 16 and 12, witnessed this. The family has not seen or heard from him in 17 years, despite inquiring.
His eldest son, Yona Germano Nati, addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2018. He spoke of how his father had joined the struggle for independence of Eritrea in 1976, shared the story of his father’s enforced disappearance in September 2001, and described their poignant last meeting prior to the arrest, during which his father expressed his readiness to be jailed alongside his pro-reform colleagues who are now known collectively as the G 15.
A guest blog by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP.
Today is the 15th birthday of Leah Sharibu. But, unlike most young girls around the world, she will be spending her birthday in captivity.
On 19 February 2018, Leah was among 110 girls who were abducted from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, north eastern Nigeria, by the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. The oldest abductees were 18 years of age; the youngest were 11.
On 21 March 2018, over a month after their capture, Boko Haram returned 105 of the girls to Dapchi, following negotiations with the government. Five had reportedly died during the arduous journey to Boko Haram’s hideout.
Who do you trust to look after your community? According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, 71% of Mexican citizens would rather put their trust in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) than the government, which has the confidence of a mere 24% of the population.
These stark statistics beg the question: what could be driving such levels of distrust in the Mexican government?
Currently, Mexico is the second most dangerous country in the world to be a Catholic priest. Other religious leaders are also increasingly targeted; between November 2013 and April 2018, 30 religious leaders were killed. In April 2018 alone, three religious leaders were killed. Moreover, Mexico is the second most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist.
Religious leaders often take on the role of human rights defenders (HRDs), engaging with various human rights initiatives in order to bring the issues of their respective communities to the attention of those who can provide legal, practical or advocacy assistance. As such, these religious leaders often fulfil the role of community leaders as well as HRDs. It’s dangerous work. In 2017, 32 HRDs were killed according to a report by Front Line Defenders.
Kandhamal district is among the poorest and most marginalised in Odhisa (formerly Orissa) state, India. On 25 August 2008, it was the epi-centre of communal attacks against the Christian community in India. Local monitoring groups have estimated that over 90 people were killed with at least 54,000 displaced and over 300 churches destroyed by groups belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that espouses the Hindutva ideology.
Ten years on, attacks on religious minorities and on freedom of expression by groups belonging to the RSS continue. The lack of official condemnation towards acts of intimidation and violence has further empowered these groups. As with recent attacks against religious minorities in India, the carnage that unfolded in Kandhamal was not a one-off isolated incident devoid of a historical narrative.
All elected Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) have a special obligation to protect and promote human rights. While every State has a responsibility to uphold human rights, in theory and in practice, Member States on the Council are in a unique position; and to that end, it is important that they practice what they’re supposed to preach.
During the HRC elections, candidates submit voluntary pledges, committing to the promotion and protection of human rights, and once elected, to maintaining high standards towards the protection and promotion of human rights.
Often, a State’s campaign for election is not free from criticism. Indeed, current HRC Council Members include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China; countries which are frequently pulled up for serious human rights violations.
“While every state has a responsibility to uphold human rights, in theory and in practice, Member States on the Council are in a unique position; and to that end, it is important that they practice what they’re supposed to preach.”
In 2017, Nepal was elected as a Member of the HRC. The country will serve for a period of three years, and could serve up to two consecutive terms. It is important that Nepal embraces its position on the Council, calls out human rights abuses, makes recommendations, and promotes peace and reconciliation and supports the work of Special Procedures among other human rights mechanisms.
June 2018 marks five years since the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council adopted Guidelines on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). This anniversary provides an opportune moment to reflect on how the Guidelines are being used and whether they are fulfilling their intended function.
It is encouraging that FoRB has risen so significantly on the EU’s foreign policy agenda since 2013, but there remains substantial room for improvement. In particular, to ensure better implementation of the guidelines emphasis needs to be placed on increasing EU efforts to train officials on FoRB and on monitoring violations in countries worldwide.
Diplomacy works well until it doesn’t
The EU FoRB Guidelines were the result of a complex drafting process involving broad consultation with civil society specialising in this field of human rights including CSW and negotiated compromises between EU member states. They commit the EU to mainstreaming FoRB in its external human rights policy and identify practical steps EU institutions and member states should take to prevent and address FoRB violations in a “timely, consistent and coherent manner.” The text strongly affirms that the EU is “determined” to promote FoRB as a core part of the indivisible human rights landscape and free from alignment with any particular religious or non-religious agenda.
Welcome to the United Nations. It’s your world.
Until recently, when you accessed the United Nations (UN) website, these words would appear. They’re still used on some webpages, and the sentiment behind them still stands.
The UN is often the subject of criticism, and its flaws are well-documented, yet it remains one of the most important arenas for raising human rights concerns, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Three times a year, in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Human Rights Council comes together and UN staff, member state delegations and non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) all rub shoulders in meetings, formal sessions and – frequently – impromptu chats over coffee and in canteen queues.
On the agenda are some of the most serious human rights situations in the world.
This is also an opportunity for NGOs like Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) to organise side events running parallel to discussions at the Council, where victims of human rights violations, as well as experts and activists, can present their cases in an open forum. In March 2018, CSW hosted one of its first side events at the UN Human Rights Council since obtaining ECOSOC Consultative Status: an opportunity to discuss some of the most severe and complex challenges to religious communities in China.