FoRB on the Frontlines: Under threat of violence

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In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December, CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region.

Nehemiah Christie is a human rights defender working in India:

“My experience as a human rights and FoRB defender in South India has worsened ever since the Modi government came to power. With the BJP relying on the backing of Hindu fundamentalist groups, the threat to minorities has increased, especially with regard to Christians in India. In Tamil Nadu, where I and many others work on the front line defending people’s right to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB), we have faced extreme hostility.

HRDs here have been shot, raped, and threatened by both state and non-state actors. Threats are often perpetuated by police and other authorities trying to silence our voices by labelling us as anti-national elements working against the interests of India. Read More

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China’s Crackdown on Religion

“My family, relatives, friends and dozens of innocent people [I know] have been arrested since April 2017. I have no knowledge of how many more of our relatives have been arrested as we lost contact with them at the beginning of the year. They have not committed any crime… They are ordinary people… since then I have not heard from them and I am unsure about their safety.”

– Chinese Uyghur living overseas.

Faith groups in China are currently experiencing the most severe crackdown on religious freedom and human rights in decades. One of the worst sites of this crackdown is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where recent reports estimate that as many as three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in political re-education camps without charge.

Ethnicity appears to be the principle driver of these detentions, however there is also a significant religious element. The majority of detainees are Muslim, and reasons for detention – when a reason is given – have often been connected to the practice of peaceful religious activities such as participating in communal religious services or accessing religious materials online.

The religious element is further demonstrated by the treatment of Muslims inside the camps. Witnesses report that detainees have been forced to renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Prisoners have also been forced to eat pork or drink alcohol, which goes against their religious beliefs.

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Un Puente entre dos Mundos: Desafíos para las Minorías Religiosas de México en el Día de Muertos

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Me parece muy extraño que al crecer en una familia, o en una cultura, donde la muerte es un tabú, donde la gente tiene miedo de hablar de ello, en el otro lado del mundo, en México, la muerte está profundamente arraigada en su cultura y en su gente.

En la literatura y el arte mexicanos hay una fijación con la muerte. El célebre poeta y diplomático mexicano Octavio Paz escribió: “Para el habitante de Nueva York, París o Londres, la muerte es la palabra que jamás se pronuncia porque quema los labios. El mexicano, en cambio, la frecuenta, la burla, la acaricia, duerme con ella, la festeja, es uno de sus juguetes favoritos y su amor más permanente […] la contempla cara a cara con impaciencia, desdén o ironía.”

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A Bridge Between Two Worlds: Challenges for Mexico’s Religious Minorities on the Day of the Dead

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Growing up in a family, in a culture even, where death is taboo, where people are afraid to talk about it, it seemed strange to me that on the other side of the world, death is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture and in the Mexican people.

In Mexican literature and art there is a fixation with death. The celebrated Mexican poet and diplomat, Octavio Paz, wrote “To the inhabitant of New York, Paris or London, death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favourite toys and his most enduring love […] he looks at it face to face with impatience, disdain or irony.”

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Moving On Up: The UN Human Rights Council Agenda Items Explained

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Recently, CSW raised concerns regarding the diminishing scrutiny of Sudan’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The situation in the country is currently considered under agenda item 10, but CSW, along with many Sudanese and international civil society organisations, has repeatedly argued that the present situation is sufficiently serious to merit consideration under agenda item 4.

For many, the importance and even the content of these agenda items is likely to be unclear, yet the differences are crucial in determining the extent to which important human rights situations are scrutinised.

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‘Renounce your faith or leave’: The Ultimatum facing a number of Protestant families in Mexico

IMG_1575While the Mexican constitution provides strong protections for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), moderate to severe violations of this right are regular occurrences in many parts of the country, particularly the states of Chiapas, Hidalgo and Oaxaca. Often these violations take the form of local authorities attempting to enforce conformity on religious minorities, for example, by denying access to basic services to Protestant families in majority Catholic villages.

CSW’s latest fact-finding visit to Mexico revealed a number of cases where Protestant families have been presented with an ultimatum to either renounce their faith or leave their village before a specific deadline.

To take one example, last year in Colonia Los Llanos in the San Cristóbal de las Casas Municipality, Chiapas, several Protestant families were forced to leave their village after they defied orders to renounce their religious beliefs. CSW also found evidence of similar experiences in two more communities in Chiapas and another in Oaxaca during the visit.

These ultimatums do not come out of nowhere and tend to follow years of religious tension.

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Save North Korean Refugees Day: Time to End China’s Illegal and Horrific Treatment of North Korean Escapees

changgwang streetSave North Korean Refugees Day, which falls on 24 September, aims to highlight the terrible trials faced by North Korean refugees in China.

It also marks the day, 36 years ago, that China became a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an agreement the country continues to violate through its treatment of North Korean escapees.

China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees is illegal as it violates the fundamental international humanitarian principle of ‘non-refoulement’, which prohibits receiving countries from returning refugees to a country where they would likely face persecution due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

And yet, that is exactly what they are being sent back to: North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, referred to by the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry as “a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world” in terms of human rights violations. CSW’s 2016 report previously revealed that deported escapees regularly face execution, torture, arbitrary detention, deliberate starvation, illegal cavity searches, forced abortions, and other sexual violence at the hands of the North Korean authorities.

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Long read: Eritreans wonder why their president is “making peace with everyone but the Eritrean people”

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On the morning of 17 September, Eritrean security operatives arrested former Minister of Finance Berhane Abrehe in Asmara.  According to local reports, 73 year old Mr Abrehe was out having breakfast with his son when he was approached by security agents and instructed to accompany them.

The arrest followed the publication and launch of a two-volume book authored by Mr Abrehe entitled ‘Eritra Hageray’ (Eritrea My Country) in Washington DC. The book is described on the cover as presenting an Eritrean plan on how to end dictatorship and prevent it from happening again. The book received endorsements from several former Eritrean officials in exile, and were accompanied by an audio clip in which Mr Abrehe called, among other things, for the convening of the National Assembly and challenged President Afwerki to a public debate.

Mr Abrehe is currently in an unknown location.  He has been unwell for some time, and there are legitimate concerns for his wellbeing.  Mr Abrehe’s wife, Almaz Habtemariam, has been detained since early 2018, in reprisal for one of their four children fleeing the country.  Both he and his wife are veterans of the liberation struggle.

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Nepal’s criminalisation of conversion seems to protect Hinduism at the expense of other religions.

Three years on from the date that Nepal adopted its new constitution, there are concerns about its ‘anti-conversion’ clause, which seemed designed to specifically protect Hinduism at the expense of other religions.

The clause, in Article 26 (3) of the constitution, states:

“No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.”

These provisions were strengthened in the Penal Code 2017 which came into force in August 2018. Section 158 states that “No person shall convert any one from one religion to another or make attempt to or abet such conversion”  and carries a punishment of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to fifty thousand rupees.

The criminalisation of conversion is a direct infringement on freedom of religion or belief as it robs individuals of the right to change their religion. These provisions also threaten the right to freedom of expression as they could be used to prohibit a range of legitimate expressions of religion or belief such as charitable activities or speaking about one’s faith.

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The Special Envoy Mandate: The Litmus Test for EU Policy on Freedom of Religion or Belief

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Tomorrow, the European Parliament sub-committee on human rights (DROI) will meet to discuss a draft resolution on EU Guidelines on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and the mandate of the Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. It’s a significant milestone, representing the culmination of a year-long reflection within the European institutions on how the EU could more effectively promote and protect FoRB in its foreign policy and external action.

It’s also a document to watch: the recommendations that Parliament chooses to put forward in this resolution are likely to play a key role in shaping the future direction of EU policy on FoRB.

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