Advancing freedom of religion or belief in the new European parliament: Three suggestions for new MEPs

Last week, citizens of EU member states cast their votes in the European parliamentary elections, the outcome of which will define European politics for the next five years.

The outcomes included a rise in new pan-European parties and those at the fringes of the political spectrum. Although the two largest political families, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), and centre-left Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), remain the largest groupings in the parliament overall, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will need to find ways to collaborate and coalitions will be more important than ever.

As these elections usher in many new MEPs eager to get to grips with all that there is to learn about the EU political landscape, CSW has three key recommendations to make to those seeking to uphold and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in their new role.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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