Remembering the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

There have been numerous case examples of acts of violence based on religion or belief from every corner of the world – but one that repeatedly stands out for me is the incident that occurred back in 2008, in Kandhamal district, Odisha, India.

Kandhamal is home to some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Odisha. On 25 August 2008, it was the epicentre of widespread communal violence targeting the Christian community. Local monitoring groups estimate that over 90 people were killed with at least 54,000 displaced, over 300 churches destroyed, and unknown numbers of women brutally sexually assaulted by groups belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that espouse Hindutva ideology. More than a decade on, and most of the victims are yet to receive justice. In addition, attacks on religious minorities and on freedom of expression continue, and a lack of official condemnation towards acts of intimidation and violence has further empowered these groups. 

International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

In 2019, in an effort to recognise, respond to and prevent such acts from occurring, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), designated 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The resolution establishing the international day does not highlight any specific religion or belief group, but refers to all victims, regardless of creed. It strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief specifically, and “any such acts directed against their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines that are in violation of international law”.

Remarkably, the resolution received broad support and recognition from UN Member States across the world. It was tabled by Poland alongside Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and the USA, and subsequently cosponsored by over 80 states, including the UK. However, with global recognition comes global responsibility; both the responsibility to commemorate victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, and the responsibility to protect and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all.

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The United Nations Human Rights Committee Unpacked

What is the Human Rights Committee?

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) reviews the commitments of States to, and implementation of, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). All States party to the ICCPR are required to report to this treaty body comprised of independent experts after the first year of acceding to the ICCPR, and then at regular intervals thereafter.

The State under review is supposed to report on how well it feels it has been implementing the Articles of the ICCPR. This report is examined by the HRCttee members alongside submissions from civil society actors before each review, after which the State is questioned on its human rights record and commitment to the ICCPR. Violations, cases of concern, and constitutional inconsistencies are among some of the issues highlighted by the Committee during its review.

Once the concerns have been addressed, a document outlining the Committee’s concluding observations, i.e. its concerns and recommendations to the State Party, is published.

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FoRB on the Frontlines: It’s Time to Defend the Defender

Over the past month CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region. Today, International Human Rights Day, we present a guest blog post by Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.

“Human rights defenders are those community and religious leaders, journalists, activists, lawyers, trade unionists and others who take on the plight of the most marginalised in their society. These defenders of human rights represent people in the face of oppression, violence and harassment, doing what they can to hold perpetrators to account, and uphold the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), among many other resolutions that states across the world are committed to upholding. Many of these defenders face the same intense persecution as those they seek to defend, with many facing threats and risks of violence, torture and even death on a daily basis.

That is why, this year, I joined calls to award the Nobel peace prize to the global community of human rights defenders – especially as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 10 December.

As the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, I believe that this declaration must be given foremost importance amongst the international community moving forward, with regards to the protection and sanctity of all human rights worldwide. Indeed, this year the recipients of the Nobel peace prize were human rights defenders Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, further proof that the work of HRDs worldwide helps to bring about lasting change, peace and reconciliation.

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

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.

Every HRC session contains ten agenda items, each pertaining to different human rights issues. Matters discussed under these items include the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development (Item 3), human rights situations that require the Council’s attention (Item 4), the Universal Periodic Review (Item 6) and technical assistance and capacity building (Item 10). At the regular sessions of the HRC, which take place three times a year, the Council considers each agenda item in turn and the resolutions of these discussions are later published online by the OHCHR.

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The UN Belongs to All of Us: Chinese Prisoners of Conscience Speak Out

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.

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