Turkey: Growing Religious Intolerance is Undermining Constitutional Commitments

American Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife have been living in Turkey for 23 years running a church in Izmir with the full knowledge of the Turkish authorities.

However, on the 7 October 2016, they were summoned by the local police and accused for being a “threat to the national security”, with no further details supplied. While his wife was eventually released, Pastor Brunson was held in an immigration detention facility, where he was denied family visits and access to a bible. After two months in solitary confinement he was transferred to a high security prison in Izmir, before being brought before a court on 9 December, where he was informed he would be imprisoned due to his alleged links to the Gulen movement, the organisation deemed responsible for the attempted military coup in July 2016. The court did not reveal the source of this accusation. An appeal against the pastor’s imprisonment was turned down on 29 December, and a fresh appeal is expected to be launched at a higher court.

Deterioration in Human Rights and Rise in Ultra-nationalism

Pastor Brunson’s case is illustrative of the significant deterioration in human rights situation that occurred in the aftermath of the foiled military coup. Thousands of journalists, academics, activists, writers, teachers, judges and thinkers have been arrested since July 2016, accused of being “traitors and collaborators against national interests”, while others have been forced to adopt lower profiles and live in anticipation of being arrested.

Read More

From Pledges to Action: Human Rights Defenders play a vital role in advancing justice

Moving from official commitments to tangible changes people’s lives remains a key challenge in the realisation of human rights. I am reminded of the wonderful quote from African-American civil rights campaigner, Philip Randolph, who said, “Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”

“Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.” – Philip Randolph

This quote draws attention to the importance of promoting human rights while reminding us that very rarely do human rights “just happen”; they are regularly contested, challenged and often only progressed through the active work of individual human rights defenders (HRDs) and NGOs who promote and defend human rights through activities such as advocacy, campaigning, demonstrations, and human rights journalism – whether paid or unpaid and regardless of geographical location.

The right and responsibility to promote human rights – either individually or in association with others – is the cornerstone of all human rights work.

Read More

La vida en Cuba bajo los Castro

Se puede ver la traducción en ingles, aquí [For the English translation, click here]

Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso es un prominente pastor bautista y activista de los Derechos Humanos de Cuba. Queríamos escuchar a la perspectiva de un nacional cubano de la muerte reciente de Fidel Castro y los efectos potenciales que esto tendrá en la libertad de religión y conciencia en la isla.

 ¿Cuál es el significado simbólico para los cubanos de la muerte de Fidel Castro?

Desde hace muchos años el pueblo cubano programó su psicología de masas afirmando que nada cambiaría realmente en Cuba hasta la muerte de Fidel Castro. En este sentido se ha cumplido la meta de espera auto impuesta por el propio pueblo cubano. Fidel Castro trató durante todo el tiempo de su poder a Cuba como si fuese su propia finca particular. Revertir la herencia de miseria que en todos los sentidos este hombre llega a Cuba no será fácil. Cortar los lazos de sus familiares y cómplices será un gran desafío todavía. Pero todos sabemos que el plazo que el pueblo de Cuba ha terminado y que a partir de ahora comienza a destejerse la madeja. Con la muerte de Fidel Castro es como si la maldición se hubiese roto.

¿Cuál era la relación entre Fidel Castro y la libertad de religión/los grupos religiosos en Cuba?

Read More

Life in Cuba under the Castros

This post has been edited for clarity. For the Spanish translation click here. [Se puede ver la traducción en español, aquí]

Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso is a prominent Cuban Baptist pastor and human rights activist from Cuba. In the following interview with CSW, he shares his perspective as a Cuban national, on the recent death of Fidel Castro and the potential impact this could have on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) on the island.

What is the symbolic significance for Cubans of the death of Fidel Castro?

Many years ago, the Cuban people collectively resolved to accept that nothing would really change until Fidel Castro died. In this sense, the objective which the Cuban people have themselves imposed, has been fulfilled; Fidel Castro treated Cuba throughout all of his time in power as if it was his own land. Undoing the legacy of destitution which this man brought to Cuba in every way will not be easy. To sever the ties of his relatives and accomplices will be an even bigger challenge. However, we all know that an era has ended for the Cuban people and that from now on, the string will begin to unravel. With the death of Fidel Castro, it is as if the curse has been broken.

What was the relationship between Fidel Castro and religious freedom/religious groups in Cuba? Read More

Iran: How the Judicial System is used to Target Religious and Ethnic Minorities

Five Iranian Christians were arrested by Iranian Intelligence (VEVAK) Officers on 26 August while picnicking with their wives in a private garden in Firouzkooh, an area 90 miles east of Tehran. They were not holding a religious service. They were simply enjoying a picnic. Now they are detained in Evin Prison in Tehran.

Since President Rouhani came to office in August 2013 there has been an increase in the number of religious minorities imprisoned on account of their faith. The rise in harassment, arrests and restrictions on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) are a major concern for non-Muslims, converts to Christianity, members of the Baha’i faith and minority Muslim groups.

Read More

For Some, Yellow Butterflies Symbolise Hope in the Midst of Colombia’s Uncertainty

Yellow butterflies covered every wall in the office of one of our partner organisations in Colombia.

yellow-butterfly-for-blog

The first butterfly was cut out and hung on a wall immediately following the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 26 September 2016 in Cartagena on the northern coast of the country.

In their speeches on this momentous occasion, both President Juan Manuel Santos and Timochenco, the commander and Chief of the FARC, referred to the yellow butterflies from celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ famous novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is remembered for his love of yellow butterflies and flowers, which signify that nothing bad will happen.

“The war is over, we are starting to build peace” – Timochenko, Commander and Chief of the FARC

During his speech, Timochenko, stated, “war is over, we are starting to build peace’’ followed by a reference to a character in the novel, Mauricio Babilonia, who is constantly followed by yellow butterflies wherever he goes, as a symbol of infinite love and hope. Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator stated at a national FARC conference, “Tell Mauricio Babilonia he can release the yellow butterflies,” as a direct quote from the novel.

An Unexpected Outcome

These butterflies were a clear example of the hopeful expectancy that surrounded me in Bogota. Everyone was discussing what the peace agreement would mean for the country, especially for the regions most affected by the 52 year long conflict, especially the more rural areas of Colombia.

During the 53 years of internal conflict, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. All actors during the conflict have been responsible for major human rights violations; armed actors have also been responsible for a wide range of violations of religious freedom as hundreds of religious leaders have been the victims of targeted assassinations since 2000 and many have received threats, including death threats, by neo-paramilitary groups and guerrillas. Many churches have faced extortion from armed groups or have been forcibly closed.

However, at this point in time, the national plebiscite which was due to be held on 2 October 2016 had not yet taken place and was the final step required to bring the peace agreement into force.

Read More

NGOs in Partnership with International Parliamentarians

LONG READ: “NGOs in Partnership with International Parliamentarians” is the speech delivered by CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth’s (FCO) Conference,  ‘Preventing violent extremism by building inclusive and plural societies: How freedom of religion or belief can help’, 19 -20 October 2016. 


As we’ve already heard today, the fundamental human right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), embedded in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is one that at first can appear daunting and difficult to raise. Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB has said that “it is the most challenging of all human rights, it is the spice in the soup of human rights.” However, although daunting it is extremely important to intensify our joint efforts to promote it.

The latest information from the Pew Research Center stated that in 2014, 74% or roughly ¾ of the world’s population, live in countries with either high or very high restrictions on religious freedom. That means that over 5.1 billion people in this world are not able to fully recognise their inalienable human right to practice or change the religion or belief system of their choice.

Furthermore, FoRB is part and parcel of peace and stability; a cornerstone of democratic societies, and it can provide an important antidote to rising violent extremism. High-levels of discrimination based on religion or belief and FoRB restrictions can undermine peaceful development and in fact increase the grounds for the rise of extremism.

It is clear that some of the most significant foreign affairs challenges the international community are currently grappling with, involve violent extremism, and many of the challenges are deeply rooted in violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Read More

India: Striving for Hindu rashtra at the expense of democracy

Recognise that restrictions on public freedoms, extreme inequalities and the mainstreaming of hate around the world are “shearing off the protections that maintain respect”, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pleaded with Member States at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

This sentiment is usually associated with states experiencing severe human rights violations, but the remark is equally relevant to states where human rights violations take place but appear less visible and fail to make news headlines.

The world’s largest democracy

The words ‘largest democracy’ are synonymous with India as a nation state with an electorate of 1.25 billion people and growing. The choice of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to lead the country may have come as a result of Modi’s election promises of a market orthodoxy for economic revival and open trade.

As such, any proposition that religious freedom in India is deteriorating is deflected by the ‘democracy’ rhetoric despite research showing that understanding freedom of religion or belief is good for business; it comes as no surprise that this defence is readily used by those who have trade and business interests in India, thus casting a cloak of invisibility about the violence against minorities based on religious grounds.

Read More

Burma: Stop the Block on Aid

real-change-burma-campaigns-hub-pic-2

Burma: Stop the Block on Aid. Photo credit: United to End Genocide

No one should be denied food or medicine on account of their ethnicity or religion, but that is what is increasingly happening to some people in Burma. A humanitarian crisis is emerging because in some parts of the country, the authorities are blocking aid access. In other areas, international agencies are cutting aid. Blocks and cuts combined are resulting in displaced people who have fled conflict going hungry at night. That is why we have launched our new campaign: “Real Change”.

When we talk about refugees today, we think of Syria and Iraq. But Burma remains a country where significant numbers of people are fleeing conflict and persecution. Thousands escape to other countries, but others are internally displaced. Over 120,000 in Kachin and northern Shan states, and over 130,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine state.

Read More

North Korea and Human Rights: A State of Denial

statue-of-kim-ii-sung

“There is almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion as well as the right to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.” That was the conclusion reached by the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in North Korea over two years ago. Indeed, the UN inquiry went further, noting that the regime in North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat” and as a result, “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted”. Severe punishments are inflicted on “people caught practising Christianity”.

Loyalty to the Regime is expected

Our new report – Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Koreaprovides further evidence that freedom of religion or belief is a human right that is “largely non-existent” in the country. The ruling Kim dynasty is deified. Pictures of the three generations of dictators – Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un – are displayed in private homes and public spaces, cleaned daily and inspected regularly by the authorities to ensure they are in the best condition. Allowing one of these photographs to decay or gather dust is akin to a blasphemy. Anything less than total loyalty to the ruling family is severely punished.

Read More